"Well, I guess it's for . . . a couch?" a saleswoman at the Rem Koolhaas-designed PRADA store in SoHo (575 Broadway; 334-8888) says, showing off a fox-fur pillow ($2,360) so enormous that she can barely get her arms around it. Though any number of delightfully nutty, luxurious items join the Prada pillow this season—Lucite Cinderella sandals with scarlet velvet heels ($430), evening clutches made of black satin instead of Prada's traditional black nylon ($555)—the company has taken the bold step of reintroducing hits from the past. Thus a woman who longed for a mirror-bedecked chiffon tunic ($5,740) but didn't buy it the first time around now has a second chance; the fluttery lipstick-patterned camiknickers ($1,255), whose design owes something to the Surrealists, have also resurfaced.
No one over at LOUIS VUITTON (116 Greene St.; 866-884-8866) appears to be heeding the news that logos are out of fashion—most of the merchandise incorporates the house's insignia with varying degrees of subtlety. Though Vuitton calls them Miami loafers, a pair of gentlemen's slip-ons ($435), made of calfskin and featuring a miniature version of the Damier-check pattern, would be equally at home in a shooting box in Scotland. In its ongoing efforts to prove how young and hip it is, the company offers nail polish in bottles that look like bigger Damier checks, packed two to the box in Elvira-friendly color combinations like beige with green ($67). But, of course, the firm's dignified roots are never far away: along with the bowling bags and messenger totes is a solidly built fitted case that the store claims is intended for cosmetics but which looks for all the world like an old-fashioned train case ($2,020).
VIVIENNE WESTWOOD (71 Greene St.; 334-1500) may have restyled herself as a serious student of philosophy, but her clothes still appeal to people more interested in Eminem than in Emerson. A man's polka-dot cardigan ($540) with graduating dots appears intended for a latter-day Sebastian Flyte; a pair of coquettish pink-and-black Argyle tights ($175), which Westwood designed in collaboration with Wolford, exhibits the punk-courtesan sensibility that has defined this designer since she set up shop in London's Chelsea three decades ago.
Though a number of SoHo shops appear, even on Saturday afternoon, to be fairly customer-deprived, this is not the case at FLYING A (169 Spring St.; 965-9090), where an international throng of teen-agers gleefully squeeze themselves into the smallest possible jeans and tees. Still, the stars of the show are the vintage flight bags ($69 to $99). According to the shop's manager, herself clad in a pair of tiny jeans, the store doesn't bother to empty the bags before they hit the counters; hidden treasures occasionally surface. When a red-and-white TWA carry-on yields a well-thumbed deck of playing cards, the clerk gets excited. "They're from the seventies!" she says. "I play a lot of cards, and I can tell by the way the joker looks."
Despite the high-priced Balenciagas and Jimmy Choos, there's a wilder spirit afoot at KIRNA ZABêTE (96 Greene St.; 941-9656), where posters on the fitting-room doors read, "I must not chase the boys," scrawled repeatedly in a childish hand. Downstairs, there's a selection of extravagant cashmere accessories from a company called Fifi & Romeo. An infant's baseball sweater in yellow with white sleeves is appliquéd with a circus monkey ($140); a similar pullover for a dog is turquoise and pink with red turtle decorations ($225). The canine version is more expensive than the infant's, but, then again, the dog will probably wear it longer.
Slightly older children might opt for Lilliputian versions of their parents' MARNI clothes (161 Mercer St.; 343-3912). Marni's adult clothes are famous for their ratty elegance—if they look good coming out of a nightclub, shouldn't they work a similar magic in the sandbox? A toddler's skirt combines panels of faded floral fabric and flannel mattress ticking ($290); a deliberately wrinkled smock dress is printed with pink-and-purple bubbles ($320).
For these tykes' design-sensitive parents, the MOMA DESIGN STORE (81 Spring St.; 646-613-1367) offers a bright-red Noah's ark ($50) that manages to be tasteful yet is still fun to play with. The ark is hardly MOMA's only interesting item: along with the George Nelson wall clocks and the Noguchi dishes, there's a spectacular pearl-studded necklace of fluted-metal mesh in a hue halfway between gold and silver that turns out to be made of the material used for oil filters ($98).
Whatever you can say about SoHo, it still has stores that induce a deep longing for things like trash receptacles. The can in question, by the Danish company Vipp, is made of stainless steel, and it's very chic, especially in a lovely shade of yellow just this side of crème fraîche ($175). It's at WATERWORKS (469 Broome St.; 966-0605), an all-white emporium devoted to the pleasure of the bath. The shop has gone to the trouble of reproducing a dresser set, the sort of thing that graced bureaus a hundred years ago. Now it's made of cellulose acetate instead of ivory, and the six pieces range from a nailbrush ($32) to a hand mirror ($64).
No one would impugn the beauty of the merchandise at MOSS (146 Greene St.; 204-7100), but what makes the store so enjoyable is that its commitment to good design is wed to an irrepressible quirkiness. Everything is displayed in glass cases with little cards offering explanations: next to the LOMO camera ($200), a Russian pre-digital with a cheap plastic case and a great lens, the text tells you that at one time the Soviet government thought this was something "every respectable Communist citizen should own." Though there are plenty of coffee- and teapots here that hew to refined aesthetic standards, camp makes occasional inroads. The Vesuvio espresso-maker, made of cast aluminum and enamel, has red licking flames and a gray lid shaped like drifting smoke ($339).
Though lots of people have intimated that SoHo isn't SoHo anymore and that odd little shops haven't survived the onslaught of the chains, once you turn off the main drags and explore the area, things look a bit different. At MICHELE VARIAN (33 Crosby St.; 343-0033), a narrow store on a cobblestone street, the pillows ($100-$450) bear only the dimmest resemblance to that fox number at Prada. Varian got her start in the fashion business, and a careful, delicate eye is evident in many of her jewel-toned Dupioni-silk creations. Everything is made in the back of the shop, and all of the cushions have names: Marguerita features elaborate appliquéd flowers, and Totem has medallions that look like the snowflakes children used to cut from folded paper during those long-lost snowy winters of years past.