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San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood has evolved in the last decade from one of the city’s seediest districts into one of its chicest enclaves.

Restored 19th-century Victorian homes coexist with live-work lofts. Art galleries and bistros are bustling with fashion-loving locals and international tourists.

Ironically, gentrification got a kick start from the 1989 earthquake, which damaged a section of the Central Freeway adjacent to Hayes Valley. This section of highway, since removed, discouraged foot traffic and new business development.

The blooming retail scene is focused on fashion-forward designer and contemporary apparel. Hayes Valley’s retail landscape is defined by independence. Residents have resisted franchises, favoring single-store retailers that complement the bohemian vibe.

This spirit sets Hayes Valley apart from San Francisco’s chain-store-filled shopping hubs such as Haight and Union Streets, and “allows stores to be more unique,” said Desiree Alexander, owner of local specialty store Dish. “If you had a Gap or a Bebe next to you, you wouldn’t be able to carry the really out-there pieces.”

387 Grove Street
Vibe: Belgian art house meets Seventies Soho
Defining Brands: Martin Margiela, Dries van Noten

Avant-garde garb reigns supreme at Mac, a 3,000-square-foot store that relocated to Hayes Valley from downtown San Francisco two-and-a-half years ago.

Owner Ben Ospital favors Belgian designers like Martin Margiela and Dries van Noten. Mac also carries styles from Japanese fashion innovators such as Tsumori Chisato and a handful of fashion-forward designers from San Francisco, including Lemon Twist, which retails for $125 to $500, and Dema, whose Seventies-inspired shirtwaist cotton dress is popular at $240 a pop. Cashmere cardigans from Martin Margiela — priced at $768 — are another big seller.

“We dress the more creative San Francisco [resident],” Ospital said. “The store is very haberdasher-y, but a bit more on the avant-garde side.”

Mac is rolling out its first shipment of Lanvin from Paris. “A lot of our customers have grown up with us and are now ready for us to carry the super-high-end stuff,” Ospital said.

541 Hayes Street
Vibe: Industrial cool grows up
Defining Brands: Citizens of Humanity, Goldenbleu

This story first appeared in the July 19, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Owner Desiree Alexander described the mélange of women’s apparel and accessories at Dish as “a mix of edgy and girly.”

The 1,600-square-foot store — sister location to the original Dish, which opened a decade ago in Berkeley — stocks boutique lines such as San Francisco-based knitwear company Lilja, which retails from $186 to $500-plus for space-dyed wool and cashmere sweaters and sweater dresses. Party frocks and blouses from Rebecca Taylor are in the $300 range.

Accessories include delicate 14-karat gold charm necklaces priced at $150 to $400. The boutique also carries more ubiquitous denim labels such as Citizens of Humanity and Notify.

“I try to have a couple of cool, out-there pieces and then sell some basic things that go with it,” Alexander said. “We’ve had the same customers for years. They come back because we tell them the truth.”

544 Hayes Street
Vibe: Sleek designer showroom
Defining Brands: Vanessa Bruno, Isabel Marant

A former art gallery proved to be the perfect space for Nida, a store specializing in European designer apparel for women and men.

Nida’s Italian-born owner, Kiko Giobbio, modeled the 11-year-old boutique on his family’s apparel store, also named Nida, in Caserta, Italy.

The airy, 1,500-square-foot shop sells apparel, shoes and bags from about 30 women’s designers, including Isabel Marant, whose structured, vaguely bohemian separates and dresses range from $100 to $300, and Vanessa Bruno, whose bubble skirts and metallic dresses retail for $400 to $600.

Emilio Pucci, Paul & Joe, Costume National and Alessandro Dell’Acqua are also represented. The sole American brand is Marc by Marc Jacobs.

Giobbio’s affinity for Vanessa Bruno prompted him to open a second, smaller store down the street, called Vanessa Bruno at Nida, which carries the Parisian designer’s collections exclusively.

508 Hayes Street
Vibe: Asian-influenced minimal chic
Defining Brands: Deanna Bratt, Sass & Bide, Corey Lynn Calter

Backspace stocks a well-edited collection of frocks and separates from emerging designers, both local and national.

Owner Susan Jones said she takes pride in “not having the same lines everyone else has” in her 1,100-square-foot store. “We mix more popular things like Diane von Furstenberg, Ella Moss, Corey Lynn Calter, Splendid Ts and Sass & Bide jeans with more forward pieces from [brands such as] Ziji, who makes these really forward dresses and separates.”

Local designers are well represented — from Deanna Bratt, whose hand-screened Ts sell for $36, and Gina Pericini, whose bubble-sleeved tops with wooden beadwork retail for around $90, to a line of reworked vintage purses by Liz Saintsing and jewelry by AKA and Metaphor.

“The San Francisco designers are really unique,” said Jones, who adds that her target customer “wants really nice things but wants to be a little bit different.”

Lemon Twist
537 Octavia Boulevard
Vibe: Pop Art at the lemonade stand
Defining Brand: Lemon Twist

Chicago transplant Danette Scheib designed the mod-inspired contemporary line, Lemon Twist, for six years before opening a freestanding retail store to showcase the brand in November.

The 500-square-foot boutique, gussied up with hanging globe lights and Warhol-style red flowers painted on one wall, also functions as a workshop for Scheib and her partner/husband, Eric.

Best-selling looks include a cowl-neck blouse with a choker-like attachment that retails for $140 to $180, depending on the fabric; a jumper-like dress for $160 that can be worn alone or over a blouse; and a collection of outerwear — including trenches, capes and dusters — that retail for around $500.

Although muted, solid colors play a defining role in the collection, Scheib said she is most inspired by Sixties-era prints. “We’re not afraid of wild prints and colors,” she said. “I always say I’m going to do a [monochromatic] collection one day, but I haven’t been able to.”

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