Positively 7th Street

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Still doing holiday shopping but want an alternative to stepping into mall madness and tackling commercial clutter? Consider a trip to Manhattan's downtown. New York's East Village has a history of anarchy, counterculture and edginess. In keeping with the neighborhood tradition of rebellion, a group of nine entrepreneurs recently formed the Designers of the East Village Association or, simply, DEVA.

By making up their own shopping universe, these stars of style are determined to impede the encroachment of mass merchandisers on their turf. All members of DEVA conceive, create and execute original designs on-site. With goods ranging from haute clothing to one-of-a-kind millinery to jewelry to wearable antiques, DEVA represents a shopping experience where personal touch is the rule. Meet the DEVAs:

117 East 7th Street (First & Avenue A) 212.529.4608 Hours: 1 p.m.–8 p.m., Wed.–Mon. Closed Tues. All major credit cards.

New Zealand–born Cherry Bishop began her career in Australia, where she received training in dress design at the Sydney Institute of Technology. After making a name for herself by selling her fashions at the local Paddington flea market, she moved to New York in 1989 and the following year opened her own boutique, Halo, in the East Village. While Halo gained notoriety as one of the most fashion-forward destinations in the area, Bishop continued her studies in 1995 at Fashion Institute of Technology.

In summer 2000 she opened her namesake boutique. A bias-cut wool jersey skirt of pinkish cranberry ($80) or purple microfiber pants ($120) makes an office-appropriate match with a classic white cotton shirt ($90). The designer pays special attention to fit and will make alterations in a pattern immediately if she sees it's not working on her customers. "If it doesn't fit, it doesn't sell," she remarks. Bishop's creations are stocked in sizes ranging from a petite 2 to a voluptuous 16 and can be made in larger sizes to order.

117 East 7th Street (Between First & Ave. A) 212.475.8898 Hours: 2 p.m.–8 p.m., Wed.–Sun. All major credit cards. Gift-wrapping, special sizing and local delivery available.

Chimaera, the she-monster of Greek mythology portrayed with a lion's head, goat's body and serpent's tail, has come to represent an unattainable or foolish fancy. It's no wonder that designer/silversmith Robin Morris's boutique/workshop is so named, as she fuses sterling silver into intricate, elegant and seemingly impossible designs. In her words, she is "open to enchantment" and takes inspiration from the grandeur of nature and the traditional crafts of Borneo. Her playful, bold, futuristic design sense produces pieces that are edgy and abstract, yet lyrical and sensuous. Showcases lined with desert litter, sand and slate display jewelry with names like Sea King, Pillow or Little Devil. Morris's newest Organic limited edition of wearable art pieces includes rings representing fire and water, massive bands set with cabochon stones or carved with geometric symbols, open-work sculpted cuffs and graceful pendants. Trying on is encouraged as Morris likes to "make up my own rules" with her unique designs. Bracelets ($45–$300) or rings ($45–$80) are popular items as well as custom-made work. Morris, a student of the arts since childhood, graduated from The High School of Art & Design, and majored in set design at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She subsequently left school to pursue her passion for jewelry design and opened her own successful studio in Tribeca, where she worked in acrylics. After taking some time off from jewelry design to explore the field of architectural restoration, she returned to jewelry but in a different medium — silver. She opened Chimaera in October 2000.

315 E. 9th Street 212.529.1175 Hours: 7 days; 1 p.m.–9:30 p.m. All major credit cards.

February Eleventh is the birthday of its proprietress Ruth Dorsla, a Liberian-born designer whose dreamy specialties include silk embroidery, crochet and hand-dyes in items such as wraps, ponchos, dresses, blouses, dusters and scarves. It's a shop that satisfies the appetites of rock-star aggressives and ethereal earth goddesses equally. Her hand-dyes are known for their exceptional and sometimes startling color combinations, a talent she attributes to "having no color sense." Dorsla explains that unlike in New York, where black is a fashion staple (a code she encountered upon arriving at the Fashion Institute of Technology), in West Africa, vibrant colors are fashion-forward. Unique colorings and mixed textures result as different fabrics react unpredictably to a two-step dye process, making many of her creations one-of-a-kind. Her dye expertise was born out of necessity as a small shop owner since larger dye houses only handle wholesale quantities. Scarves can be purchased for the head, neck, or cumber bands for ($40–$350). To top off her special occasion selections for holiday 2000 she also produces hair ornaments and other accessories. Says Dorsla, "My shop is all about romance... and color."

66 East 7th Street (Second & First Aves.) 212.358.7092 Hours: Mon.–Sat. 12:30–8 p.m., Sun. 1–7 p.m. All Credit Cards.

Combining timeless design elegance with impeccable workmanship, a fashion-forward eye and more than a dash of whimsy, Barbara Feinman sold her hat designs for several years to a number of leading retailers before opening her own atelier shop in 1998. In its first year it was listed No. 4 in the "50 Great New Stores" in New York Magazine's 1998 Christmas shopping guide. It is also listed in this year's "New York Magazine Shops — A Guide to the Best Stores in New York." With one of the very few shops in the city where hats are actually made on the premises, Barbara and apprentice designer Mei Lan Low hand-block and hand-craft hats from start to finish using techniques and equipment scarcely changed since the 19th century. Says Feinman, "Some of the wood blocks we use are probably 100 years old, and the sewing machine we sew hats on, called a setup machine, is a refurbished antique. You can't buy a new one; the machines are not manufactured anymore." Styles range from fedoras to cloches and are made for men and women. Although custom-made, most hats are under $200 and made with quality fabrics and timeless style. Feinman studied English at Vassar College, then spent almost 20 years in corporate jobs. On a lark she registered in a millinery class at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and 10 years later she had a career doing what she always loved best — working with her hands. Her designs reflect her cross-section of customers, from uptown matrons to Japanese tourists, and she asserts, "There really is no substitute for a handmade hat." Feinman also stocks modestly priced jewelry, bags, scarves and gloves. Custom hats are available for 10 percent extra.

332 East 9th Street 212.473.0506 7 Days, 12 noon–8 p.m. All Credit Cards.

Nestled in the tree-lined coziness of East 9th Street, Gallery Vercon has showcased brilliant accessories and clothing for more than a decade. It is here that owner Vashti de Verteuil, who came to New York from her native Trinidad, also designs and sells her line of jewelry. She mainly works with sterling silver, semiprecious stones and fresh-water pearls to create classic delicate, feminine pieces. On display are tantalizing examples of mixed semiprecious stones of blue and gray hues set in 14-karat white gold, and sterling rings and necklaces. Her rings are often used as alternatives to the traditional wedding band, and her earrings and bracelets are office-appropriate. In addition to jewelry, De Verteuil designs belts and scarves for specialty stores, boutiques and department stores, as well as special order bridal headpieces. De Verteuil studied fashion design at FIT, and then decided to become an accessories designer. With a background that includes accessory design for Yves St. Laurent, De Verteuil is also an instructor at Parsons School of Design, teaching courses in sterling silver jewelry, beading on fabric, applique, and combined beading and embroidery, the latter being one of the most sought-after accessory trends for holiday 2000. Gallery Vercon also carries handmade accessories by other designers such as hats, scarves and ties.

117 E. 7th Street 212.505.9653 Hours: 1 p.m.–7 p.m., Tues.–Sun. American Express, Visa, MasterCard

Joanie James NY specializes in clothing for women's sizes 4–14 and girls from infant to size 10. Her women's wear is unique in that it is cut to flatter the feminine, hourglass figure. Using design categories targeted to satisfy the needs of today's multifaceted woman, James' silk evening wear line has "fancy dress" appeal for formal wear, brides, bridesmaids and flower girls. Her wool jersey knits make a classy transition from the office to after work; and stretch velvets work for every day as well as parties and nightclubbing. An elegant emerald green glitter tank dress ($109) and its matching self-tie jacket with lettuce edging along the sleeves and hem ($79) can be coordinated with an emerald green velvet ensemble in girls' sizes from infant ($25/dress and $25/jacket) to 10-year-old ($65/dress and $39/jacket). The fabrication used in the girls' line is the same as the women's line, making stylish possibilities for distinctive "mother-daughter" ensembles. James' girls' line is currently wholesaled under the name JJNY Kids. Her girls' line, inspired and road-tested by her 6-year-old, is stretchy and comfortable. James also carries a line of sophisticated sweaters by Jamie Krietman, scarves by Ellen Martin and hats by Barbara Volker. James — a graduate of Mundelein College in Chicago, where she majored in textile and clothing and minored in business — worked as an assistant designer and pattern maker in various sportswear companies before moving to New York. Joanie James NY is now a 10-year institution in the East Village's fashion row.

80 East 7th Street 212.674.6753 Hours: 12–8 p.m., Wed.–Sat; 2–6 p.m. Sun. Visa/MasterCard. Knitting classes by appointment only. Call for schedule of upcoming knitting parties.

A crowd gathers in front of the window of NO XS to watch a scene serenely out of place on this trendy stretch of street. More than a dozen people are seated inside, needles poised, as owner Michele Renee hosts one of her popular monthly knitting parties. Renee, who also attracts a crowd when she pulls out her just-like-the-fairy-tale spinning wheel, creates couture, hand-dyed yarn. Her knits are available in cotton to cashmere and include handmade sweaters, skirts, dresses, hats, scarves and quirky but useful knit accessories (cuffs that transform into a scarf for $95). Yarn, patterns and knitting supplies are also available. Stitch by stitch, row by row, the French-born, Brooklyn-bred designer has woven a renewed interest in knitting. Her love of texture, flair for structure and ease with knitting needles has gained a following that has included Julia Roberts, Paulina Porizkova, Sarah Jones, Rosie Perez, Lauryn Hill, Benjamin Bratt and Tricky, to name a few trend-spotters. The "knittress" prides herself on giving customers the personal touch. "Because knitwear follows the line of the body, and every body is different, getting a knit garment in proportion to your size and shape is a must. I feel a one-on-one connection is essential," says Renee. One of the designer's sweater creations is featured in Vogue's Winter 2000/2001 issue.

127 East 7th Street 212.533.5920 Hours: Sat. 12–8 p.m., Sun. 12–6 p.m. Please call for additional holiday hours. All Credit Cards.

"You're only as important as the person who insults you," said Peggy Yunque after the infamous Mr. Blackwell chastised Hillary Rodham Clinton for wearing the same lapel pin (designed by Peggy) every day during the 1992 campaign. "That very same crossed-wings pin continues to be one of my most popular classic designs." This iconoclastic jewelry designer began her career as a supplier of replica jewelry for such institutions as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the New York Public Library and the Walters Art Gallery of Baltimore. A true craftsperson, she makes designs inspired by ancient artifacts rich in symbolic meaning. "Nobody leaves without a lecture," laughs Yunque while describing the ornamentation and beadwork process. If she's too busy for a lecture, she provides history cards with a purchase. These diminutive works of wearable art have become must-haves among shoppers seeking items of intellectual and emotional value. You will also find items inspired by Yunque's fascination with functionality, such as brooch pins designed to hold reading glasses and 1840's style Victorian spine bookmarks ($28–$38). Many items are graced with uncommon and richly colored European beads, adding texture, and they all make thoughtful and impressive gifts. Antique beads also adorn her brilliant deco glass necklaces — a colorful high note in this season's collection. For the 24-hour shopper, a collection of her unique jewelry and gifts can be seen at www.solnyc.com.

110 E. 7th Street 212.477.3937 Mon. 4–8 p.m.; Tues., Fri., Sun. 1–8 p.m.; Sat. 12–8 p.m. Visa/MasterCard

In pursuit of her own line, Nicole Vaughn took her design training and experience downtown to East 7th Street. With a storefront reminiscent of a girlfriend's bedroom, Nicole Vaughn offers classics with a modern flair. "Every time you walk in it's a different store," she explains. Her mix of casual, comfortable separates coordinated to suit the ever-changing needs of the creative working woman has a dedicated following. Her clients have been known to come in with sketches, especially for special occasion dresses ($150–$300). Vaughn is passionate about a shopping atmosphere and clothes that flatter all figures, including those of curvy, strong, healthy women. Her dresses are simple and elegant, draped in matte jersey and rich stretch velvet. Her casual separates range an affordable $69 to $89 and are snapped up quickly. When asked about her prices she quips, "I want to see [the clothes] on the girls, not on hangers." Since the shop window is close to the street, Vaughn gets to take lots of mental style notes. The East Village influence is found in the attention to detail, be it a faux fur collar, a tapestry print or a funky button. Each collection highlights the basic black to which she finds her customers are strongly addicted.