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Everything you always wanted to know
about shopping
and weren't afraid to ask Corky.

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Cashmere

I want to invest in one great item for fall. What should it be?

Cashmere. Whether it's one of Rebecca Moses's V-neck cashmere pullovers, a Helmut Lang chunky multi-ply turtleneck, a lean and T-shirt-simple TSE sweater set, or a Loro Piana shawl, the word is cashmere. As long as it's in pales or winter white.

Crockery

I'm tired of formal, traditionalchina. We entertain casually, so I want something more original,more country.

The crockery at Ceramica (59 Thompson Street; 941-1307) says country -- but Umbrian, not Litchfield. You'll think you've landed in one of those teeny whitewashed pottery shops in northern Italy, it's so filled with majolica exuberantly hand-painted in traditional century-old motifs. Earthenware -- hand-painted in Portugal and France -- is crammed into every inch of La Terrine (1024 Lexington Avenue, at 73rd Street; 988-3366). But the cache isn't limited to the visible clutter of mugs, platters, pitchers, and bowls -- there are complete dinner services that can be special-ordered. For the delights of Provence at your breakfast -- or dinner -- table, stop by Solaneé (866 Lexington Avenue, at 65th Street; 439-6109), a sunny shop filled with hand-painted crockery from the Atelier de Ségriés Moustiers, a workshop that has been turning out the loftiest faience since the seventeenth century. You'll find early designs, as well as recent patterns based on historical roots, and stemware that's a perfect complement -- bubble glasses from Brittany. Pan-Asian is the look at Nathalie Smith's neat little homewares shop Global Table (107-109 Sullivan Street; 431-5839): The beauty of these ceramics is in the intensity of their glazes (oxblood red, soft celadon, Mongolian brown, and graphite), and their shapes (round, square, and octagonal). Smith stocks everything -- from bread plates to chargers -- so it's possible to put together complete sets here.

HalloweenCostumes

Each year we're invited to a posh Halloween party where everyone is in glorious -- or madly inventive -- costumes, while we're in any old thing we can pull together. We want to wow them. But we're not creative. Is there a store that rents or sells great costumes?

Madly inventive -- and fab -- definitely describes the outfits at Frankie Steinz Costumes (24 Harrison Street; 925-1373; by appointment only). Steinz has dressed Bill Cosby for his Jell-O commercials, Billy Joel for Elton John's 50th, and one Halloween bride in a couture-ish pumpkin gown (with a four-foot beaded stem headdress). A former accountant, Steinz realized she was happiest indulging the other side of her brain, so she's been designing costumes for the past fourteen years. Mainly she does custom work for TV and corporations, but she stockpiles more than 1,500 costumes in her TriBeCa loft, where she welcomes browsing. Everything she does is historically correct (yet funky), and fabrics are of theatrical quality. Two of her most popular are Marie Antoinette (complete with farthingale, corset, and a hat adorned with a ship), and a picnic (which consists of a hoop covered in classic checked-tablecloth fabric and set with plates, bottled water, fruit, cheeses, bugs, and -- to top it off -- a green-turf hat). For kids, there are robots, mermaids, blocks, and dinosaurs, all quirkier than the commercial kind. And for this year's Halloween? Steinz is busily working on a tornado and comedy/tragedy. Rentals come with headdress (even shoes, if they fit), and minor alterations are free. Most outfits are around $175, but there are bees, fairies, and such for $50.

Outfitting couples is what Susan Handler and Linda Carcaci of Creative Costume Company (242 West 36th Street, eighth floor; 564-5552) like to do best. For seventeen years they've been stitching up costumes (adult sizes only), and by now they have at least 4,000. The fabrics -- brocades, velvets, laces -- and the elaborate period looks of their dress-up distinguishes their work. You'll find Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln and a Confederate general, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, and Dorothy and the Tin Man, as well as the more predictable devils, angels, witches, Batman, and Ninjas (but done up in finer fabrics than others around). Rental prices range from $25 up to $250 for the more elaborate creations.

The skinny in costume-land is that Zorro is hot, and Tony Bianchi, of Halloween Adventure (104 Fourth Avenue, near 11th Street; 673-4546) is prepared. He has zillions of capes, swords, masks, hats, and mustaches. He also has a 3,500-foot space jammed with a mind-boggling mix of dress-up, and he can whip up a look in seconds. His emporium is obsessively well-organized, with racks and racks of shrink-wrapped outfits arranged by type: vampires, superheroes, sexy (upstairs maids, skimpily clad witches), religious (priests and nuns), foods (M&M's, Planter's Peanuts, Pillsbury Doughboys, even McDonald's French fries). Among Bianchi's higher-end outfits -- better fabrics and detailing -- is a nifty E.T. Kids' costumes (about a third of the stock) are equally freewheeling and include all the favorites: Captain Hook, Batman, princes, princesses, and assorted animals, plus licensed Walt Disney characters. Bianchi has a fine supply of body parts (ears, brains, fingers, big silly feet), headpieces galore, countless masks (celebrity, horror, you name it), and a room devoted to makeup. No rentals here, but prices are gentle: from $20 to $200 (for Gene Simmons of Kiss) to $375 (for a complete Batman).

Home Office

I've just started running my business out of my tiny apartment, and it's taken over every inch of living space. Help! I need a desk, files, bookshelves, everything.

From Crate & Barrel to Ethan Allen, furniture manufacturers are turning out computer desks in every style and finish. But the latest wrinkle is computer armoires. Like entertainment centers, they have a spot for everything: The desk has a pull-out keyboard tray with a mouse platform, there's a shelf for the printer and others for books, letter/legal file drawers, CD storage cubbies, and a surge-protected power strip. Both Bloomingdale's (1000 Third Avenue, at 59th Street, fifth floor; 705-2000) and Macy's Herald Square (151 West 34th Street, ninth floor; 695-4400) carry these organizational wonders in all the most popular wood finishes: Macy's has a version that even hides a swivel chair and a fold-out side table. And, if Mission is your passion, Laytner's (512 Broadway, near Spring Street; 965-9382) computer center is Arts & Crafts-inspired and made of solid North American oak.

Picture Frames

What with weddings, anniversaries, new babies, and such, I'm always looking for picture frames. I like to group them on tabletops, and I like to mix sizes and styles, the old and new. Where can I go for one-stop shopping?

I know about the ever-growing need for frames to show off an ever-expanding family. My solution is to drop into Framed on Madison (740 Madison Avenue, near 64th Street; 734-4680), a cluttered little shop that's serious about frames -- that's all it sells. Antique or new, miniature or oversized, they have it. In addition to the more common materials -- leather, sterling silver, and wood -- you'll find Venetian glass, crocodile, enamel, jeweled, and brass. And styles that go from ornate Victorian to minimalist modern. Although XYZ Total Home (15 East 18th Street; 388-1942) is primarily a gifty furniture store, it's rife with frames -- some simple, some fussy -- for desk, tabletop, and boudoir. There's lots of sterling silver, silver plate, and leather, along with inlaid woods -- even that forties favorite, silvered glass.

Special-OccasionClothing for a Preteen

I'm desperate. My 10-year-old daughter is into trendy, but I'm more Ann Taylor. Where can we find party dresses we can agree on?

Trendy this season translates into sophisticated little numbers -- funky is out, preppy is in. So, at least for this brief instant, shopping may actually be fun for the two of you. Zitomer (969 Madison Avenue, near 76th Street; 737-5560), the ritzy pharmacist, now vends kids' dresses, and this ever-expanding pharmacy has some knockout preteen and teen fashions on its second floor. There are sweet organza party dresses (the stuff of a parent's dreams), but plenty of chic looks to appeal to style-obsessed offspring: Nicole Miller's little black shifts, Monkey Wear's velvet bootleg pants and long skirts, Moschino's fun looks, and English designer David Charles's drop-dead suits (at drop-dead prices). Zitomer's brings drug-store service to the business of selling kid's clothing: If, at the last minute, the dress your 10-year-old planned to wear turns out to be too short or too tight -- or she just plain hates it -- no need to panic. Call Zitomer with the size, styles, and colors she likes, and it'll deliver two or three alternatives.

A favorite hangout spot for fashion-savvy girls, Infinity (1116 Madison Avenue, at 83rd Street; 517-4232) can elicit mixed reactions from their moms: The line between trendy and tarty can sometimes blur. This season, however, the kids are into butterflies and cool fabrics, so owner Liza Ball has her dressmaker stitching up snappy little spaghetti-strap dresses with butterfly-lined mesh tops, chenille-embroidered A-lines, and lots of gray-lace shifts (this year's black). Serious suits -- like David Charles's scaled-down versions of Mom's -- are now super-cool; also on the most-wanted list are velvet sweater sets with ankle-length skirts and stretch-taffeta boot-leg pants.

Sophisticated suits are also hot numbers at Marsha D.D. (1324 Lexington Avenue, near 88th Street; 534-8700), a pocket-size store whose owner, Marsha Drogin Dayan, is keyed into kiddie trends. Her shift, tank, and spaghetti-strap dresses with little bolero jackets are all black, of course, but slowly creeping in are some rich eggplanty and purply shades in Pandora's burnt-out-velvet miniskirts, tank tops, and buttondown shirts.

Sophisticated, slightly preppy dress-up rules at CO2 (284 Columbus Avenue, near 74th Street; 721-4966). The clued-in come for sleekly tailored three-piece suits (jacket, skirt, or pants, and shell) in stretchy Ultrasuede, slip dresses with little cover-ups, chenille skirts, sweater sets with fluffy faux-fur collars, and anything animal-print.

Chantal William and her brother Guy broker classic yet chic European kids' threads in their namesake store, G.C. William (1137 Madison Avenue, near 84th Street; 396-3400). A spaghetti-strap crêpe-chiffon dress comes with a matching bolero; a crisscross A-line has a sparkly beaded bodice; a little velvet number has an illusion top. There are lots of forgiving A-lines (great at hiding figure faults), long skinny skirts with blazers or cropped tops, and color (brown, aubergine, and navy) as well as the ubiquitous black.


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