Arista Surgical Supply Co. 67 Lexington Ave. (betw. 25th & 26th Sts.) 679-3694, 800-223-1984
You still hear people repeat sometimes, without really thinking about it, the conventional wisdom that the east side's snootier than the west side. Older, stiffer, less fun. Those people must not have in mind Murray Hill, a neighborhood full of cool little boutiques, corner bistros and coffeeshops, Indian restaurants and Pakistani foodshops. There aren't many chain stores, and the area feels like you're someplace that couldn't be anywhere else. They say the whole city used to feel like this.
It's in Murray Hill that you'll find Arista, a store whose display windows are full of dissecting kits ($6.50) and black leather doctors' satchels ($70-$255). But you don't need surgical supplies, you say. You're young, you're healthy and you don't even want to look at assorted gouges, bone screws, dressing jars or?God forbid?bedpans.
How about a set of gleaming stainless-steel canisters, priced at $25, though? Or Pyrex jars with stainless-steel tops ($8.50-$17.50, depending on size)? These sleek items are perfect for kitchen or bathroom use; they're good for cotton balls, or rice, or polenta, or tubes of skin cream, or bottles of nail polish. You can also pick up a mortar and pestle for pounding spices, available in glass ($13-$18) or porcelain ($14.50-$21). There are many sizes and varieties of flasks, and beakers that William Burstein, the store's manager, tells me are very popular for coffee and wine.
Arista has been in its current location since 1946, and it's still owned by the same family that started it. Linger long enough and you'll find yourself admiring the spare, functional beauty of its wares.
And you never know. Someday it might come in handy to know where you can get your hands on an orthopedic drill ($550) or a professional splinter kit ($22).
East Village Boutique
Meg 312 E. 9th St. (betw. 1st & 2nd Aves.), 260-6329
If you're looking for frivolity, or hot and vampy clothes, you're probably not going to look to Canada, or to Canadians.
On the other hand, I recently met Meghan Kinney, a young woman with bright blonde hair and a lot of gold jewelry, who owns an East Village shop called Meg, where she sells her own designs?women's clothing in bold colors and daring cuts. The remarkable thing is that Kinney's from Canada. My mind's been blown open.
Kinney launched her line six years ago, and sales have been so solid that she recently had to expand into the space next door. I stopped by Meg recently to try on a shiny, calf-length black skirt with just enough spandex to grab a little ass ($110). Kinney laughed when I stepped out of the dressing room, and said: "Heeey! Saucy secretary!" I blushed modestly and looked around for a bigger size. It was too much for this hometown girl, but the point stands?Kinney isn't shy, and she's unafraid to straddle the line that separates hot from...well, too hot.
I bought that skirt in a size just small enough to hint at shape, but not tight enough to put that shape on sale.
That's not to say that everything she sells is a little forward. She offers loads of sleeveless dresses?currently marked down to $112 during a summer sale. These pretty frocks with a low neckline and a below-the-knee hem are finished with a waxy gloss, and marked by bright colors such as cobalt, orange and lime. The prints are bold; the cuts are simple, fluid and easy to wear. The dress also comes in a shade of comparatively stately gray, for the timid. A brown and white dress with thick spaghetti-straps and a straight cut across the front has a vintage pattern that would be as suitable for office wear as it would be for a hungover Saturday brunch. It's fairly priced at $104.
Meg's racks are crowded with A-line skirts, tanktops, t-shirts and dresses, and scattered throughout the store are bathing suits, jewelry and bags sold on consignment by other East Village designers. The bead-enhanced string bikinis would look perfect in Cannes, if not in Ottawa, while the jewelry?much of it rubber and silver?has about it a touch of London punk.
Village Style 179 MacDougal St. (8th St.), 598-1001
Shakespeare was confounded by the fashion of hair, thinking it as inscrutable as the workings of the universe. Man hasn't gained much further insight into what he wants in a haircut, and still traces the edges of contradiction?desiring something spartan but civilian, angular but organic, a clandestine playfulness, a muted but perceptible masculinity. Recently in National Review?the discerning gentleman's source for fashion advice?pundit Omar Wasow was quoted referring to the "visual trope" of his hair. A man should never discuss the "visual trope" of his hair. ("Bill, my sideburns retreat from my jowl in a manner not dissimilar from the Prefect's neglect of the signification in Lacan's treatment of 'The Purloined Letter.' Jevernotice?") Yet in the desperation born of a man's fear of his overgrown hair helmet, anxiety about it is only as far from his consciousness as the nearest plate glass window.
Should I grow it out? What about the interim period? Will I look childish? Should I bring in a magazine picture? Will that haircut translate?
There are two dominant impulses operating in the mind of a man in need of a haircut. The first impulse is to find an expert, an artist. A man so proficient at his craft that he can assess the proper cut by a quick examination of the customer, taking into account fashion sense, facial structure, hair color and texture, occupation and degree of reticence or nervousness. This barber should, as well, be a Cincinnatus of the scissors and straight razor, able to perform and sculpt without regard for esthetic ambition, fighting off the urge to treat his customer's head as a canvas. He approaches each entrusted head with a sense of duty and honor. If this man exists at all, you cannot afford him.
The second impulse is the opposite of the first: the desire for control. The haircut, it is assumed, can be as manageable as an equation. The customer finds haircuts that strike his fancy, sported by models or celebrities, and directs the barber to replicate the desired look. Sunken eyes fixed upon the mirror during the cut, the customer micromanages the choice of tool, the length gradient from the top to the sides, symmetry, pace and so forth. Yet the autocrat often errs in his delusions of expertise. Hair is not urban planning. Impose such rigidity upon it and risk looking like Kraftwerk.
It's tempting to abdicate and descend into the clutches of Astor Place Hair Designers for an urban factory special. It seems as if the barbers of an earlier generation are nowhere to be found, with their mythic versatility and resolve. For the most part, they aren't, and all that's left are salons, both the fashion-forward and the tacky. For a man to enter a salon is shameful. Thankfully, there is Alex Kalendarev, the owner of Village Style Barber Shop. He will save you from yourself.
Alex has been cutting my hair for nearly two years in a small barbershop off of the repellent 8th St. It's shocking that such a tasteful establishment could exist in proximity to Funhouse and so many freaks and wiggers. Yet each time I go to Village Style, I find that more hipsters have come in from the cold, in need of genuine skill. In light of the garishness of the neighborhood, it's easy to neglect Village Style, with its folding chairs, lite music and vintage pornography magazines. (I was reading the Don Hewitt interview, I assure you.) Do so at your peril.
Arriving from Uzbekistan in 1995, Alex set to work at barber school, practicing on black people. He was issued his license in December of 1998, and opened the shop shortly afterward. Black hair appears to remain a novelty for him.
"There were never any black people in my country," he shrugs.
And yet at Village Style, no matter how flaxen or nappy a head is, Alex treats it with crisp precision, refreshing in a world of segregated barbershops.
Every time I enter the shop, Alex talks with me about work, women and the day's news, like the Platonic archetype of a barber. I try to explain to him what sort of haircut I want, fumbling my words a bit, and Alex's powerful skills of intuition pick up what I leave out. It's uncanny the way he can translate a gestured chop of the air by my hand into the perfect squared-off back. He'll periodically ask for input, but is so magisterial that I can retreat into my book or magazine feeling secure in his hands, as strands of hair fall into the binding. Sometimes he'll wince a little if I say I'd like it a little shorter in places, convinced it's not the greatest idea, and other times he'll understand what he didn't quite execute the first time around. After less than 20 minutes, I have a haircut suited to the way I carry myself, for only eight dollars.
The last time I went to Village Style, I chatted with a Cuban gentleman waiting for his friend to finish up with one of Alex's four barbers. He joked about his combover, asked me how long I've been coming to Alex's and pointed out his favorite money shots. His voice dipped an octave as he talked about how much he appreciates Alex's work. I remarked that both of the times I've chosen a different barber out of some naive desire to experiment, I've regretted it before the haircut was finished.
Alex turned to us, grinned and beckoned to his chair.