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A New York Shopper Shops LA

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.

Dear Retail Tourists,

A shopping day is a must—no matter when, where, or why I travel. Which explains the marathon thrifting adventures I've mapped out in areas that don't, like, have a Barneys.

As such, shopping days tend to be elastic and can include anything from a regional farmer's market to a well-regarded flea—with some locally loved 99 cent stores, Yelp-approved antique bazaars, roadside holes-in-the-wall, and middling outlet centers all mixed in and all mixed up for good measure.

Los Angeles has all of the above, in spades—not to mention a pretty fantastic thrift and vintage scene, fabulous consignment opportunities, a mall culture and, lest we forget, Rodeo Drive. But a busy schedule and some unusually rainy weather kept me focused: I started at Barneys.

Barneys—or any LA shopping, I suppose—requires getting into a car. People drive places out there. For me, that involved crossing from Hollywood to Beverly Hills and nearly crashing the rental when Brad Goreski's office was pointed out (you can see the rolling racks from the street). Fortunately, Barneys is one of many places that actually has parking. It sits atop a massive, multi-leveled parking garage which is predictably packed with BMWs and Bentleys. Obviously, it's not free—but they validate. So, you know, motivation to buy something.

Upon entering it's clear that Michele's department store job interview in Romy & Michele's High School Reunion was definitely at Barneys, and shot on location ("Well, my first choice was to work at a boutique on Rodeo Drive, but this would be okay."). So, that was amazing. Nonetheless, the store was beautiful, airy, and not overstuffed. Less of a delineation between the real deal and the Co-Op. Lots and lots of Prada: A $4,200 purple leather hoodie stood out. And in women's, the Suno, Kenzo and Carven collections—all enjoying prime real estate—were especially delicious.

It is worth noting that the staff was utterly lovely and super pleasant. Someone even joked with us—tossing me a beautiful goblet that turned out to be plastic before showing us her favorite mink comforters.

The same can not be said for Maxfield—one of Los Angeles legendary independent boutiques. We stopped by the West Hollywood location—a dark modern box flanked by out-sized sculpture and another parking lot—where some shop girl with a chip on her shoulder followed us from rack to rack without greeting the way she might've trailed a gaggle of sticky-fingered teens. (In all fairness, one in our party did walk into a mirror—so she did have reason to assume we didn't belong there.)

Truth is, she had nothing to worry about. None of us really wanted anything. Though they stock some incredibly coveted brands (Givenchy, Adam Kimmell, Balmain, Celine), the collections all sort of reflect this hyper-luxury dark-glam rock/goth aesthetic that, at least in 2012, just sort of reads as luxe Ed Hardy. To wit: Leather everything, heavily embellished jeans and tee shirts, and crinkly, shaggy shruggy things that might've been Rick Owens. Also: A black leather golf bag studded with huge gothic crosses; a leather and chrome arm chair with a major bondage vibe; a series of tribal masks and shrunken heads. So, yuck. That said—the cases and cases of vintage Hermès were just glorious (even if they really crowded the place). And if I had money to burn, I'd totally get the Chanel tennis racket.

Another Los Angeles institution we blew through: Kitson. Kitson is one of the bold-faced names in LA retail that most frequently elicit an eye roll from east coast shopping snobs. And it's not totally unwarranted—we know Kitson best via Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie shopping sprees circa 2003. They invariably involved pink and orange mini-skirts, Ugg boots, Razr phone charms and luxury dog accessories.

We visited the Malibu location—and, yes, the place is packed to the gills and certainly there is some crap. At least it seems like crap—everything is just sort of plunked on tables. It's a lot. A lot of everything. But their overall point of view: Not too bad. Very fresh and California—lots of un-embellished cotton easy-to-wear by lesser known and lesser priced labels. And a slew of just fun little gifts and books. It's like a posh Urban Outfitters.

Then there's Opening Ceremony. I know, why go to another familiar New York institution rather than visit somewhere uniquely LA—Fred Segal probably being the obvious choice. But sue me: I wanted to see how Opening Ceremony does California. And, I can honestly tell you, it was worth the visit.

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Opening Ceremony. I love their collections; I hate the New York store. You can never find anything you see online, the store is always crazy crowded and that's compounded by the tons of stock, narrow aisles, and warren of infrequently gender- or brand-specific rooms and displays. Plus, the staff can have such a attitude.

The Los Angeles store, however, may be my new Mecca. Housed in a suite of unremodelled '60s-era show biz offices and featuring ample parking and a few charming outdoor spaces, the store is just as warren-like as New York's. But it's much more spacious and infinitely more sensically merchandised—there's a rhyme and a reason. It makes sense. And all that stuff I can never find in New York? It's all just hanging there, teasing me. 

I tried on something like 11 things—Loden Dager, Marck McNairy, Riviera Club included. Then I went upstairs—and I could've tried on like 11 more. Everyone I was with tried on like 11 things. And we all made purchases.

And we all made purchases due at least in part to the fabulous staff. They were like California sunshine compared to some of the sniffing hipsters working here in Manhattan. The whole experience was fantastic—and, you know, it's probably better the shoppable Opening Ceremony is 2,000 miles away. I would be constantly broke if that was in my backyard.

· Love, Frank [Racked]