Downtown Fashion Safari

03/30/2005 12:00 AM |

Ah, spring. “When the world is puddle-wonderful,” as e.e. cummings put it, or, in New York’s case, sometimes still snowing. The season when your most rational friend drops the complacent guy she’s been cuddling with all winter for some jackass who looks better without a puffy jacket on. You start taking that Cardio Striptease class everyone’s been talking about after you see a gym poster that says, “57 days till summer: Are YOU ready for someone to see you naked?” People start thinking orange is a good color to wear.

Around the middle of March, I start thinking that if Young Stud Sunshine sees bronze lace-up sandals in my closet, he’ll convince Old Man Winter to ease up. Call it “if you buy it, it will come,” call it faith, but sometimes unabashed shopping for warm-weather goods can actually will spring into being. This spring’s hot wares are as tantalizing as ever — wispy skirts and dresses, bronze woven belts, cropped jackets, stripes and sparkles.

And so it was that on a sadly optimistic Saturday in March, I painted my toenails, put my cowboy boots on and headed for a day of shopping and adventure in NoLita and the Lower East Side. I got off the R train at Prince Street and Broadway at high noon, armed with coffeeand banana bread. (Anyone who starts shopping before noon has an air of desperation.

12:10pm, Mulberry St. For anyone with a Gwen Stefani complex (and some spare cash), walking into Amy Chan is like rummaging through the platinum bombshell’s dressing room. When I walked in, the first thing I grabbed was a Foley+Corinna runched corset. Despite the $199 price tag, its faded watercolor tones and cleavage-enhancing fitted chiffon layers make them spring musts. I plan to stick mine under a crisp white blazer. I loved their Punk Royal Ts and their Keenan Duffy tweed blazers with silk-screened images on their backs for those misty April days we all know are coming.

12:32pm, Mott St. I grabbed soft C+C Ts and Ella Moss shirts off the racks at Poppy like the store was on fire. My fantasy purchase was a cropped gold LaRok jacket ($248), but I ended up buying some soft cotton Tart pieces with plunging necklines  ($90-$150). A warning here: A small glass case next to the register contains a myriad of gold charm necklaces packed in like sardines. Passing it without buying one is a Herculean feat. While I was strong enough to resist, I couldn’t leave without picking up a few charm bracelets for $10-$25 each. I felt better and worse when I found out that Jessica Simpson had bought about 30 a few days earlier.

1:12pm, Mott St. Crossing the street, I watched a giant black Rolls Royce make an awkward parking job. The driver, a striking figure in matching black leather pants, made a bee-line for Mixona, and I envied whatever dame would be the recipient of some beautiful, tissue-wrapped lingerie set. Forget Victoria’s Secret, my undies drawer is lined with Mixona’s own brand of stretch lace bras for $40 and Cosabella’s push-up perfection for $65. There’s even a few spots I’m reserving for that lace and leopard print Dolce & Gabbana set. Sigh…

1:13pm, Mulberry St. The Market NYC is like an art fair for your closet. Oodles of real live designers sit at makeshift tables, eager to chat with you about their wares, in a space that looks like a high school gym. I was only five minutes in when I came face-to-face with the hands behind Nabi Design’s adorable gold and silver charm necklaces. Nabi Kim even thanked me for having bought her “Lady Luck” necklace online. One aisle down, I scored a $70 draping cotton top from a fledgling designer named Katya that might just hang in my closet as a work of art or may make it out with the white leather and snakeskin pumps I got for $18. I chatted about paying the bills by designing for T.J. Maxx and the saving graces of the Internet with young designer Karen Nieto (“no overhead,” she pointed out). Heading toward the back, I found Paolo and Rina˙s tailored shirts made from flawed fabrics they hoard from trips to Europe and Hong Kong. Paolo explained that the fabrics were often the ends of fabric rolls or a yard where a machine made a mistake and overlapped several color patterns. Finally, while I’d lusted after the satirical T-shirts up front with catchphrases like “Ski Iraq” and “Gaza Strip Club,” I ended up snatching a worn Red Sox T-shirt that a young designer named Jac Currie had painted over with an image of a priest or saint. Turns out Jac and I are both from southern states, and Jac has created his very own version of “Keep   Austin Weird” with his “Defend New Orleans” stickers and Ts. Like most designers, Jac got started on the Internet (eBay, specifically) and now sells at Piece in the East Village. While aspiring doctors are victim to constant badgering of “I have this weird [blank] on my [blank],”aspiring designer Jac was greeted with a chorus of couture suggestions from his Mississippi friends like putting Conrad Twitty˙s face on a T-shirt.