Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - November 26, 2010

In search of all that sparkles ...

Local boutiques offer plenty of bling to wear or give

by Emma Trotter

'Tis the season, which in retail means it's time for customers to shop — and for storekeepers to unveil the latest and greatest in holiday clothing, accessories and decor despite the shaky economy.

Cedide Olcay owns Orapa Boutique — also called the Orapa Gallery of Wearable Arts — in downtown Palo Alto. She hand-makes some of her merchandise and picks the rest from other artists' showrooms both locally and in Europe. Olcay, who is originally from Turkey, said that almost any item in her store would be suitable to wear to a party or give as a gift.

"Look at the wings on the side, how it pleats in different directions," she said of a floor-length black dress. "This would be great for a really fancy party." She also recommended women's party wear for more casual get-togethers.

Most of the customers she gets are looking for gifts, Olcay said, pointing to a table stocked with handmade soaps and socks with fun patterns and designs. She says it's too soon in the season to tell whether she'll have more or fewer customers than last year.

"This location is a little offbeat," she said. "I get some (walk-in customers) but I wish I could get more. This year I'll have to see."

Over at Therapy on Castro Street in Mountain View, though, holiday sales are in full swing.

"It's better than last year already," Carrie Arnold, manager, said. "We've seen a lot of people gift shopping and it's only mid-November."

Home-décor products have been top gift choices, she said, indicating stainless-steel pieces, light-up flower displays and eco-friendly mugs. Therapy also sells trendy clothes aimed at slightly younger shoppers than those who might frequent Orapa.

"This is a great holiday dress," Arnold said, modeling a glittery beige knit garment from Therapy's inventory. She pointed out a few other items around the store. "Sequins and beading are really in fashion right now. It's traditional holiday glamour."

When her store, which is much smaller than Therapy, isn't busy, Olcay makes scarves at a table near the back — and they're anything but traditional. She takes pride in adding a unique twist or embellishment to each design, and also stocks scarves by other designers.

"They can be part of holiday dress up as well as gifts," she said.

Some of her more unusual jewelry pieces include a bracelet made from newspaper comics, a pyrite necklace and broaches of "little bugs."

Olcay doesn't sell any specifically holiday-themed items, but just around the corner at the University Art Annex, managers were busy creating a display, including a fully decorated tree, to attract holiday shoppers.

"We've been moving furniture all day," said Erin Dobson, assistant manager of next-door University Art.

According to manager Tina Ford, even in mid-November they were slightly behind in erecting the display.

"I wait until the last minute to put it up, but as soon as we do people start buying," she said.

The store sells scarves, hats, chocolates, plants, dish towels, ornaments, candles and gift wrap and bags for the holidays.

Ford expects that the effort it took to put up the display will be well worth it, drawing in customers despite the down economy.

"Things have definitely picked up. It's been busier for sure," she said. Overall, though, the store is still "expecting a similar Christmas to last year."

In the front window of Afterwards, an upscale clothing and decor new and resale shop in Menlo Park, window shoppers can ogle such holiday party wear as a silver-sequined Armani dress and a Dolce & Gabbana red silk dress — with accessories to match.

"We carry lots of blingy evening jewelry," said Katie Hanson, who owns the store with her husband, Bob. Pieces on display include earrings, bracelets and cuffs made of pearls, rhinestones and diamonds. The store's designer "brings in seasonal pieces, and then there's great year-round pieces."

They have shoes, too.

"Everything's sparkle this season," said stylist Barbara Cameron. "Golds and metallics are always really strong."

Afterwards is transitioning in holiday items without giving up on autumn just yet: A fall flower display adorns one table, while a green candle and silver tinsel decorate the next.

At Plumeria, a small consignment store just off Castro Street, Jasmine Fernandez, who buys and sells at the store in addition to helping out with merchandizing, was also doing her part to attract holiday shoppers. Just before closing, she was dressing a mannequin — "doll," as she called it.

"I'm trying to bring a few more of the seasonal items out," she said, indicating cashmere sweaters, knit dresses, scarves and a truly fabulous pair of red boots with black fur.

If she were to shop for a blinged-out holiday outfit at the store, Fernandez said, she would buy one of "your not so ordinary cardigans" and some "funky slacks with a little bit of glitter to them."

"It would be really cool to wear this to a dinner party with your friends or for work," she said of her style choice.

But customers need not feel locked in by Fernandez's taste.

"That's the attraction of it," she said. "It's a total mix, a little bit of everything to appeal to any age group and taste. To me it's cool because you're buying a one-of a kind piece."

Now that's bling.

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