From the inviting open-air luxury of Fashion Island to the exclusive boutiques lining the Pacific coast, Orange County is a premier destination for discerning shoppers.
BY ALLISON HATA
In 1908, The Plaza in Orange was one of the first “malls” to grace Orange County, serving as a symbolic center of the community and a sign of what was to come. Now, Plaza Square stands as part of the historic Old Towne Orange District, resplendent with charming one-of-a-kind stores found in the heart of the downtown area.
Orange County shopping has come a long way since the days of dirt-lined streets and horse-drawn carriages, a time when the word mall denoted a gathering place rather than the chic, palatial structures we’ve come to associate with the fashions of today, explains Paul Sitkoff, the business and public affairs manager for the City of Orange. With the development of major shopping metropolises South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island in 1967, high fashion has since found its home in Orange County—but not to be overlooked are the enchanting street-front shops offering everything from the latest designer apparel to treasured antiques for the home.
A Bespoke Experience
With opportunities abounding for shoppers in Orange County, the task of navigating the seemingly limitless options is daunting. A personal stylist can help individuals create an unparalleled custom shopping excursion that is both rewarding and relaxing.
“A personal shopper definitely enhances a shopping experience because they know the best places to look for specific requests a guest or visitor may have,” says Gundula Reile, chef concierge at The St. Regis Monarch Beach.
Guests of The St. Regis Monarch Beach enjoy five-star fashion and service, delivered to them by veteran stylist Leslie Christen, owner of Leslie Christen Lifestyling. A “lifelong lover of fashion” and graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, she offers vacationing guests an abbreviated version of her bespoke services, beginning with a closet (or luggage) cleanup to create a more accessible wardrobe on a daily basis. A look book is developed with suggestions for wearing seasonal outfits, accessorizing and incorporating trendy pieces with wardrobe staples.
From there, Christen’s clients can take advantage of her relationships with the many shops and department stores in the area. “A mini boutique can be set up in your room or we can go shopping together,” she explains. “While many people go on vacation together, we all deserve some much- needed moments alone. [Your] husband wants to golf and you want to shop—that’s where I come in.”
With connections throughout Orange County and Los Angeles, Christen is able to recreate the most exclusive of boutiques in a guest’s hotel room, pairing hard-to-find items from fashion luminaries with distinctive pieces from local shops. Her insider knowledge of Orange County couture and insight into the upcoming season’s trends make her an ideal shopping partner for the St. Regis guest. “[St. Regis guests] want to be trendy and fresh, but look age appropriate; they want the best labels, but they aren’t a slave to them,” Christen says. “I come in to be a style guide on many levels.”
In addition to regular consultations, Christen and The St. Regis Monarch Beach cater to special occasions and group outings. For a girls’ weekend, Christen works with the resort to pull out all the stops: A sleek limo arrives at the resort to whisk guests away to popular shopping destinations in Orange County for a day out on the town, with Christen lending her expertise to create stunning combinations for a warm California summer.
An essential stop for Christen’s clients, or for those who choose to venture out on their own, is the modern elegance of South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa (southcoastplaza.com). Offering the latest in contemporary couture, the mall features 270 boutiques, department stores and eateries, including a number of designer brands that have selected South Coast Plaza as their exclusive West Coast location: Emilio Pucci, Donna Karan New York, Piaget, Tadashi Shoji, Dooney & Bourke, John Lobb and, most recently, Roger Vivier.
“We have the highest concentration of designer and luxury brands under one roof—established retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga, Cartier and Longchamp,” says Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing at South Coast Plaza. “We have everything from Gap to Gucci, from Hermès to H&M. And I think that reflects the fashion landscape of Orange County: a smart and savvy blend of luxury and mainstream appeal.” South Coast Plaza has ushered in an era of haute couture in Orange County—the west wing of the mall contains an unparalleled collection of some of the world’s preeminent retailers, including Harry Winston, Cartier and Chanel. More than 22 million visitors annually travel to Orange County to visit the center, comprised of two separate enclosed malls connected by the Bridge of Gardens.
For a coastal breeze while browsing the shops, Fashion Island is located just off of Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach (shopfashionisland. com). The outdoor center offers a mix of well- known and specialty stores, from Neiman Marcus and Kate Spade to Lush Cosmetics and Optical Shop of Aspen. Fashion Island’s open-air environment complements the sunny summer days ahead, making for a distinctive Southern California shopping outing.
Even with numerous department stores and shopping centers throughout the region, Orange County still maintains its identity: Most stores carry a unique set of merchandise that is adapted to the Orange County lifestyle, Christen says.
Boutiques and Antiques
While the large shopping centers provide an extensive selection of apparel and home furnishings, Christen also likes to take clients to some of the area’s “hidden gems.” A favorite is Laguna Supply in Laguna Beach, a women’s clothing boutique featuring casual chic apparel (949-497-8850).
Reile also directs female guests of the St. Regis to a host of shops in the Laguna Beach area, including Fetneh Blake, which offers runway and ready-to-wear couture from French and British designers (fetnehblake.com), and Anastasia Boutique, where visitors will find unusual designs combined with interesting fabric combinations and cuts (anastasiaboutique.com).
“We like to guide our guests by what they wish to shop for,” Reile says. “We are prepared for different types of guests and different tastes; that is very important to us because we want to listen to [their] needs.”
Up the coast, the beachside neighborhoods of Crystal Cove and Corona del Mar showcase some of the best Orange County boutique shopping. Find nautically inspired looks at Coastal Cool at Crystal Cove Promenade (crystalcovepromenade. com), or visit another of Christen’s top picks, Westerly Boutique in Corona del Mar, for fun apparel and accessories from designers not usually found in Orange County (949-313-7111).
For those seeking a different kind of style— inspiring looks for the home—Laguna Beach’s Melange carries antiques and collectibles from around the world (949-497-3100), while McKee & Company in Monarch Beach impresses with fine furniture and European antiques (mckeeco.com).
Traveling slightly inland, guests will find themselves back where it all began—the bustling plaza in Old Towne Orange, now the center of some of the best antique shopping in the area: Chapman Antique Mall, Woody’s Antiques, Country Roads Antiques & Gardens and Orange Circle Antique Mall, among others.
Whether guests are seeking an authentic old town sensibility or contemporary looks designed by a personal stylist, Orange County has something for everyone as one of the major shopping destinations worldwide.
The secret to a chic summer look in 2012 is all about color, personal stylist Leslie Christen says. From bold neons to pretty pastels, the colors of the season are reminiscent of summer itself. Exciting combinations of soft pinks and electric oranges bring to mind a vibrant sunset, while vivid blues evoke images of the sparkling coast.
As seen on the runways of Zac Posen and Elie Saab Couture, mint green is the leader of the pastels, Christen says. Paired with natural tones for a fresh, modern look, or with other pastels for a feminine figure, it acts as a subtle alternative to traditional white.
Gladiator sandals and color blocking are holdouts from
last season, as are flowing silhouettes and floral prints. Christen explains, “Designers are starting to understand that most women don’t want to change their wardrobes every season; rather, they add to it with fantastic pieces.”
Size Matters. “Women are stuck in a size stigma,” says veteran stylist Leslie Christen, owner of Leslie Christen Lifestyling. “there is no uniform sizing standard in the business.” Clothing that doesn’t fit properly can create an unflattering shape—baggy clothing adds bulk, while too-tight clothing clings to the body and emphasizes figure flaws. it’s important for women to ignore the numbers and find clothes that have a comfortable and complimentary fit, she explains.
Keep it Simple. “A favorite quote of mine is, ‘Simplicity is the root to elegance,’ ” Christen says. When working with clients, she recommends pairing basic wardrobe staples with a seasonal trend for a classic yet updated look. match like colors with one another, and add accent accessories to make a subtle style statement.
Stick to a Personal Style. When clothing is too far out of a woman’s comfort zone—whether it’s the color or cut—it shows, Christen says. For a woman most comfortable in demure floral prints and flats, a vibrant red dress and towering stilettos may not be an ideal wardrobe choice. Christen’s recommendation is to follow a color palette that balances personal preference with the latest trends.