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L.A. + JO's Mini Empire

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If you were to imagine a fashion continuum that had Forever 21 on one end and Barneys on the other, you might find L.A. + JO, right in the middle. The new-ish LA mini-chain (they just opened their third location in the Helms Baker District) is that sweet spot of nicely merchandised wares that are fun, on-trend, but affordable enough that you can fill a shopping bag up for less than a couple hundred bucks.

The store primarily carries its own line, which specializes in fast fashion, a la Forever 21. But it's a decidedly more upscale approach -- the fabrics are nicer, the quality is better, and what they're selling are inspirations, not copy-cat pieces. They stocked a version of the white Kimberly Ovitz dress that Lindsay Lohan wore to court -- not an exact copy, but close enough (and about $500 cheaper). We also spotted a couple of graphic dresses with otherworldly, Helmut Lang-like prints, for about $85 dollars. Most of the clothing runs well under $100, with blouses, ruffled tanks and tees starting around $35.

There's also a charming randomness to the store. They also carry vintage designer denim (think Sergio Valente and Chemin de Fer), about 100 different styles of jewelry, bikinis and $12 sunglasses (after all, they're not that far from the beach), and they stock bags, clutches and wallets from one of our favorite LA labels, Minx. Once the store hits its stride, they will start to cycle different artists through, and possibly even have live music on the weekends.

We haven't been to either the Santa Monica Place or the Fashion Island stores, but if this one is any indication, they must be lovely. The day we went, they had a barn-style backdoor open to reveal a picturesque view of snow-capped mountains, and the front door opens out onto the courtyard. Extra bonus is that they had two of the sweetest, most helpful clerks were working -- it's like you're in LA, but you're totally not in LA!
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