Pearls in the rough

Narcisse is a new and deliciously dark shop in the up-and-coming area of Southwest Portland that borders the Pearl.

Narcisse 1015 S.W. Washington St.

Narcisse is a new and deliciously dark shop in the up-and-coming area of Southwest Portland that borders the Pearl.

Here among dark purple walls, vintage furniture, large chandeliers and a few odd bed frames and skulls is the only store in Portland (and in the entire United States) where you can find the Danish brand Noa Noa. This newest addition to the Southwest neighborhood boasts the brand from Denmark to an almost frightening degree.

Spending time in Narcisse is like being on the set of a gloomy romantic movie set in Victorian times. Lots of ruffles, feminine dresses and shades of plum, nude, black and brown.

Noa Noa bases each season off a theme in art, history or literature. Last summer was based off works of Ernest Hemingway; this fall was based off the French Revolution and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The upcoming winter season (which will be in stores next week) is based off French peasants. It will be interesting to see how Noa Noa turns peasantry into couture, but rest assured it will be fabulous.

The store carries extremely special pieces, which are all surprisingly wearable. The quality and originality of these clothes is something exquisite and little seen in boutiques of the United States. It’s hard to find spectacular European pieces outside of Europe.

It’s lovely how the shop has constructed itself to mesh with the vibe of Noa Noa. It certainly stands apart from other Portland-area boutiques that carry the same sort of clothing, and although the store has exclusive merchandise, the staff is anything but pretentious.

Narcisse is a shop that carries the charm of a yellowing, black and white photograph of something or someone beautiful. In fact, their catalog is not a catalog at all but a series of postcards featuring their new merchandise (photos in black and white of course) tied together with a black, frayed ribbon.

You may be expecting skyrocketing prices for the clothes at Narcisse, but be pleasantly surprised: most items sell for $60-$180.

Do-able for something special, right? Frances May 1013 S.W. Washington St.

Frances May is another to-die-for boutique in the neighboring streets of the Pearl District.

This space is small and cheery, with colorful lamps, bright yellow dressing room curtains and candles. It is filled to the brim with eccentric and unique pieces from independent designers such as Filippa K, and local designers from Oregon. One dress in the store was made in Oregon, by an Oregonian, complete with Pendleton wool.

Not that this boutique needs any more charm, but the name Frances May has a special significance. The shop is named after co-owner Pamela Baker-Miller’s great grandmother. And it just so happens that Pamela co-owns the shop with her grandmother, Connie Codding.

Pamela and her grandmother do all the buying together, and it shows that they have picked the pieces with great care. Pamela wanted the shop to reflect interesting, well-made, detailed and wearable clothing.

Both Pamela and Connie understand that people need those staple closet items, and the goal of the store is to sell those staple closet items with a twist. For example, everyone needs a simple pullover sweatshirt, right?

Well, at Francis May, the simple pullover has rows of buttons across the chest–and is in a lovely pink color. Now all of a sudden that boring old basic is not so boring.

It is no surprise then that this store is a mix of vibrant and innovative fashion–that all looks comfortable.

Finally, a boutique where you can find fashion and function under the same roof. Stop in at Francis May to view the fabulous items, but be prepared for high prices.

I saw a bag I was dying to have, and I do believe it was close to $500. Of course, it was handcrafted and made locally. Depends how much you are willing to shell out for special, quality pieces.