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Adventures in Costuming: LA Fabric Stores

ISW's Home Fabrics shop

I thought I would take this time to introduce you, beloved Frocktalk readers, to three of my favorite fabric stores in Los Angeles.  They are, in order:  International Silks and Woolens, Michael Levine, and F & S Fabrics.  These fabric stores could not be more different from each other, but between the three, if you can’t find it, it probably doesn’t exist.

International Silks and Woolens storefront

International Silks and Woolens storefront

1) International Silks and Woolens

L-R: Nawal Chaya, Janet Kalestian, Bila Dakduk, Siham Munayco, Anna Chokler, Hayat Noueihed and Salim Israwi make ISW one of the best destinations in fabric history.

In the course of my work, and life, I have been to some of the best fabric stores in all the world: Paris, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, you name it, but International Silks and Woolens really takes the cake.  Not only do they have beautiful fabrics, but they are some of the nicest people you’d ever hope to meet.

L-R: Sammer Dakduk, Marko Markovic, Zerai Michael, and Emile Bido

International Silks offers what most fabric stores do not:  vintage, dead-stock fabric.  And they have bolts and bolts of it.  This is not vintage reproduction fabric (or so-called “retro” fabric), this is the real deal – the hand of the fabric, the drape of it is perfect, because it is authentic.  As a costume designer, you cannot hope for more than the real deal – new fabric does not drape like old fabric.  It’s hard to fake it with new fabrics, and so we all collectively flock to ISW (as it is known) for their beautiful vintage supply.

Zerai Michael and Bashir Khairzada in the shipping area

ISW is also great because they can order you just about anything you need, in great bulk – if you have an army of can-can girls to costume, they can order and ship all the fabric you need to create the garments, and quickly.  As a costume designer, you can open an account with them, and take fabric out on memo, to check the color in a camera test, or to get the fabric approved.  It’s pretty fantastic.

Silks in the upstairs loft at ISW

Their silks collection is probably the best in town – they have Pucci prints, Missoni prints, beautiful chiffons, knits, and burnout velvets, plus bolts upon bolts of amazing sequined fabric in their upstairs loft.  I have personally spent hours up there, going through every bolt, looking for the perfect fabric, and finding so much, it was impossible to choose.

Bashir Khairzada in the woolens department

Their woolens are excellent, as well – I have made many, many suits using their stock; it’s truly amazing.  When I was on a film (period 1960, Florida) I shopped exclusively at ISW, and used their vintage sharkskin fabrics. The right fabric means the right “look”, and you just can’t put a price on that.

Safwat Israwi in the downstairs silk department

Their silk section (downstairs) offers almost every color and every weight you can think of: from peau de soie to voile, from hand-beaded, jewel encrusted to stretch charmeuse, you can find it all here.  ISW truly has found its niche in the LA fabric market – you can find things here that you simply cannot find elsewhere, certainly not all in one place.

Bila Dakduk in the notions department

Their notions department has grown substantially, as well, with endless buttons, trims, and embellishments, including feathers and hat forms.  And again, they can always order things if you need them!

ISW Home Fabrics Store

ISW also has a home-fabrics store, located next door to the dressmaker fabrics store.  It is full of beautiful fabrics and accessories, and they can order just about anything you need through their extensive catalogues.

Tassels aplenty at ISW Home Fabrics store

But perhaps the best thing that ISW has to offer is their friendly, knowledgeable staff.  You will not find characters like these anywhere else in the world.  They truly enjoy what they do, and it shows.  For this reason and all the others, ISW wins the prize as my favorite fabric store in the world.  Additionally, they offer wholesale purchasing to those with SRAS numbers, and are negotiable, to some degree, if you are buying large amounts of fabric.  Free parking is available in lots adjacent to the store.  Who could ask for more?!?!  I loves me my ISW!!

Paul Mandel and Sammer Dakduk of ISW

International Silks and Woolens
8347 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Mon – Sat: 9A – 6P
Sun: 11A – 5P

Salpy Yerikian mans the desk at ISW


Michael Levine Fabrics

2) Michael Levine Fabrics

Located in downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the garment district, Michael Levine is a landmark among the sea of independent fabric dealers in the area.  Unlike the independent dealers, there is NO price haggling whatsoever at Michael Levine.  Michael Levine does offer wholesale discount (20%, with no additional discounts), and a separate counter for wholesale customers to ring up, as the line is occasionally really long at checkout.  They do take orders for large amounts, and are usually very helpful in this regard.

Standing in the cotton prints section, Michael Levine Fabrics

The upshot of Michael Levine is that it is absolutely enormous, at 60,000 square feet.  In this cavernous space, they have jammed bolts and bolts of fabrics of all types.  If Michael Levine had a specialty, it would probably be cotton prints.  This makes it an ideal destination for quilters, among others.  Michael Levine does not carry vintage fabric, but they do carry vintage reproduction fabric, and “retro” fabric, by the tons.  If you need fabric with a robot print, for example, you could handily find at least four different bolts at Michael Levine.  It’s that kind of a place.  If you need polka dots, you’ll have at least 120 bolts of different dots from which to choose.

Looking the other way in the cotton prints section, Michael Levine Fabrics

Michael Levine also has a ton of notions: ribbons, trims, purse handles, and belt buckles.  They stock feathers as well, and an entire section of yarns for knitting and crochet.  Michael Levine also has a wall of leather skins and ultrasuede – it’s pretty full-on.  They also sell all manner of shears and scissors – from Fiskars to Gingher, and they sell bolts of gridded pattern paper and manila paper for bulk patterning.

Belt buckles and feathers, Michael Levine Fabrics

Across the street is Michael Levine Upholstery and Drapery Fabrics – this place is loaded with all manner of home fabrics.  Like the dressmaker store, they too have leather skins and hides at the home store, and a ton, ton, ton, of trim – tassels, fringe, dingle-balls, etc.  There are no zippers sold at the home store, though, so it’s something to remember if you are making slipcovers or pillows.

Michael Levine Home Fabrics storefront

Michael Levine has a different kind of discount or sale every day – in the front of their store, they have a calendar that details what is on sale that day.  But the most alluring thing about Michael Levine just might be the hot dog vendor out front.  I am not kidding – there is always a woman there, grilling hotdogs wrapped in bacon, and the smell is intoxicating.

OMG, the bacon-wrapped hotdogs.

Michael Levine has its own parking lot, adjacent to the dressmaker fabric store, and you can park there for one hour with validation.  Validation requires that you spend $20 or more at either store.  The sad thing is that recently, my favorite parking guy from Michael Levine quit.  I will sincerely miss him – he was really nice!  Michael Levine’s employees are not nearly as congenial as the people at ISW – it feels like more of a “job” for these employees.  It’s a huge place, and there are so many people on the floor at any given time.  They are very busy.  It would be nice to just see a smile once in a while, but it’s not going to stop me from trying to make them laugh.

This lady could use a smile. Michael Levine Fabrics, the yarn department.

Michael Levine Fabrics
920 Maple Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 622-6259
Mon – Fri: 9A – 5:30P
Sat: 9A – 4:30P
Sun: 11A – 4P


F & S Fabrics

3) F & S Fabrics

This is a Westside landmark, having been around since 1956.  F & S has since expanded into three separate buildings – one for dressmaking, and two for home fabrics.  It’s pretty impressive – I think the two home stores came about after 1994 or so, which is when I remember them moving their inventory across the street.

Looking from the checkout counter into the five rooms, F & S Fabrics

The present-day F & S dressmaker store is separated into five basic rooms: the front room, where the “fashion” fabric is, and also where you can find buttons, zippers, and trims, the second room, where you can find ribbon, sewing machines for sale, appliqués, patterns, and silks, the third room, where you can find wools and rayons, the fourth room, cotton solids and prints, and the fifth room, velvets, plush, and other oddities.

The button department, F & S Fabrics

F & S also offers sewing classes, and as mentioned, they sell machines, which is a major plus.  The two additional home fabric stores are great if you have need for heavier fabrics, but these fabrics tend to be pricier than their competitors.  The deal with shopping at F & S, located just off the 10 freeway and Overland, next to the Westside Pavilion (WSPav) mall, is that convenience is key.  It’s an easy in-and-out if you need to pick up interfacing or thread on your way back to the office from the WSPav.  They have some beautifully-painted murals on the exterior walls of the dressmaker store, and parking is convenient in back.

Those are actually murals! F & S Fabrics parking lot.

F & S Fabrics
10629 West Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 475-1637
Mon – Sat: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm


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