Bohos in Paradise

Shopping on Avenue B

"I was a painter before this—now I'm still an artist, but I don't use brush and paint, I use needle and thread. I'm like a—starving designer," laughs Geova, showing off his latest creations from a storefront studio at 208 Avenue B. Geova, who came here from Brazil seven years ago, is a master of fashions that tread the invisible line between the slutty and the cheerful: A sexy blue striped top has a back that devolves into thin strips of fabric ($75); a tiny purse—Geova calls it a "couture handbag"—is enhanced with shiny swatches and a lot of feathers ($75); a red-carpet-worthy skirt combines square paillettes, splattered glitter, and long strings that look like horses' tails ($310). Though it seems elaborate, Geova swears he whipped it up in no time. "I'm very fast. It's all—how do you say?—knotted."

Just down the block at 182 Avenue B, a woman who calls herself Suzette Sundae (Really? we ask. You pay taxes as Ms. Sundae? "I will this coming year," she replies) has three different lines available in her eponymous shop: unmolested vintage items; vintage garments that have been cut up, re-sewn, or otherwise jiggered with; and brand new Sundae designs. Among the jiggered-with examples, we fall for a sheer beige blouse that has its original schoolgirl collar but now sports an elasticized peplum and little puff sleeves ($48). "We made it more feminine," Sundae says. Also quite girly are the denim miniskirts constructed from old jeans cut off just above the crotch and further enhanced with ruffled fabric ($98-$118). But the designer is equally proud of her own designs: A pink mini called the Chiquitita, after the Abba song, is decorated with a heart that has had a bite taken out of it. Why bitten? "It's been a rough year with boys," Sundae sighs.

We ourselves sigh when it turns out that one of our favorite Avenue B venues, the Spin City laundromat, no longer sells earrings, but we recover as soon as we enter Rue St. Denis, a massive boutique at 174 Avenue B. Nestled among the seen-better-days trenches and beat-up motocross jackets we spot a triumph in nylon: a red-and-white, abstract-printed halter dress, made by and for the shop, that bears a striking resemblance to those droopy 1970s Ossie Clark frocks currently causing a stir at the V&A museum in London ($58).

We are reluctant to even darken the door of Amaran, the spectacular import shop across from Tompkins Square Park at 109 Avenue B, remembering the sticker shock we experienced on a previous visit. And indeed, though the tag on a lovely Javanese teakwood TV cabinet reads $3,680, we are happy to report that there are also sequined flip-flops at $48 and insanely beautiful sequined tote bags for a slim $39. Even more encouraging is a basket of belts—some embellished with beads, others sporting miniature conch shells—marked down to $19 or less.

With so many vintage dealers staying up nights monkeying around with old garments, it's refreshing to meet the proprietress of Patsy (23 Avenue B), who says, "I sell vintage and new stuff, but I don't reconstruct and deconstruct." Another thing we like about this dealer, whose name is Nora—Patsy is her mother—is that she doesn't even bother calling her stock vintage. "It's secondhand, and it's not era-specific." Like so many Avenue B dealers, Nora makes her own stuff too. In fact, she's wearing one of her creations, a skirt with an uneven hem and a layer of white flowered voile over shiny turquoise fabric that she describes as "something that wants to be satin but isn't." Though another of Nora's skirts, a handkerchief-hemmed version with a swath of flowers over stripes, is $80, most of the merchandise is far cheaper. "The dresses are like $20 to $40—I think that's really good! And come outside, I have a $1 bin and a rack of $10 dresses." We troop into the sunshine. "This is a great dress," Nora says, pulling an olive number off the $10 rack. "It's silk, and it's got this Asian styling. I thought it was good at $40!" Back inside, we are astonished to see, for a paltry $30, a one-shoulder dress made of gold leather that, though now label-less, obviously has an impressive provenance. How come no Lower East Side drag queen has sauntered in and snatched this up? "A drag queen did try it on! And he looked great in it! But then he bought shoes instead."

 
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