by Erin Wylie
Hayes Valley was a blight—a no-fly zone trapped between San Francisco's symphony house and opera hall—thanks to a stretch of Freeway that buried the area in soot and shadow. Nature encouraged gentrification when in 1989 an earthquake threw the road into disrepair. Once removed, Hayes Valley was revived by artists and other creative fixer-uppers who turned narrow, pastel-colored Victorian homes into galleries. Soon boutiques and restaurants moved in, too, and the area became a beacon to the Bay Area's art patrons. The neighborhood (clustered around Hayes Street between Franklin and Laguna streets) has fast become a shopping destination thanks to boutiques that pride themselves on stocking exclusive European lines as well worthwhile local labels. Refinery29 drops in to find out what's in store.
• MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing), 387 Grove Street, 415-863-3011
Formerly next door to an excellent French bistro Café Claude in downtown SF, MAC relocated to Hayes Valley two-and-a-half years ago and remains one of the most imposing shops on the strip, in just square footage alone. But as brother and sister co-owners, Ben and Chris Ospital know well, bigger isn't always better but Belgian is better. Heavy-hitting Belgians like Martin Margiela, Dries van Noten, and A.F. Vandervorst are stocked for men and women and share the floor with a gaggle of European names, including their lesser-known compatriot, Sophie D'Hoore. Though the Ospitals are excited about their recent acquisition of Lanvin for men (incuding a $1,200 cashmere jogging pant) they really enjoy championing new talent. "We love fresh faces," says Chris, possibly referring to Engineered Garments' flannel bow ties ("dude clothing done in a beautiful way") or local designers Lemon Twist for women and Common Era for men (which, by the way, is designed by a 16-year-old Bay Area ingénue Kit Halvorsen—look at these seams!" Chris exclaims). And just for fun, look for a "sprinkling of Japanese designers" like Yoshi Kondo and Final Home.
• Backspace, 508 Hayes Street, 415-701-7112
Thus named because you used to have to march through Find, a modern furniture store, to get to the tiny backspace that offered cool indie labels. Now Backspace is out on its own with a proper storefront and an appealing stock, which includes Rachel Roy, L.A.M.B., and Mara Hoffman. Store manager, Margaret, describes the store as "unique, chic, and exclusive, with a thing for Australian and New Zealand designers." Sass & Bide skinny jeans in Wedgwood (a killer periwinkle color) are so distracting that all other Aussie labels are subsequently ignored. Other standouts come from quirky cult favorite Grey Ant and Norma Kamali's sweat couture collection for Everlast, featuring grey hooded onesies and batwing cardigans. Vintage frame bags with printed insects crawling on them by local label Vintage Untamed complete the new Valley look.
The closest thing to LES shopping is Ver Unica's mix of local labels amid a sea of vintage. Taking cues from New York's dowtown shop culture, the store also doubles as a gallery and a Champagne-filled party spot. The excellently styled mannequins embody the jam-packed store's mix-and-match philosophy and are like sirens for fashion-crazed sailors: a blue and white vintage mariner dress rendered us helpless. The selection of vintage—ranging from the early 1900s to the fabulous 1980s—is pristine and well edited: carved wood platforms from the '70s obviously offered Prada a few ideas. A great place to scout offbeat local talent like dresses from She-Bible, jewelry by Jennifer Kobrin, and adorable cashmere tap pants by Kit Kit Dodge.
• Honey Ryder, 564 Hayes Street, 415-255-6858
When Refinery29 meandered into Honey Ryder, its owners Annie Nelson and Lorrie Corvin were steaming clothes and taking inventory. "We're not even officially open," says Annie. "We keep getting shipments of things we ordered ages ago?it's like Christmas!" Officially opened on September 1, the sneak peek was enticing enough to have us coming back for more: skinny jeans and cool dresses from Cynthia Vincent's sportswear line, Cyn, Si'en mohair bubble sweaters, gossamer T-shirts by Clu, and art school staples by Lynne Larson. For something other than the typical luxury bag, try L.A. designer Kim White's handbags fashioned from vintage upholstery and car fabrics, Lisa Levine's ropes of diamonds and chains, or sunglasses by Blinde.
It's pretty straightforward in this den of iniquity for shoe addicts--amazing European shoes for men and women line the walls, including Repetto square-toe ballerina flats, Chie Mihara ruffled leather pumps, Castaner espadrilles, and seasonal offerings from Dries Van Noten, Prada, Miu Miu, Fiorentini & Baker, Transparents, Helmut Lang, Number Nine, Jutta Neumann, and the list goes on.
• Nida, 544 Hayes Street, 415-552-4670
A dog basking in a sun splash in the front window and Paris habitué Feist's pop-inflected croon set the Parisian tone straight away in Nida. The French connection continues with offerings from the coolest French designers (with girls on the right, boys on the left): Paul & Joe, Vanessa Bruno, Isabel Marant, and a bit of Marc Jacobs thrown in for good measure. Sadly, the Vanessa Bruno at Nida outpost, which exclusively sold the hard-to-locate stateside designer's collection, recently closed. But there's enough Bruno to go around in the main store along with Comme des Garçons for men.
LOCAL LABELS TO WATCH.
These two San Francisco-based labels have their own shops and sell to a number of boutiques in the area.
Refinery29 is in love with Susan Hengst's eponymous label, especially her skinny plaid Eleganza suit and hip-hugging Clu jacket.
Husband-and-wife team, Danette and Eric Scheib serve up '60s-inspired pieces with a sunny point of view; their 3/4-length parka is a must for moody Bay weather as well as an East Coast winter.
Hayes Valley is also home to many design shops that stock furniture (modern, vintage, and antique) and equally cool housewares.
• Find, 425 Hayes Street, 415-710-7100
An emporium of sleek home design, Find is so spacious that they create decorative tableaux with their wares all throughout the store. Browsing here is the equivalent of flipping through the coolest European design magazines.
A mix of modern and vintage furniture; light fixtures mingle with art tomes and decorative objects like glass encased butterflies.
A lifestyle store devoted to gorgeously minimal objects from an Alto desk to sleek side tables and cheerful kitchen textiles.
• Crêpe House, 429 Gough Street, 415-863-2422
This nothing-fancy eatery serves up heaping sweet and savory crêpes on the cheap: the perfect lunch to fortify shoppers.
As the Marie Antoinette craze hits a fever pitch, cake has never been cooler. Citizen Cake offers a full gourmet restaurant menu but it's the death-defying artistry of sugary treats that really brings 'em in.
A lush French-themed restaurant and bar, Absinthe is the perfect place to make like 1929 and let the bartender delight you with innovative (and potent!) cocktails.
Refinery29 pays a visit to San Francisco's newest hot 'hood.