San Francisco Shopping Guide: Union Square
With new boutiques, galleries and designers emerging alongside heritage brands and luxury department stores, the city’s best-known shopping district is living up to its reputation.
Union Square has long been the focal point of shopping in San Francisco, even before the days when white-gloved socialites would slip through the doors of I. Magnin wearing nothing but silk slips underneath their fur coats (making it easier to try on opera gowns). Today this bustling commercial area, named for the urban park it surrounds, includes such long-time luxury heavyweights as Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Gumps and Saks. But don’t overlook the smart boutiques, fine-art galleries and up-and-coming designers tucked among their better-known brethren. Here’s a look at some of the recent arrivals that are making their marks on this world-class retail neighbourhood.
Scotch & Soda, 59 Grant Avenue, 1 415/644 8334
This Amsterdam-based company has been popular in Europe since the 1980s, but its youthful line of trendy and well-tailored clothing is a recent addition to the West Coast fashion scene. Sales associates sport leather belts that hold tailor’s tools—tape measures and pins—hinting at the line’s attention to detail. Men can choose from an impressive stock of chinos in seasonal colours and neutrals, as well as preppy button-down shirts that have received a European makeover. Drawing from global inspirations, the women’s line, Maison Scotch, was added in 2010.
JA’s Razor Club, 152 Geary Street, 1 415/398-2707
John Allan’s newest grooming club for men, which occupies 600 square feet (more than 55 square metres) on the second floor of the John Varvatos boutique, is a genteel and masculine sanctuary of dark polished wood, large mirrors and brick walls. Allan had been working as a women’s hair stylist in Paris for 10 years when he realized that there was a sizeable niche to be filled—the full-service salon pour les hommes. The Club’s members pay an annual fee to avail themselves of unlimited services at any of the eight North American locations; non-members, for a one-time cost of USD 85, can enjoy John Allan’s signature service: a massaging shampoo and conditioning, haircut, hot towel, facial cleanse, manicure and shoeshine. Because, says Allan, “Mom always said girls will notice your hands and your shoes.”
Ethos, 333 Sutter Street, 1 415/800-6707
Mother-and-daughter owners Rose and Cat Chung curate all of the clothing, accessories and home goods displayed in this clean, elegant space, with a strong eye toward eco-friendly, one-of-a-kind and handmade items. “There’s a reason we choose a particular piece—because it has a story and a soul behind it,” says Cat. Notable items include beautifully fluid jackets and blouses made from repurposed British silk aviation maps, and featherweight scarves from Dianora Salviati that are hand-loomed and dyed with seeds. While emphasizing smaller, emerging designers, the store is also one of only two in the U.S. carrying Paris designer Anne Valérie Hash, who previously lent her talents to Nina Ricci, Chloé and Chanel.
Bonobos, 55 Grant Avenue, 1 415/283 4959
Frustrated by the dearth of well-fitting pants for men of a certain build—tall and slender, but with more athletic (read bigger) thighs—two Stanford Business School students launched Bonobos in 2007. Since then, this line of casual, fun-yet-upscale menswear has evolved into a successful collection of suits, pants and shirts sold exclusively online—meaning you won’t walk away from the Grant Avenue showroom with something to wear tonight. Stop in to see styles, feel fabrics and try sizes before ordering from the brand website. Weekend and late-afternoon visits call for a trip up to the second-storey loft, where a small bar and a great view of the city streets below regularly inspire impromptu happy hours.