Neighborhood: Meatpacking District
Type of Place: Gift Shops

I was walking around the Meatpacking District today. Its cobblestone
streets were relatively uncrowded (the nighttime club crunch was hours
away), and I was able to admire the scale and the quirky architecture of
the neighborhood. "You guys haven't been back here in a while," I heard
one woman say to her friends as they walked along. "Can you believe
what's happened?" Truly, who could have known that this patch of the city,
named for its historical ties to a distinctly unfashionable industry,
would beome a hub of chi-chi restaurants, velvet-rope nightspots, and
designer shops? I've lived in New York long enough to remember when, on
hot summer days, the streets here smelled pretty much like blood.

Auto grabbed my attention not so much as a throwback to the
neighborhood as it was--the store does not practice meatpacking--but as a
welcoming, though beautiful, option among what can be intimidating retail
choices. (I'd thought about ducking into the Christian Louboutin shoe
boutique, but, alas, I really wasn't dressed for it.) Billing itself as a
"mini department store," Auto features two shop spaces alongside each
other, one carrying primarily housewares and the other clothing and

In the clothing "branch," I loved the bags by Luisa Cevese, made from
recycled materials: totes with snappy metallic trim ($55) and vintage
fabrics (from $145). I also admired the hand-batiked silk kimonos ($195);
the whimsical acryillic-on-wood paintings by Trisha Krauss (displayed
in both shop spaces, $200-$400); and the long "Grecian" dresses from
Canadian designer Virginia Johnson ($276). Husband-and wife design team
Epice get extra points for intercontinality: She's Danish, he's Indian,
and they're currently based in Paris. Their fabric purses ($55) and
cheerful scarves ($37) looked fresh for spring.

I've been writing this column for a while now and, in the process, have
seen a lot of jewelry. Much of it I've coveted; some of it I've
actually splurged on. But I don't recall coming across jewelry that almost
moved me to tears, until now. Jewelry artist Jeanine Payer hand engraves
quotes from literature, mostly poetry, into her pieces--in fine, tiny
script that indicates countless hours of hard work. I was drawn in by a
silver ring engraved with a passage from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of
Grass": "I am the poet of the body, and I am the poet of the soul."
Imagining Payer bent over her engraving to honor writers' words (Rilke,
Checkov, and Proust, among others, are represented) was truly emotional for
me. I've since learned that she has an ardent following (no surprise),
including some celebrity devotees (Halle Berry owns some of her pieces).
Not that a price can really be put on artistry and passion,
but--Payer's ultra-beautiful work sells for $200 and up.

In the housewares shop area, I liked the hand-embroidered pillows
($190), the assorted glassware, the children's toys (starting at around
$35), and the cards (one especially beautiful sample featured "watermark"
heart designs on hand-made white paper and was imported from Finland;
$8). Special mention to the great-smelling and affordable soap from
Brickhouse ($6), with the amusingly cheeky tagline of "Never shower alone."

Auto half-jokingly bills itself as a "mini department store" due to the
variety of its offerings; but obviously you'd never find wares like
these at most of the big chains. There may well be something for everyone
at this lovely shop--but whatever it is, it's likely to be something
creative, whimsical, and/or flat-out gorgeous that the recipient hasn't
seen before.
  - Pamela Grossman

803-805 Washington St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 229-2292