Fedoras and Felt Monkeys

10th Street Passes the Sniff Test

"We met at the barricades, fighting the developers 30 years ago," says East Villager Marilyn Appleberg, describing how she and her partner got together and decided to open Acquired Taste, a pristine vintage shop at 220 East 10th Street between First and Second. "We've been collectors for 30 years." The shop, which opened six weeks ago, is just one of the interesting boutiques that have lately turned up on East 10th, a street whose previous retail profile was dominated by organic juice bars and tai chi parlors.

At Acquired Taste, there's a mint condition 1960s fake leopard fedora for $25 and a perfect 1920s dress at $65; kelly green elbow-length gloves are $25, which is just what you want to pay for this season's flash-in-the-pan long-glove craze. When it is pointed out to Appleberg that her shop is on the same block as Bogey's, the legendary vintage depot famous for piles of filthy clothes you literally had to wade through (it's now the American Copy Center), nostalgia clouds her face. "I bought a crepe de chine skirt at Bogey's once. It was $3. When I went to pay for it my friend yelled at me: 'You have to hold it up to the light and check for holes! You have to smell it!' "

For better or worse, nothing we see on 10th requires a sniff test. At Jillery (88 East 10th), a sort of general store favoring Sputnik-era ashtrays and cocktail glasses, the beaded bracelets are $3; an inflatable pink plastic heart picture frame that looks like a doll-sized swimming tube is only $1. Handbags stylish enough to complement a leopard hat and a pair of opera gloves have been fashioned from the laminated covers of old magazines, including an issue of Fabulous Las Vegas featuring a nubile water-skier ($38).

If prices are higher at Glu Collective (224 East 10th), it's because the stock has come all the way from Japan. Even so, $14 will get you a little purse (could go inside the Vegas bag) in bright yellow decorated with three robot-bears and the legend "choco chip little top rated." Stocking caps of hand-knitted turquoise and coral diamond-shaped patches ($35) seem intended for squeaky clean proponents of the grunge aesthetic; a black long-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with rhinestones that elaborately spell out the unintelligible legend "love woman T-24-365" is $85—but then again, it does offer a lot of rhinestones.

Still, the neighborhood hasn't entirely relinquished its flirtation with the dark side. The famous Obscura Antiques and Oddities (263 East 10th), a notorious landmark known for its deeply spooky stock, appears to be in business, though a recent visit at the height of a Saturday afternoon found it dead in both senses of the word—the gates were down and the window displayed a taxidermied peacock, a desiccated doll trapped in a glass case, and a bunch of moribund bugs stuck with pins.

When it is pointed out to Lauri Faggioni, owner of Lake (280 East 10th), that her shop is like a sunnier version of Obscura, she laughs and says that's what she intended. Though Lake offers old darkroom lanterns and a headless mannequin with a hole in its chest, Faggioni says that in fact, "It's mostly about the animals. I make these stuffed animals." The fauna (from $40), which is hand-sewn from felt and is stunning rather than scary, includes giraffes, monkeys ("The monkeys are always named Leroy"), elephants, and a variety of birds. "And I also do these sad flowers. I had seven bunnies and three bears earlier in the week, but they're all sold. Everyone's having babies."

Not only are they having babies, but defying long-standing East Village conventions, they are also getting married in floor-sweeping white dresses, if the presence of Merciel, a little bridal shop at 224 East 10th, is any indication. We are more comfortable at Azaleas (223 East 10th), a lingerie store where nuptial bliss is confined to a pair of white panties that say "kiss the bride." More subtle but likewise ready for action is the plethora of thongs, all guaranteed to be comfortable, at least according to the shop's owners. (They're $13 to $15 each, which seems steep to us, but then again, what do we know? We still buy our undies in the three-pack at Kmart.) Still, delectable panties notwithstanding, there are other things here that remind you of why it's worthwhile to ferret out small shops. A pair of chunky yet gossamer hand-crocheted stockings ($58), with an explosion of 3-D blue roses decorating each leg, elicits an excitement far beyond what one can muster for mere bloomers. "Someone just tried those stockings on!" the proprietress enthuses. "She looked awesome."

 
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