It’s official: When it comes to Modern design, Palm Springs is one of The Most Stylish Cities in America.
That’s according to Wayfair.com, the nation’s largest online-only retailer for home decor and furnishings. Based on their per capita statistics for Modern-style furnishings sales, Palm Springs easily beat out every other stylish U.S. city - including Beverly Hills and Miami.
Palm Springs (or “Mod Mecca” as Architectural Digest dubbed it) is home to the world’s largest collection of intact Midcentury Modernist architecture. The city remains at the forefront of Modern’s newfound worldwide renaissance, exponentially cultivated during eleven days of Mod-madness each February known as Palm Springs Modernism Week. The largest event of its kind on Earth, this architectural celebration with 60,000 attendees happens concurrently with the Modernism Show & Sale (for decor and furnishings) and the Palm Springs Fine Art Fair (for post-war and modern art).
But where can you get your hands on a piece of the action during the rest of the year? In Mod Mecca, pretty much everywhere. Palm Springs overflows with one-of-a-kind Mod boutiques brimming with hard-to-find vintage Midcentury Modern decor and updated 21st Century Modern reinterpretations. Brand-new stores and short-term pop-up shops continually reshape Palm Springs’ ever-evolving retail scene.
To help navigate your mod-shopping safari, our five-part blog series will introduce you to different Palm Springs’ shopping areas, each with quirks and class all their own: Uptown Design District, Downtown, Sunny Dunes Vintage Row, The Curve District, and The Backstreet Arts District.
THE REBIRTH OF PALM SPRINGS’ DOWNTOWN
Centuries before Christopher Columbus, downtown Palm Springs was already a gathering place. The Cahuilla people bathed in the natural hot springs that still percolate at the site of downtown’s Spa Resort Casino. Downtown remained a central watering hole through Palm Springs’ 1950s heyday when every Hollywood name imaginable congregated at the Chi-Chi nightclub on Palm Canyon Drive.
It seems unimaginable today, but the Palm Springs City Council in the mid-‘60s dismissed plans for a state-of-the-art overhaul of the then Spanish-style Downtown into a masterpiece grid of Modernist architecture. The project was the brainchild of a small collaborative of innovative local architects who spent three years working on the plans. The group is seen now as the masters of Midcentury Modern architecture: William Cody, Robson Chambers, John Porter Clark, Albert Frey, Richard Harrison, and E. Stewart Williams.
Fast-forward half a century, and the district is finally getting its long overdue revamp. A $100 million reimagining of Downtown is currently underway, transforming 13 long-stagnant acres into a robust multi-use district of open public spaces, luxury accommodations (including a new Kimpton Palomar hotel to open in 2016, show in artist's rendering above), and, yes, three blocks of world-class high-end shopping. The design style of the new pedestrian-friendly district will be, of course, in the Modern style tradition.
But there’s no need to put your shopping safari on hold until Downtown’s revitalization is completed. Just in the last couple years, more than 50 new Downtown shops have opened around Palm Canyon Drive, adding to the already-rich array of 200-plus retail businesses. The new Hard Rock Hotel and more than two dozen new bars, cabarets, supper clubs, and pool lounges add more fuel to Downtown’s resurrection, with more on their way.
PALM SPRINGS: MOD-SHOPPING TRAILBLAZER
Downtown Palm Springs has always been at the forefront of innovative shopping. The exquisite Spanish Colonial-style La Plaza outdoor shopping complex trailblazed as the nation’s very first park-your-car-and-stroll-in-the-sunshine mall when it opened in 1936.
Downtown continues to pioneer new frontiers in the 21st Century. Lovers of Modern will find design utopia at The Palm Springs Art Museum’s groundbreaking new Architecture and Design Center (pictured at the top of this article). It’s the world’s only architecture museum housed within an actual Midcentury Modern masterpiece - E. Stewart Williams’ stunning 13,000 square-foot glass and steel Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan building, built in 1960.
Mod shoppers shouldn’t miss The Bradford W. Bates Vault: The Museum Design Store (shown below). Built in and around the building’s original bank vault, this unique shop sells hard-to-find architecture and design books as well as Midcentury-style sculptures, plates, clocks, glassware, and more.
DOWNTOWN’S VINTAGE MOD TREASURE HUNT
Whereas the Uptown Design District’s draw lies in its slick new Mod boutiques, Downtown appeals more to bargain hunters who enjoy digging up unexpected Mod finds.
Downtown’s well-established thrift and consignment stores are bereft of pretense, and ripe with deals. You’ll find a dozen-plus stores selling secondhand items scattered throughout the vicinity, and just south of Downtown is the up-and-coming Sunny Dunes Vintage Row shopping neighborhood (covered in a separate blog entry in this shopping series).
Downtown’s nonprofit charity-focused stores like Revivals and Angel View frequently offer vintage finds for a fraction of the price elsewhere. Angel View is made up of two adjoining retail spaces - one focused on clearance thrift items, and a higher-end section called Prestige Boutique where you could unearth something with a Diane von Furstenberg or I. Magnin label on it. It’s no wonder you’ll often spot owners of other Mod shops digging alongside you.
DOWNTOWN’S NEW MONTHLY VINTAGE MARKET
An immediate success with both locals and visitors upon its launch in winter of 2014, The Palm Springs Vintage Market has proven to be Mod-shopping nirvana. This outdoor Midcentury Modern flea market pops up in a sandy Downtown lot (between parking lots for the Casino Spa Resort) on the first Sunday of the month from November through May.
Over 3,000 Mod shoppers peruse more than 100 vendors operating cheek-to-jowl beneath 20-by-20 foot tents. It’s a democratic, eclectic environment: Anyone can participate, from professional retail stores to homemade mom-and-pop outfits, making for a fascinating scale of items for sale - from Barcelona chairs to Bakelite telephones to 1950s kids’ toys to fully-functional Airstream trailers! Best of all, most vendors are happy to negotiate. With plenty of food booths and lounging chairs, everyone from hip hipsters to earthy grandmas shows up to hang out and soak up the colorful retro atmosphere and panoramic mountain views. Admission is $5, parking is free, and pets are not allowed.
374 North Calle Encilia (between Amado and Alejo)
NEW HIGH-END VINTAGE SHOPS FOR THE MOD MAN
Any Mod shopper knows that finding decent vintage men’s apparel can be a challenge. But not so much the case in Palm Springs. With the city’s sizable LGBT presence (roughly 40% of Palm Springs’ 45,000 population), the majority of local Mod shops are proudly owned by gay male couples. And these boys know their groovy threads! Not only does Palm Springs offer a cornucopia of women’s clothing from the 1920s to the 1980s, lovers of men’s haberdashery will rejoice at Downtown’s selection of vintage possibilities.
Two brand-new Downtown shops for the Mod Man:
Get your mind out of the gutter! Amy Cox opened the first incarnation of her vintage clothing and accessories haven (named after her father) in 2011, somewhat hidden near the border of Uptown. Due to overwhelming popularity, two years later Mr. Cox expanded into a Downtown storefront - complete with a bar and lounge serving gourmet waters from around the globe! A former fashion exec for Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, Amy has an expert’s eye for both vintage couture, modern fashions, and luxury home items. Depending on the day, you may trip upon women’s and especially men’s pieces from the likes of Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne, Tom Ford, Christian Dior, and Andre Courreges, as well as accessories by Chloe and Parke & Ronen. Fuschia jumpsuit, anyone?
106A S. Indian Canyon (at Tahquitz Canyon)
A stone’s throw from Mr. Cox, Mitchell’s helpful owners are always on hand to steer you to that ‘80s Pucci purse or ‘70s leopard print jacket you’ve been questing for. Debuting in late 2013, Mitchell’s isn’t your mom’s pillbox hat and poodle skirt vintage store. “I vision going to Studio 54 on Saturday night and shopping earlier that day at Fiorucci,” as owner Mitchell puts it. A trained tailor whose parents owned a department store, Mitchell spent years at Bloomingdale’s as a fashion coordinator and personal shopper. Beyond Fiorucci, the shop overflows with other disco-era wear by Pucci, Gucci, YSL, Dior, and Azzaro. Unlike other vintage stores, sizes can range from XS to XXL. Mitchell’s contemporary selection of sleek men’s swimwear and resortwear includes artisan labels like Parke & Ronen and Scott Coffey of Provincetown. You’ll also find books on art and architecture by Taschen, and metalwork by Don Drumm Studios. Your husband can sip from their European-style water bar while flipping through vintage magazines - but warn him first that he may find copies of Playgirl from back in the day!
106 S Indian Canyon Drive (at Tahquitz)