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Designing Women

In San Francisco slaves to fashion are as ubiquitous as pointy-toed shoes and Seven jeans, but only a select few are true vixens of style. You know one when you see her. She's the girl on the bus with that perfect handbag or the siren next to you at the bar dolled up in a one-of-a-kind blouse. She's the girl you pass on the street wearing a skirt you can't help but covet. Style, particularly personalized style, is an it-girl's holy grail and there are a few talented ladies in Hayes Valley dedicating their time to help those of us who are searching, to find that certain fashion sass.

Willow O'Brien draws inspiration from her years of working with vintage clothing when creating the sassy, classy pieces for her three-year-old label kitkitdodge. Her designs feature asymmetric lines, puffed sleeves, saucy necklines and kittenish bows in colors from cherry red to lemon yellow. Dubbed "Lolita-wear" because of their girlishly sexy quality, O'Brien says the kitkitdodge style is "girl-woman... it's innocent and provocative at the same time." Cashmere and silk are featured prominently as is vintage fabric and O'Brien names each piece as though it were her own little girl, with such old-fashioned monikers as "Ruby" and "Cosette." $78 handsewn cashmere flower pins are her labor of love and make an alluring addition to any ensemble. Her dresses and blouses range in price from $84 for "Delphine," a dishy top with off-kilter seams, to the well-worth-it $224 "Solange," a silk charmeuse slip dress in swimming pool blue, is perfect for sipping cocktails in.

O'Brien sells kitkitdodge at Ver Unica, the Hayes Valley store she co-owns, a veritable treasure chest of vintage finds which pair up nicely with her contemporary take on the vintage classics. As of now, kitkitdodge is a one chick show, O'Brien even handstencils the tiny silk labels sewn in her masterpieces, a testament of her attention to detail. If the outer-wear doesn't suit you, though that seems unlikely, splurge on a pair of bubble gum cashmere "Lola" panties ($85), O'Brien's most popular creation. As for the attention kitkitdoge is receiving, O'Brien says, "I'm a firm believer, that if you just keep doing what you love to do, someone is bound to notice."

Minnie Wilde the boutique, is a little piece of handcrafted heaven. Minnie Wilde, the small store's house label, is an irresistible cross between flirty schoolgirl and hipster chic. Opened in May of 2001 by Terri Olson who designs the label and Ann D'Apice who runs the business side of their endeavor, Minnie Wilde is a welcome pocket of uniqueness for those drawn to the funkier side of style. Pinks and grays are favorite colors and there are plenty of staple black designs to mix and match with. Favorites include stretch corduroy knickers with arrow beltloops and cuffs that tie at the knee ($110) and a stretch twill just-above-the-knee pleated mini that features sailor buttons and tabs ($142). Pleated pockets and big buttons are the signature touch on many of the 60's and 70's inspired items which also feature charming bows and fetching stripes. Tweed and corduroy are crafted into sweet and sassy skirts, cigarette pants and adorable overcoats. Each item bears the label "Made with love by Minnie Wilde" and once worn, the feeling will be mutual. From $38 soft-as-can-be tees to $225 can't-live-without-it peacoats, Minnie Wilde offers "clothing for the arty smarty party life." In addition to the house label, which Olson creates right in the backroom of the store, Minnie Wilde carries items from other independent designers from handsewn bags adorned with ribbon to bracelets crafted from old vinyl albums. After spending some time in the hot-pink curtained dressing room, you won't be able to leave empty-handed.