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A Batch of Brighton

Fashionable femmes either collect Brighton by the basketful or they pass it by entirely. It's nearly impossible to own a little, because if you're hooked on the look you inevitably want more of this head-to-toe line of accessories crafted of textured leather and sterling silver. I started with a simple key ring for $18. Now I think I'm into the company for-well, let's not talk about it.

Brighton started in 1991 in California with a line of women's leather belts featuring highly worked silver buckles. Then came handbags two years later, and the company was off and running with jewelry, sunglasses, wrist watches, shoes, wallets, key rings, luggage and a lovely line of home accessories including fancy picture frames, candlesticks, even body-pampering lotions in the prettiest bottles ever. A sweet hostess gift is a dozen push pins in a variety of shapes and designs for $36. Or buy a batch for your own bulletin board.

The look of Brighton is unmistakable-feminine, tailored and sophisticated. The leather is red, coffee-bean brown, tan or black. Often it's imprinted to simulate crocodile. The hardware is always silver. The rings are all sterling. Other ornamentations are cast brass or zinc that have been dipped in sterling. Then the metal is saturated with lacquer to retard tarnish.

The original designs are casual yet sophisticated, meaning they look wonderful with jeans, business attire, or cocktail clothes. I know a corporate lawyer who wears something Brighton nearly every day. She used to have to buy her items in Boca Raton because the west coast of Florida was slow to discover Brighton, but now we're hip.

Feel the full Brighton experience at Buckles in the Promenade at Bonita Bay. Manager Lynda DeVoe hasn't missed a desirable item. The Brighton company has 50 all-Brighton stores in the U.S. and sells to 6,000 specialty boutiques. It would be hard to find one to top Buckles. Whether you're buying or you just want to see what all the fuss is about, stop in. Prices start at about $15 and go up to $500 for a piece of luggage. Handbags start at about $100. Shoes are in the $80 to$150 range.

You will also find an impressive selection of Brighton temptations (especially sunglasses, perfume and tabletop gift items) at Panache, one of my favorite all-purpose gift shops, located in the Village on Venetian Bay in Naples. Brighton sunglasses cost about $65 and come in styles both simple and ornate. They make an artful statement, but a tasteful one. Just like everything in Panache. 

The Artful Diva

Art of a bolder nature is the specialty of The Artful Diva, a boutique to explore if you can conceive of your body as a blank canvas and are willing to let store owner Victoria Beckner help you create the finished work. Beckner, once an importer of knitting machines,is an accomplished seamstress with an educated eye for fiber arts and great connections in the art world.

Last year she decided to open a fashion gallery to showcase the wearable art of about 75 American artists. Dresses, jackets, scarves, hats, jewelry, slacks and skirts are arranged on mannequins and folded in cases with the reverence due fine art, and Beckner helps clients select linen, silk, chenille and other fabrics that have been stitched, slashed, painted or otherwise embellished into one-of-a-kind works of wearable art. It's all breathtakingly beautiful. And quite reasonable when you consider you're paying less than you would for a painting that just hangs on the wall. This is art to hang on you. Price range for clothes is about $80 for a skirt up to $1,200 for silk jackets. The butterfly-wing transparent silk jackets are $850 and extremely hard to resist. Why try?

Because Beckner respects artistic talent and cares about her customers, she never lets a client leave the shop with something that does not flatter and fit her. Consequently, alterations are complimentary and expert. Beckner will also custom-order items. Say you find a printed silk jacket that fits perfectly. You'd like a long skirt to match, only you want it in a solid color, the same as the jacket lapel. You can have it. Additionally, Beckner stocks a line of wearable art for plus size women up to 3W. Look for the little yellow collars on the neck of the hangers that denote plus sizes.

When you invest in wearable art at The Artful Diva, you're not simply buying clothes-you become an art patron, helping to support and encourage fiber artists all over the country.

Playing at La Playa

Hotel gift shops have never been anything special, until a few years ago when tony places like the Ritz realized that guests wanted to shop for specialty items as well as dash in for aspirin and the newspaper. Soon the best resort gift shops turned into destination boutiques for guests-and nearby residents.

The remarkably eclectic and amazingly stocked gift shop at La Playa on Gulf Shore Drive in Naples proves my point. Manager Tricia Van Almkerk was a traveling representative for several lines of upmarket tabletop collections for 15 years before she decided to settle in Naples. She maintained her connections in the giftware business and began shopping the international trade shows with an eye for what would appeal to tourists as well as to residents on the hunt for unusual wedding or birthday gifts along with home accessories and clothing in the tropical-chic mode. She's done a marvelous job. When La Playa remodeled recently, the gift shop was moved from the back of the property to the lobby. Now everyone in town can find this jazzy little emporium-and it looks to me as though everyone has.

One of my personal picks is the Mary Frances collection of handbags that cost from $100 to$200. The small, beaded and embroidered purses are well-constructed and made with glamorous materials and trims. Highly unusual, these bags can be displayed as art when not being worn. Expect tons of compliments and questions about where you bought such a dazzling little accessory. Among the whimsical canapé spreaders, Joan Reymond hand-painted pottery, sushi plates and salad bowls is an ice-cream scoop from a company called All You Can Handle. It's $75, but it may be the most unusual utensil you'll ever own or give as a gift.. Jewelry is displayed in a hand-painted piano bench that Jan Creeden rescued and turned into something lovely and useful. Creeden (who works in the shop) is also responsible for the color photography in the picture frames for sale.

The Laserglass line features crystal seashells and sea creatures that have been molded from real beach treasures. The sculptures seem to be lit from within, and most people assume there is a battery-powered light inside. Not so. The cutting of the Austrian crystal allows it to gather light and take on the iridescent coloration of whatever you place these objects on. These small sculptures cost from $55 to $100 for a large starfish. I've never seen anything like them. And I shop all the time.

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