A bright display of Bottega Veneta accessories.
Nevena Borissova (middle), her DJ (left), and her ultrachic stylists at Curve.
The Philippe Starck-designed Alain Mikli shop.
This winter, steel-toed work boots outnumber platform stilettos along Maiden Lane and Post Street in Union Square, as top international boutiques expand and open at a rate reminiscent of the turn of this century. Since the recession cleared the way for a spate of new leases, a slew of shops are again putting San Francisco on the design map with their clean, modern interiors and eye-catching pieces displayed on stark metal racks and in sparkling vitrines. In quick succession, Alain Mikli eyewear tapped Philippe Starck to design a Geary Street space; Bottega Veneta doubled its square footage; Nevena Borissova brought Curve, her cult-favorite women’s boutique, to Fillmore; and SoMa-based Gensler began a floor-by-floor renovation of Wilkes Bashford on Sutter. In addition, Peter Marino, the famously leather-clad genius behind Maiden Lane’s reworked Chanel, masterminded diamond-centric Graff’s first West Coast location. All of these spaces—even Wilkes Bashford—are bathed in natural light, a dramatic change from the dark interiors that sprang up during the last retail boom (the old Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche and Gucci spaces epitomized that boudoir look). The new shops are minimalist, but each has an original twist: Curve has organic-looking walls spread with brown and gray clays; Wilkes Bashford will resemble a town house, with floors taking on a different masculine or feminine look depending on what is sold there. Next up: Dior Homme is taking over the Stockton Street space previously home to the company’s designs for women—though men will still have to compete with the former clientele for precisely cut suits and accessories that look as great on femmes as they do on the line’s namesake gender. They can also pick up some boots to navigate the Square’s hard-hat zones. Alain Mikli, 73 Geary St., 415-989-0374; Bottega Veneta, 124 Geary St., 415-981-1700; Curve, 2360 Fillmore St., 415-885-4200; Dior Homme, 216 Stockton St., Dior.com; Graff, 237 Post St., 415-926-7000; Wilkes Bashford, 375 Sutter St., 415-986-4380