Tuesday, November 24, 2009

a little gem called Melrose Alley

by frédérik sisa

Cities always have pleasant little secrets, favourite word-of-mouth spots for locals in the know. LA, of course, is no different. I happened across Melrose Alley courtesy of ballroom dance classes. When you’re switching partners to practice a new step, conservations inevitably ensue - and from these conversations come all sorts of discoveries. It turns out that a fellow dance student, fashionista extraordinaire Sheila Speer, is the owner of this upscale little boutique tucked into an alleyway off of La Cienega immediately past Melrose. Contrary to what you might think, the store isn’t named after the alleyway; the alleyway is named after the store thanks to a more pliant city some time ago. Another surprise is that Melrose Alley has been in business for 25 years, getting by without advertising or flashy signs. It doesn’t even have storefront on Melrose Avenue. The only way to reach it is through the alleyway, passing by the backsides of various buildings until the small landscaped courtyard and entrance beckons you inside.

Within, the atmosphere is elegant and welcoming – a bottle of Centanario tequila and plates filled with various sweets offer visitors a hospitable treat. It feels rather like a private salon.

“We cater to an older clientele,” Sheila tells me. And a loyal clientele with discerning tastes too. A lady who came in to find some lovely pieces to add to her wardrobe, obviously a regular, told me just how much she loves coming to Melrose Alley. I can see why: Melrose Alley offers a wonderful selection of sophisticated, stylish, contemporary fashions and accessories.

But what, exactly, does it mean to cater to an “older” clientele? It means, for a start, no teeny-bopper or college fashions. This isn’t Forever 21, Gap, or Urban Outfitters with trendy clothes. Nor is it the typical Beverly Hills kind of boutique with fashion from the usual suspects – Chanel, Yves St. Laurent, and so on. In a spirit of fashion iconoclasm for an underserved age group (I won’t bother with numbers, which don’t really mean much), Sheila seeks out stylish fashion and jewelry designers with more individuality and independence than the large fashion houses, but certainly as much attention to detail and meticulous craftsmanship. Local designers are of particular interest, although national/international designers with a distinctive flair will find a place in the store. What struck me about the fashion on display – coming from design houses like Dismero, Robika, Stiletto, Evan Roberts, and others – is the detailing. A Stiletto skirt features strategically bunched fabric held in place by frog clasps. Another Stiletto skirt, longer on one side than the other, features two rows of frog clasps that give the skirt a sort of gothic/industrial look. Shirts by Dismero featuring creative button work, with pairs of alternating buttons accenting a shirt defined by a distinctive knotted fabric. Unfortunately, I take fuzzy pictures so some of the pieces I hoped to show you didn’t turn out. Here’s a serviceable snapshot of some of the pretty things I found, though:

Alas, gentlemen, there is nothing for us. Ladies, however, who have gotten past the trend of clothes with the word “PINK” plastered over their posterior would be hard-pressed not to find some elegant little number. And here’s another incentive to pop on by and say hi to Sheila: December 5th is the store’s 25th anniversary, which means, yes, discounts.

Melrose Alley
8465 1/2 Melrose Alley
Los Angeles, CA 90069

Many thanks to Sheila for her time...and for the tequila. :)

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