Not that any of us need more stuff, but the livelihood of many artisans, creators, and retailers depends on our collective consumption of new things. I hope that for most of you, the inevitable is a modest, thoughtful list of recipients to shop for over the forthcoming holidays. Since Northern California is my new home, I thought a San Francisco gift guide would be fitting. Local independent retail is alive and flourishing here, with a great breadth of wares on offer.
Here are my picks, available locally and/or online, from some of the Bay Area’s best shops (or digital start-ups):
Apparel & Accessories
Enough said, really. That her store carries emerging cult brands like Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Simon Miller, and Jacquemus makes it all the more impressive. Oakland isn’t a city one normally associates with fashion, but the entire Bay Area is flush with high income, worldly shoppers, including in areas inland, which are comparatively more affordable than San Francisco proper.
McMullen also stocks Bea Bongiasca jewelry. I met Bea briefly while at SDA Bocconi—the Luxury & Arts Club held a case competition around her fledgling brand. She is younger than I am, designing for a decidedly hipper young woman who isn’t afraid to be playful with her heirloom jewels.
Bea Bongiasca Rice Ball Drop Earrings, $284. Sterling silver, made in Italy.
Hero Shop, Tenderloin
Emily Holt, along with Sherri McMullen, is helping show the world that San Francisco fashion is more than fleece and Allbirds sneakers. Like McMullen, Holt stocks respected lines like Tibi and Paul Andrew alongside fresh entrants like Brock Collection and Myriam Schaefer.
The latter is formerly of Balenciaga, where she designed the brand’s iconic City bag, now as recognizable as the Fendi baguette and Hermès Kelly. Schaefer launched her own line in 2012, focusing on edited details and simple silhouettes, and has worked with Tibi in recent past to create their own line of handbags.
Her designs remind me of other stealthy-wealthy, European brands like Delvaux and Fontana (both carried at Barneys), which fly under the radar, covetable for their neat details and unique shapes more than their brand visibility.
Myriam Schaefer Volpone Grand olive suede crossbody bag, $3,304. Made in Italy.
MILANER (online only)
I have corrected many people since moving to San Francisco. Yes it is a fashion town, just with a different emphasis. That is, on innovation and disruption rather than big brands, logos, etc.
MILANER is a great example. Launched by Italian San Franciscan Elisa Rossi, the site is a platform whereby family-run artisanal makers in Italy connect directly with consumers to produce custom pieces, in the same manner and with the same materials they do for world-renown brands. Glossy calls it “the Etsy of luxury.”
Since many layers of distribution and marketing are removed, the prices are very reasonable. For example, this cowl-neck suede jacket, very Rick Owens-esque. The Rogue is made by Alessandro Dagioni in Perugia, and customizable with gold, silver, or gunmetal hardware. Delivery in +/- four weeks. $680.
Evan Kinori, Hayes Valley
SF menswear designer and pattern maker Evan Kinori comes from a skateboarding background, so his clothing blends function with beautiful form. As GQ profiled him recently, Kinori wanted to emulate the simple, durable styles of the early 2000s, when [skate] parks were full of army shirts and work pants. “The best skaters, or the ones I looked up to, dressed pretty uniquely.”
Today, his line is carried in a handful of independent retailers across the world. He has a private studio in San Francisco for shopping appointments, too, and sometimes you can find him around the corner at Reliquary, another great indie destination.
The jacket below is from an olive heavyweight wide wale organic cotton corduroy woven in Germany; constructed with french seams, cuff cinch tabs, large dropped chest pockets with hidden button closure & side entry hand warmer pockets, corozo buttons, two-way separating RiRi zipper, and pointed collar tips. It’s also a hand-numbered edition, made in California.
Industry of All Nations, Hayes Valley
IOAN for short, this brand aims to reconsider all the methods of product manufacturing, honoring the environment and respecting the sources of labor and material, across the world. The brand’s shop in Hayes Valley carries cotton basics made in India, alpaca knits from Bolivia, and denim from Los Angeles, all naturally dyed.
While the final products are mostly one step too rustic for me (I prefer a touch more polish), I respect the IOAN mission and would happily wear a pair of their jeans or one of their basic t-shirts. An alpaca cardigan would be welcome on a chilly day too.
Fashionphile, Union Square
Second-hand is the new first-hand, especially if you can’t keep up with the rapidly escalating prices of luxury accessories. Plus, this is one of the handbags spotted on the arm of Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. A collectible, covetable, timelessly feminine piece.
Home & Design
March, Pacific Heights
This stretch of Sacramento Street between Pac Heights and Presidio Heights connects two wealth epicenters of San Francisco, which is saying something, because the entire region is wealthy. Thus, you’ll find some of the most expensive home goods and decor here, at stores like March, The Future Perfect, and Sue Fisher King.
I love these little alabaster votives, which have both an earthy and polished feel.
Michaël Verheyden Grey Alabaster T-Lights, $85-$195. Made in Belgium.
The Future Perfect, Pacific Heights
Most everything at The Future Perfect is exclusively for million and billionaires with a comical level of disposable income, of which there are plenty in San Francisco. The store also has locations in New York and Los Angeles.
However, browsing the showroom and website is a fascinating peek into the world of design-driven, ultra-high-end home decor, fixtures, and furniture. Here are some things that would be worth splurging on:
A simple, elegant, highly-labored over walnut and leather desk with just the right scale and flourish.
Cedric Desk by Kay+Stemmer for SCP. $3,910. Made in the U.K.
Or, this candelabra. With a geodesic shape and 3-, 6-, or 9-candle formations, it strikes me as a dramatic, fantastical centerpiece for a holiday dinner party.
Agnes Candelabra by Lindsay Adelman for Roll & Hill. Starting from $1,500. Made in Brooklyn.
Coyuchi, Point Reyes
Inspired by coastal landscapes and a central commitment to slow, sustainable production, Coyuchi is the ultimate in casual luxury in the Bay Area, at least in terms of textiles, bedding, etc.
The brand has a showroom in its former HQ in Downtown Point Reyes, filled with linens, unisex robes, throw blankets, and towels, all about as organic and natural as you can get without sleeping on a bed of hay.
Larkspur Linen Throw, $248-$498. Made in Portugal.
Black Bird Bookstore, Outer Sunset / Captain Okō, Point Reyes
Neither Black Bird nor Captain Okō has any e-commerce, but they both were pleasant little discoveries in my exploration of lesser-traveled San Francisco pockets.
Black Bird has been a favorite spot to browse curated books on topical subjects (like democracy, racism, capitalism, science), in addition to cookbooks and a small selection of accessories and home goods. It’s next door to Trouble Coffee, which serves legendary cinnamon toast. Next door to that is A Case For Making, a store with all manner of supplies for painting, drawing, sketching, and other artistic pursuits, and GENERAL STORE, which feels very Brooklyn meets California.
These, combined with some great restaurants, have created an oasis of edgy cool in an otherwise mostly homogenous, suburban part of San Francisco, a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean.
About an hour north, in Point Reyes Station, is Captain Okō, a diminutive shop at a busy crossroads, only opened in June, that is best described as an elegant artist’s shed. The owner, whom I spoke with briefly, was every bit as charming and friendly as her store was thoughtfully outfitted with baskets made of sea grass and telephone wire crafted by women in Senegal, cotton and bamboo kaftans from Turkey, and Japanese antiques.
Both Black Bird and Captain Okō carry Uashmama (“wash-mama”) accessories, which are made in Tuscany from washable paper. The manufacturing process of stretching and tanning is similar, so the products come out with very hide-like qualities, but can be used, abused, and washed over and over. The fabric is made of cultivated virgin fibers, not using trees, so it’s sustainable too.
I love the forward-thinking, green quality of the line, but what makes it appealing—what touches my emotions—is how refined and beautiful it is. When I think about behavioral change in the world, in the pursuit of less pollution or waste or whatever, it’s clear to me that a product being “better for the environment” isn’t enough. It has to be sexy too. Tesla is a good example of that paradigm in the automotive world. It made electric cars cool.
This marriage of environmental consciousness and stirring design is one of the unique competencies in Italy, of Italian craftspeople. While they’re adamant about tradition, they’re not blind to the need to innovate, adapt, and invent. It’s just one of the reasons I’ve said that Italy is the answer.
If you’re in the Bay Area, find Uashmama at Black Bird Bookstore in The Outer Sunset, at Captain Okō in Point Reyes, or other spots in San Francisco, Oakland, Petaluma, Lafayette, Sebastopol, Mill Valley, Berkeley, and Fremont. Or of course, online through their own e-commerce.
Uashmama makes handbags, utility bags, paper bins for things like trash and recycling, or smaller cases and bags for use as lunchbags, storage, and plant containers. The line also includes paper wallets, aprons, and other lifestyle accessories.
Other & Gifts
ZGO Perfumery, Castro
ZGO isn’t the only indie perfume shop in the area, but it may be the most impressive. The airy shop in the Castro neighborhood, just off the rainbow strip, stocks a respectable range of fragrances for body and room, from familiar names like Diptyque and Byredo, as well as more obscure lines like Blood Concept and Escentric Molecules.
From my time working with Tampa indie perfume retailer Uncommon Finds, I know a comprehensive, best-of-the-best fragrance temple when I see one.
While I haven’t sampled everything available at ZGO, my personal current favorite is Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 Extrait de Parfum (even more concentrated than eau de parfum). For a piddly 70ml, it’s an eye-popping $425 (and currently out of stock). But trust me when I tell you, it’s a crowd pleaser. I have a sample from Neiman Marcus, which I use judiciously. When I do, everyone likes it.
Otherwise, I’d recommend A Lab On Fire’s California Snow. When in San Francisco…after all. And a much more reasonable $125.
This new release from A Lab On Fire is described in a way my yoga teacher might have worded it: “Go from headlands to cedar grove to desert. You are carried away on gusts of coastal sage, above the city and into the hills. The lights below match the stars in the sky. A breeze blows rosebuds and dust. is is California Snow. Dawn meets boundless light and embraces you. A song rises as whisper: You are who opens within.”
For an ambient olfactory experience, how about the Ash Candle from Boy Smells ($29). Around the holidays and during the cooler months, something woody and smoky is always welcome.
Boy Smells was founded by real-life partners Matthew Herman and David Kien in Los Angeles in 2015, as a venue to make “the things they’d want to use on a daily basis, products that were fluid and essential.”
Today, Boy Smells also makes a line of intimate apparel, alongside candles and votives.
This San Francisco gift guide is not even close to definitive or comprehensive. There are many more inventive, beautiful, and conscientious brands and retailers to discover in the region, all of which have great things available for gift-giving.
For more ideas, for gifts this holiday season, or for details about San Francisco, check these boards on Pinterest:
And, I’ve also created a San Francisco Spots custom map, where all of these shops and stores are noted.