Letter your love

› culture@sfbg.com

We usually think of Valentine’s Day gifts in terms of decadent chocolates, lush roses, glittering jewelry, and luxurious lingerie — pretty much everything except, well, valentines. You remember … those cards made out of paper, usually in some shade of red or pink, crowded with hearts, kiss marks, and Xs and Os? People once used them tell their sweeties — or would-be sweeties — how much they cared, before the annual celebration of romance transformed into an expensive dating ritual that requires flowers, chocolates, and fancy dinners.

Now that the economic crisis makes such extravagance imprudent, if not impossible, why not focus on finding an actual valentine for your love this year? Even if your ever-slimming wallet can’t sustain a dozen red roses, a big heart-shaped box of chocolates, and dinner for two at Jardiniere, you can still express your affection with an actual paper note personalized with a sentimental message. But don’t run off to the drugstore and settle for Hallmark cliché — San Francisco has several local, independent retailers with an eye for cards that are stylish, sweet, sentimental, and sexy. You can find just the right valentine to suit whatever your romantic situation may be this year — from casual hook-up to longterm love — if you know where to look.

FINE PRINT


At crisp, cheerful Glen Park boutique Perch (654 Chenery, SF; 415-586-9000, www.perchsf.com), Zoel Fages has harvested a splendid variety of valentines, including a handful of cheeky cards from local letterpress company Old Tom Foolery. These delightful cards use footnotes to clue in that gorgeous, if somewhat dense, special someone you’ve been lusting over. For example: a missive with bright pink letters asking "Will you be my valentine?*" is underscored by slightly smaller letters noting "*FYI: I’m easy." If paper and envelopes aren’t your thing, check out other options, like Moontea Artwork’s plushy hemp cotton pillow, block-printed with a red heart and the words "Je t’aime." It even has a handy pocket on the back, perfect for a handwritten note or a handful of condoms — and for displaying year-round.

SCREEN DREAM


When Cupid shot an arrow through the heart of Matthew Grenby, he used his techie background and design sensibilities to create e-mailable floral love letters for long-distance sweetheart Irene Chen. "When I opened the letter, I was wowed," Chen fondly remembers. "It was a wonderful feeling, like receiving a handwritten note, but it was online." Grenby wooed Lafayette native Chen away from New York and back to the Bay Area, where the couple turned Grenby’s innovative communication idea into e-stationary business iomoi (www.iomoi.com). A one-year, $15 subscription lets users select design templates, colors, and scripty fonts for classy e-cards. Sure, the concept is not exactly groundbreaking, but e-stationery is certainly more aesthetically pleasing than your standard box of Gmail text. And the lucky recipient will appreciate that you put time and thought into your presentation as well as your words. Plus, e-valentines are eco-friendly. "When people send e-stationary, they aren’t having to buy paper and don’t need a postman to drive around and use up gas," notes Grenby. Best of all, each of this year’s English-garden inspired designs — ornate floral borders, pale pink bumblebees, and crowned hearts — will be available in iomoi’s send-for-free section.

VICTORIAN ELEGANCE


Antique European sentimental artifacts fill every worn wooden drawer and graceful glass countertop at whimsical curiosity shop Gypsy Honeymoon (3599 24th St., SF. 415-821-1713), where purveyor Gabrielle Ekedal has stocked up on the prettiest paperies from the past. Pluck a heartstring or two with a historical hand-tinted photocard from 1900s, where suited men with perfectly parted hair gaze at coiffed women in frilly frocks surrounded by a shower of pink flowers. Or pick out a pair of tiny paper hands, holding little cards inscribed with sweet sayings like "I live on love for thee." Our favorite? An embroidered souvenir postcard from the 1950’s which entices you to lift the billowing maroon skirt of a Spanish senorita standing on the seashore, under which you’ll find a little pair of lace panties. Scandalous!

MODERN AGE


If you’re searching for a more conventional card, an extensive selection of the classic heart-covered red and pink greetings can be found at Marina stationary shop Union Street Papery (2162 Union, SF. 415-563-0200, www.unionstreetpapery.com). But owner Stacey Bush has several modern valentines for less formal loves as well. A card whose cover says "I like hanging out with you" — and whose interior qualifies "naked" will let your current casual hook-up partner know you’d like more of the same.

CUPID’S SECRET


Some emotions are so intense that they can be handled only by the eyes of your lover. Invest in the Secret Love Letters Box from Chronicle Books to secure your most sensuous sentiments. Complete with both regular and invisible ink, old-fashioned nibbed pens, thick cream stationary, and tales of star-crossed lovers to refer to, this correspondence kit is worthy of a Romeo and Juliet romance. Pick one up at Mission Street print shop Autumn Express (2071 Mission, SF. 415-824-2222, www.autumnexpress.com).

HOT FOR TEACHER


Peruse some of the tissue-thin vintage schoolhouse greetings resting among the delicate dishes and colorful aprons at Russian Hill’s old-new emporium Molte Cose (2044 Polk, SF. 415-921-5374). Retired San Francisco schoolteacher Ms. Bonar sold the lot of valentines that students had given her from 1920 to 1960 to proprietor Teresa Nittolo. One of the more suggestive selections shows a pudgy blonde boy, apple in hand, smiling and standing over the words "I may not be your teacher’s pet, but you’re my pet teacher." Another has a rosy-cheeked girl holding up the ruffle of her skirt, asking, "How can you resist my endearing young charms?" There is something irresistible — if not odd — about these sweet, simple valentines.


More Valentine’s shopping and style ideas, plus Laura Peach’s "Objects of Obsession" feature on our Pixel Vision blog

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