Gotham Gifts

 Noel Cowards, take heart!

Our shopping experts have swept the city and uncovered a passel of affordable treasures.

Although it doesn't get as much play as the presents, the chance to gorge on fine chocolates and sweets like a big fat hog is as integral to the holiday season as, say, gaudy decorating. While it's nice to keep in mind the $50-a-pound Payard chocolates that line the candy counter at Dean & Deluca, a few blocks up and over into the East Village will bring you to El Eden Chocolates. Chef Wai Chu hand-makes the 15 varieties of fine truffles ($6.50 for four) currently on the menu, with rotating entries that make their appearances through the year. The darkishly sweet, rich confections brought in for the holidays, with names like White Cranberry, Holiday Eggnog (eggnog-flavored white chocolate with rum and ginger), and Pumpkin Praline, should come in intravenous formulas. 443 East 6th Street, 979-9291 (GERMOSÉN)

For a branch of a behemoth Manhattan institution, the MOMA Design Store does an excellent job of bringing sophisticated design down to Target-level accessibility. At the sprawling new Soho branch, the gift ideas come in all sizes and price ranges, from Philippe Starck chairs ($290) to tiny nipple-shaped fridge magnets ($6.50 for six). The best thing about shopping here is knowing that good design doesn't have to have an account-crippling price tag. While items like Alessi's demitasse espresso maker (with a genius cutout spot that makes it impossible to splatter) require a few quick breaths at $129, smaller versions of Alvar Aalto's famous vases retail at $45. 81 Spring Street, 646-613-1367 (GERMOSÉN)

Traditional cartoon-character hierarchies have permanently crumbled. Goofy despots like Nickelodeon's Spongebob and Sanrio's Hello Kitty reign over the children's market with CD-ROMs and calendars, while old codgers like Mickey Mouse get by on choppily animated Christmas specials. The newer route to ironically childish paraphernalia lies with the Korean brand Morning Glory, as sold at Opane, a brazenly pink showroom brimming with all things sickeningly adorable. MG products espouse a charmingly bizarre earnestness with their glommy-eyed mascots and awkwardly worded slogans. An inscription on a My Baby Zzizzi binder ($4) clumsily announces, "It's true love we're making, a something to lost for a lifetime," while a soap dish ($4.20) confides, "I wish you could know how much I love you." The big star at MG is BlueBear, but more intriguing are the three Pajama Sisters, a gangly looking crew on a tote bag ($22) who ask, "Who do you think is the prettiest girl?" 6 West 32nd Street, 643-9077 (GERMOSÉN)

Most of the inventive designers represented at the meatpacking district design shop Auto actually make their home in Brooklyn. "We're like a little family," says shop manager Dario. "We sort of bring everyone in." The trendy item du jour is Helen James's mini-obi ($115), a hand-painted silk sash to ring a waist left bare by low-slung jeans. The place is crawling with cool items, be it the massive Marimekko bags in brilliant red ($90), Holly Aikens's rad vinyl dop kits ($40) and guitar straps ($20), or the smartest item an urban pet owner could have—rubber-bordered dog bowls ($16). 805 Washington Street, 229-2292 (GERMOSÉN)

It's kind of strange to encounter a perfume that stirs intense emotion, but Fresh's deep-noted fragrances, intoxicatingly rich and unique, have been known to cause quite a fuss. (On a recent afternoon, a woman was devastated to learn that Currant Marine, her obsession, was out of stock.) The place has the best stocking stuffers ever, including pleasingly wire-and-crystal wrapped scented soaps (triple milled and made with shea butter at $8 each) and virtually greaseless scented lotions (one wants to drink a bottle from the Chocolate Milk line). Products like the Sake Bath ($75 a bottle) make a strong case for spending a small fortune here. 57 Spring Street, 925-0099 (GERMOSÉN)

Hear ye, clever outcast! If you haven't been there already, your cozy new ironic-consumer homebase is Their specialty is "demotivational" messages in the guise of traditional, peppy corporate schlock. The wall calendar is the most obvious gift item ($14.95, replete with cheesy landscapes and italicized ponderings on Apathy, Pretension, Loneliness, Elitism, etc.). Even more impressively faux-corporate are the $49.95 personalized Underperformance Awards. A choice card honors the mediocrity of John/Jane Doe, "ultradolt," who performs, as the engraving states, "beneath and below the call of duty." (Perfect for the jokester dentist/lawyer/OB-GYN!) Shell out for your arrogant father, Pollyanna in-law, or stoner best friend, 'cause funny is a no-limit soldier. 877-DESPAIR (PERETTI)

Walking the streets of Soho come Santa time is like cleaning mildew from shower-tile grout: unpleasant. Wealthy anorexics strut about, wrapped in hundred-dollar scarves while dandies walk dogs with better haircuts than Jenny Aniston. Run east to Home of Trance, a haven even if you dislike the genre. You will happily zone out, ensconced in bright colors, psychedelic patterns, and an indulgently playful/spiritual tone. Much is $50 and up (durable futuristic hippie clothes, mushroom lamps, etc.), but there are also affordable gifts like love dice ($5). Best novelty? Lit wood-framed waterfall images that, when plugged in, appear to undulate in downward waves ($49-$59). Perfect for a small-scale meditative retreat. 122 St. Marks Place, 533-6700 (PERETTI)

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