From a full-length lambskin coat or hip-length jacket to a crocodile wallet or bulls-neck boots, you'll find fine leather throughout the border area. Whether planning a large or small purchase, expect to pay 30% to 50% less than you would stateside.

Hottest items currently are copies of Versace jackets for men, belted jackets for women, laptop briefcases, NFL team jackets and of course, boots. Top-quality wallets and passport cases, in calf or lambskin, are perennial sellers at $10 to $18.

Prices on all-leather team jackets vary by type of leather, size, style and complexity of design, but generally run $200 to $320 vs. $1,200 for the same jacket in Vegas and $1,000 in catalogs. Bargain hard for these. The starting price can easily drop $100. Regular men's and women's lambskin jackets, which would retail for about $400 stateside, run as low as $120.

Kids leather and suede jackets run between $30 and $60, depending on size and skin. Great bargains are toddler and children's suede vests, lined with sheepskin and sold for about $10.

Boots are exceptional buys, in every skin from alligator to ostrich, and are generally about half of stateside prices. Most popular are bulls-neck, at a savings of about $40 a pair, and lizard and snakeskin at significantly more. At the top of the line, ostrich boots, in every conceivable color, run $250 vs. $500 stateside.

Throughout the border area you'll also find an almost overwhelming array of leather purses, backpacks, wallets, tooled belts, camera and video cases, briefcases and luggage in a variety of colors, skins and styles.

Particularly good buys are the 30-inch, all-leather airline carry-on bags, seen everywhere, in every hue. They sell for an average of $20 but can be found for as little as $12 in patchwork colors. Check to make sure they are double-stitched and have sturdy zippers.

Insider Tips
Patchwork is always the best leather bargain because it uses the small, leftover pieces from other items. A well-made patchwork fanny pack might run $5; a backpack $12. A highly styled woman's jacket that looks like a jeweled mosaic of suedes and leathers would be fairly priced at around $60. The selection is enormous everywhere.

Best City to Shop
Tijuana is the leather capital of Mexico. The selection is vast, the competition fierce and bargaining is great. Cruise Avenida Revolucion in Tijuana and Boulevard Lopez Mateos in Ensenada for the best variety in all-leather items and boots. Skip Rosarito for leather, except for smaller items - such as video-camera cases, backpacks, fanny packs and purses - found in the mercado and curio shops. The mercado is your best bet in Rosarito because of its concentrated comparative-shopping area and its friendly and easy bargaining atmosphere.

Best Shops in Tijuana
Sasson Leather Factory is boot-freak heaven, with so many styles, colors and skins that indecisive types might have an anxiety attack. Ask owner Raquel Sasson anything about leather. She's funny, fair and knowledgeable. Along with a wide variety of men's and women's jackets, Sasson will also copy any leather jacket ($200 vs. $1,300 stateside), will custom-design jackets and boots and will ship, insured. The workmanship is top-quality, and no illegal skins are sold. Located on the east side of the street, three doors from the corner of Avenida Revolucion and Third. The Leather Factory in the Pasaje Revolucion arcade is team-jacket headquarters, along with having a terrific selection of regular leather jackets in all styles. Jackets can be made to order here in four hours. Ask gregarious owner Pepe Ortiz to do his famous lighter or nitric-acid tricks to distinguish real leather from vinyl or 14-karat gold from fake. Located midblock on Avenida Revolucion, between Third and Fourth on the east side of the street.

Hernando's Curios has an excellent selection of purses and briefcases, along with a bit of everything else. Prices on laptop briefcases vary by the number of compartments, size, type of skin and workmanship, but a typical calfskin case with multiple pockets runs about half the price as in the United States. Other calfskin and young bullskin briefcases run $50 to $100 and generally represent a 45% savings. Ask for Enrique. Hernando's is the first shop on the left at the foot of the stairs in underground Pasaje Gomez arcade. The arcade is on the east side of Avenida Revolucion between Third and Fourth. The shop's sign says Leather Factory.

Best Shops in Ensenada
Plaza Bucareli is the place to go for Ensenada's best comparative leather shopping, with a half-dozen specialty stores all in one mini-arcade. From hundreds of leather hats to shoes, purses, boots and even saddles, the selection and bargaining are great here. Located at Avenida Lopez Mateos and Macheros, next to the Leather

Maribel Leather Shop has the most extensive variety of wearable leather in town, from jackets and pants to team jackets, hats, belts and even chaps. Prices are fair here; team jackets, for example, start at $165. In addition to the usual multicolor team jackets, Maribel's also carries a classier version in two-tone, beige-and-brown suede. While you're here, check out the fascinating collection of knives, sabers and other strange, James Bond-type instruments in Maribel's front window. Located at Avenidas Lopez Mateos and Macheros, next to the Leather House in Plaza Bucareli. Call 011-52- 617-81055.

El Escorial Leather House, a landmark for navigation on Avenida Lopez Mateos, is a must-stop for any Ensenada shopper. While the store no longer carries upscale leather items, owner Rocio Guerra is the straightest shooter in town and will generously take time to tell you all the insider secrets of the city, from the best places to shop for any kind of merchandise to the best place to find a clean bathroom. The shop now carries the biggest selection of quality Mexican sandals, along with 5,000 T-shirts. Even if you're not in the market for either, stop for an information fix from this delightful woman. The Leather House is the prominent white building on the corner of Avenidas Lopez Mateos and Macheros. Call 011-52-617-40332.

Sonora Leather Shop, which looks like a hole in the wall from the street, is actually purse paradise, with one of the largest selections in the entire border area. Besides all the usual leather items, the shop also carries riding gear, a wide variety of holsters and rifle cases, great leather caps and Stetsons, and a lot more. Bargain hard here, and totally ignore the owner's high-pressure pushiness. Located at Avenidas Lopez Mateos and Macheros, across from the Leather House. Call 011-52-617-82671.

Prices in Mexico will vary with fluctuations in the peso. All prices on bargainable items quoted above are after bargaining. The law of supply and demand does apply in the border area. As tourists' tastes change, inventory will vary at shops that cross-sell or feature items from different categories. Specialty or one-of-a-kind items mentioned above may not always be available.



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