But, unlike any other mall, the Beverly Center is a microcosm of the state of fashion and culture today. The behemoth at the edge of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills has eight levels — five of them for parking. The directory of stores, from Fendi to Forever 21, with very little in the middle price range, is indicative of today's high-low approach to shopping and getting dressed. And what's inside the stores — status handbags at Prada and Gucci, $165 J. Brand skinny jeans and $65 James Perse T-shirts at Bloomingdale's — reflects that ethos as well.
You'd be hard-pressed to find many suits, trousers or blouses, except perhaps at Hugo Boss, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and the small Missy department of Macy's. But there are four sunglasses stores and two free-standing denim stores. The Bebe, Guess, BCBG, True Religion and Forever 21 stores represent some of the biggest names in the California apparel business and are responsible for carrying the notion of "California casual" out to the world.
When the Beverly Center opened in 1982, it was a regional mall, anchored by the California-owned Bullocks and Broadway department stores. Now, there is no such thing as a regional mall, and the Beverly Center is anchored by Bloomingdale's and Macy's, both owned by Federated, the Cincinnati-based victor in the department store consolidation of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The Macy's store is a mess of too much merchandise without a strong point of view, although it does have the distinction of being one of the few area stores to feature the budget-minded Impulse collections.
Bloomingdale's is more organized and edited, with an emphasis on denim (almost half of the top level is devoted to the stuff) and briskly selling contemporary labels (Vince, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg).
Henri Bendel, founded in 1895 and once a mighty department store on New York's Fifth Avenue, has slowly been transformed into a national chain of specialty stores since being purchased by Limited Brands in 1985. And at the Henri Bendel store on Level 7 near Center Court, you can get the full experience of this high-end tchotchke shop, where the Bendel's famous brown-striped shopping bag motif has become a kind of logo, splashed on $148 enamel bracelets and $368 handbags.
Most brands in the mall are national or international chains. One exception is Traffic on Level 6. Despite the decline in the number of independent boutiques in today's retail environment, the men's and women's Traffic boutiques, opened by L.A. locals Michael and Sara Dovan in 1984 and featuring edgier designers such as Iro, Isabel Marant and Vivienne Westwood, have survived and thrived, even attracting a celebrity clientele.
You used to be able to see stars at the mall's Hard Rock Cafe too, the first U.S. outpost of the theme restaurant, back when theme restaurants were just beginning to get big. The shiny Cadillac protruding from the exterior of the building on San Vicente and Beverly Boulevard was a landmark until the restaurant closed in 2006. Now the space is a clubby, buttoned-up Capital Grille chain restaurant.
The Beverly Center also boasted a state-of-the-art mega-sized theater complex when it opened in 1982, where 16 films could screen at one time. The theater closed in 2010 to make way for a mega-sized Forever 21, as the phenomenon of cheap-chic-shopping-as-entertainment ($2.99 belts! $14.99 dresses!) took hold. Where you once might have spent an afternoon whiling away the hours in front of a movie screen, now you can while away the time at Forever 21, and, for about the same amount of cash, leave with six shiny new things.
The mall's Level 8 is cheap-chic central. H&M has a massive space, and this is one of the lucky stores to receive all of the designer-collaboration collections, most recently Versace for H&M.
The young women tearing through the racks of $14.95 faux fur vests and $49.95 party dresses at H&M have expensive Louis Vuitton and Celine handbags on their arms, which they could have purchased from one of the mall's tenants on the newly created luxury row on Level 7 near Macy's.
For many years, Louis Vuitton was the only luxury boutique in the mall. In the last two years, as the Beverly Center has tried to shed its mid-market image, Burberry, Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Tiffany & Co., Omega and now Yves Saint Laurent and Jimmy Choo have all moved in — despite already having locations fewer than three miles away in Beverly Hills. Their Beverly Center locations sell mostly logo-adorned bags and shoes, which are the lifeblood of the luxury business (luxury for the masses). At Yves Saint Laurent, the women's clothing is relegated to one small rolling rack.
In 2005, Apple took over the old Gap space on Level 6. The San Francisco-based brand that Donald Fisher founded on the principle of providing the best basic jeans and T-shirts and that played such a big role in shaping culture and shopping habits in the 1990s was supplanted by Apple, the Silicon Valley-based brand Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded on the principle of providing the best, most basic and user-friendly gadgets for the technological age.
That single retail corner, where Gap turned into Apple, is a snapshot of how much things have truly changed since the Beverly Center opened its doors in 1982. The Internet has turned the world topsy-turvy, undermined the staying power of fashion trends and sent many shoppers online.
And yet, we still can't resist the call of the mall.
Location: 8500 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Bordered by 3rd Street and La Cienega, Beverly and San Vicente boulevards. From the 10 Freeway, take the La Cienega exit north.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun.
Known for: Being the former site of an amusement park. Older Angelenos like to talk wistfully about taking pony rides there as kids, in the shadow of the oil wells.
What you'll find: Macy's and Bloomingdale's are the anchor stores, but the Forever 21 is just as big. A mix of luxury boutiques emphasizing accessories offerings, and mall regulars such as Victoria's Secret, Foot Locker, Steve Madden, Aldo, Express, Club Monaco and Williams-Sonoma.
Vibe: The Beverly Center is frequented by locals, tourists and celebs alike; its biggest asset is that it's centrally located at the edge of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. Opened in 1982, the mall still has an '80s vibe.
Survival strategies: Enter off San Vicente to avoid traffic congestion on La Cienega. Try to park on Level 2, which is less crowded. Don't forget to pay for your parking at one of the parking stations before exiting.
Take a break: The food court is under renovation, though California Crisp, Chipotle and other places are open. There's also P.F. Chang's and California Pizza Kitchen, which have to be entered from street level of the mall. But the best spot could be Obika Mozzarella Bar on Level 6 near center court, where you can get a salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella imported from Italy three times a week and a glass of wine. For snacks, check out Pinkberry and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Holiday cheer: The Ice Palace, a 22-foot dome with a magical snow and light show and polar ice cap footage from BBC Earth. Get your photo taken on the Ice Throne or with Santa.
Nearby: The Beverly Connection across La Cienega Boulevard has Old Navy, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls and other stores. The boutiques on Robertson Boulevard are several blocks west of the mall.