Tuesday, August 7, 2007

To Hell and Back

I came upon the HELL’S KITCHEN FLEA MARKET totally by accident. However, isn’t there a school of thought that believes there is no such thing as an ACCIDENT? Could this, instead, have been a supernatural force ... so POWERFUL ... that my merely human willpower was no match against it? (Boo!) ...

Anyway ...

Late one bleak winter Sunday afternoon, I wandered onto 9th Avenue from 39th Street. On the west side of the street, I spied clothing racks and tables. Although I had no interest in shopping, I felt myself being DRAWN to the displayed items. Fortunately or UNfortunately, before I could get a grip on my senses (and wallet), I was furiously haggling with a bundled-up woman over the price of a stunning burgundy long-sleeved floor-length 70% cashmere 30% silk Malo dress and vest combo. It was in perfect condition and ended up costing $25. Flushed with success, I battled the bitter winds to reach a banner that read THE STORE WITH NO WALLS.

Racks and racks were packed with gorgeous coats, all in flawless condition and all bearing the word “FIRM” under the prices. Because what I liked was too stiff for my budget, I was just about to leave when a man started yelling, “Half-price! All the coats ... except the furs ... half-off until closing!” Closing was at 6 PM, just 15 minutes away! I quickly grabbed a 70s floor length double-breasted glen-plaid wool number that was fully lined in deep orange with deep orange buttons. In a rickety mirror it looked fabulous. I forked over $75, half the original (“FIRM”) price. I spent the remainder of the winter and almost the entire spring receiving compliments on this coat every time I wore it, which was a lot.
Pucci, Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney Heels ($100 each at Columbus Vintage Treasures).
Little did I know that this seemingly haphazard collection of goods was really a bustling scene during more clement weather and had been a NYC fixture since 1976 (according to the market’s web site) ... or since 2003 after a 60-year break (according to the market’s web site). What I AM certain of is that this is where the 26th St. Flea Market has moved/is moving. Despite that last wrinkle, you’ll be happy to know that the vendors here are so much nicer than the 26th St. bunch. The only problem? The Hell’s Kitchen stall owners have a tendency to roam off, leaving behind babysitters who inform you that they know nothing about the stock, but the owner(s) will be back “ ... in 10 minutes.” Nevertheless, despite the almost too easy-going atmosphere, the prices are sweeter and bargaining is encouraged and fruitful. Let’s hope that this attitude rubs off on the 26th St. refugees!

Duck Candle with Richard 'They know I have the real deal. I'm famous, so I should be in the picture' Lefkowitz ($10 at The East West Trading Co.)
I returned when the weather improved. Once again, THE STORE WITH NO WALLS blew me away. “Just tell them (meaning YOU) that our goods are appropriate for anywhere from Park Ave. to the park bench!” Said the affable Anthony, who runs the “store” with his equally charming wife.

Despite the heat, I found the infamous fur designer Larissa trying on a beautiful Russian broadtail. Larissa lives in the neighborhood. She assured me that their furs are exceptional and anyone who knows Larissa knows that she does not mince words, especially about her passion and livelihood. This time, I was seduced by the perfect purses, along with a perfect gold crochet late 60s/early 70s pants and Maud-length vest ensemble ($75). I left with a tiny beautiful gold beaded purse, the pants outfit and a delicious white ostrich chubby. This place is DANGEROUS.

Another danger zone is COLUMBUS VINTAGE TREASURES. If you are a shoe freak (who isn’t?), you will experience heaven when you see the high-end never-worn goods, all for $100. I still have dreams about the black velvet with gold, green and platinum silk Pucci stilettos and the Stella McCartney sage green velvet pair with Lucite high heels.
Victorian Bird Dioramas ($1,200 at Ronniescot, LLC); Larissa models Russian Broadtail with Mink Collar ($99 at The Store With No Walls).
For that perfect something to spice up your home, that jaw-dropping gift for eccentric friends with persnickety tastes or if you need props for professional reasons, check out the Victorian dioramas of stuffed wildlife at RONNIESCOTT, LLC. The prices range from $1,200 to $2,500 and everything is in pristine condition. If you or your loved ones are vegetarians or PETA members, you might want to, instead, direct your attention to THE EAST WEST TRADING CO. The owner, Richard Lefkowitz, quickly informs you that everyone, from Ralph Lauren to the National Parks Service to Hollywood, has purchased his wondrous stash of rare antique architectural, military and sporting items. Hugh Grant’s name is even dropped in relation to a 1914 brown enamel and brass Weller bean pot ($49).

The huge display of vintage beads, stones, buttons and jewelry at SANDY SCHOR & CO will make you re-think disposing of that old blazer or sweater or blouse. The Mother-of-Pearl buttons and the wooden animal closures used on kimono obis are exceptionally unique finds. Unfortunately, Sandy skips town once the weather gets extreme, so your browsing is limited to Fall and Spring.
Ribbon Dresses ($35-$45 at Ronniescot, LLC).
Mother of Pearl Buttons (50¢-$10 at Sandy Schor & Co).
Finally, for the tabloid-loving crowd, there are the tables piled with old magazines. Depending on which day you visit, the tables move around or disappear entirely, so you’ll need to search a bit, but it’s worth it. The magazines’ headlines are as hilariously evil as any you’d find today. On just one Movie Mirror cover (Dec ’68), we are informed that “Paul Newman Confesses: ‘I didn’t want Joanne for a wife!’” (Naturally, they’re STILL married) and “Liz Taylor’s New Fear: ‘Richard can’t stand sick people around him!’ Her Desperate Search for Miracle Treatment! The Story the Papers Couldn’t Print!” If you consider yourself more highbrow, there’s always the Time from June 20, 1960 that sports a cover story on the always riveting and essential subject of “The Suburban Wife”. I think I’ll stick with Liz and Paul.

Definitely make this flea market a part of your back-to-school itinerary. And, happily, there’s a built-in excuse for losing control of your purse strings: “The Devil made me do it!”
Wooden Animal Kimono Obi Closures ($30 at Sandy Schor & Co).