Looking for just the right store to do your Christmas shopping - a classy spot that prides itself on imagination, style and apparel that's unique? Well, you just might find it at Skyline High School instead of downtown or in one of Salt Lake's shopping malls.

Students involved in the school's fashion merchandising program recently opened a savvy little shop called "Gutzei." They're stocking, on consignment, apparel for men and women that comes from such local retailers as Sass, Contempo Casuals and Village Sports Den. Also on the racks: garments from abroad. (They were brought in by a graduate who's trying to learn the Korean fashion market.) And then there are those unique items - fun clothes and accessories that have been created by aspiring student designers - everything from knitwear and fancy T-shirts to jazzy jewelry.The shop is located on the west side of Skyline's front building in room 155. The former classroom has been turned into an attractive boutique complete with cash register, racks and enthusiastic sales personnel.

The student-run store will be open until Dec. 16 to accommodate last-minute shoppers. Business hours are 7 to 7:30 a.m. (when school begins); 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (the lunch hour) and 2:30 (that's when school's out ) until 4 p.m. Customers also can arrange with the fashion merchandising department to shop at special hours if these times won't fit into busy pre-holiday schedules.

"We hope the store will teach the kids some basics about retailing and help prepare them if they decide to continue on in the apparel industry," notes Mercy Buttorff, who heads the Skyline program. "They're learning important, practical information here - marking merchandise, making sales, displaying clothing and accessories, greeting and accommodating customers. All these things can can really serve them well if they opt for careers in ready-to-wear."

The store, of course, is just one aspect of the thriving fashion program at Skyline instructed by Buttorff and her assistant, Gayle Rupp - a program that's attracting more participants every year.

The classes were custom-tailored by Buttorff when she arrived at Skyline three years ago after teaching at Granger High School.

"I transferred from home economics to business at Granger and began to build the fashion merchandising course there," she says. "I knew of Brighton's excellent program headed by Michelle Emery, and I was eager to see other schools follow suit.

"I've always believed in the importance of fashion and think there just couldn't be a more exciting career for a dedicated and energetic young person. I know some people will scoff and say fashion's a fluffy, silly subject to have in high school along with physics and chemistry. But they couldn't be more incorrect! Just look at the ads in the Sunday paper. Just look at the stores in the malls. Just listen to what people talk about. A huge percentage of what we do and see and spend our money on revolves around clothing.

"I've often heard job counselors tell young people to pinpoint the industries supplying products that are in demand and then seek positions in those areas. If you consider these criteria, the apparel industry certainly is one of the most promising."

About 200 students - boys and girls - are in Buttorff's course. Of this number, she says, maybe around 35 will go on to seriously pursue fashion as a career.

The classes deal with a variety of topics. First comes an introduction to the industry; then students are schooled in such things as fashion photography, fashion shows, newspaper advertising and window displays. They learn about accessories, fabrics and fashion schools around the world. Advanced students now are having the opportunity to run a boutique. And awhile back, a number of them, under Buttorff's direction, took a fashion tour to New York, the heart of America's garment industry, where they visited design houses and factories and had an inside look at the technology of fashion.

Although the basic format has remained the same since the Skyline teacher launched her fashion program, classes always are tailored to suit new students' talents and needs. Buttorff says she carefully considers the kids in her class and tries to determine their specific interests.

"If I have someone who's particularly interested in starting his or her own store, I try to provide helpful information along these lines," the instructor explains. "Same thing applies if I find a student who's interested in designing. Our program really isn't geared to the creative aspect of fashion - we're primarily dealing with the business end. But when I run into a young person who has artistic flair, I try to make suggestions, offer direction and provide opportunity." (Because Heather White, Angie Adams and Wendy McKay were eager to try their hands at designing and making jewelry, Buttorff made sure there was a spot in the boutique where it could be prominently displayed.)

Getting started in fashion is tough today, the teacher emphasizes. Any boost is important . . . it builds self-confidence.

Self-confidence also comes from putting on fashion shows. The students learn how to deal with local retailers, handle the clothes, choreograph scenes to focus on style trends and publicize an event.

Since Buttorff joined the Skyline staff, the shows have been frequent and impressive. Sometimes students do a show in a mall for a single retailer. Sometimes they do shows to raise scholarship money. Big seasonal shows, which cost a bundle in time, commitment and money, keep the kids busy, too. And it isn't just a matter of runway work. The students make posters, do newspaper publicity, sell T-shirts to advertise the event and generally hype it to the hilt to get the biggest crowd possible to attend.

"A lot of fashion is show biz, so I don't think our efforts are out of line," says Buttorff. "The seasonal fashion shows are some of our biggest student events at Skyline. We even have a contest to choose the theme each time." (This fall's theme, "Bon Genre," is French and was submitted by a student who had just been to France and said the term was being used there to mean "classy people.")

At the fall show, held in the school auditorium, about 25 local retailers were involved.

"We contact the retailers around town, tell them what we're trying to accomplish and ask for their support," the instructor explains. "Most of them are very cooperative. They know these kids might become future employees, and I think they want to be sure they know their stuff. We've placed over 20 of our students in fashion jobs around Salt Lake."

If a retailer agrees to be part of a fashion show it means he will work closely with students who choreograph scenes and help them select clothes to depict a specific fashion message.

The day "Bon Genre" was presented, student clothing managers were running all over Salt Lake City to call for stylish garments, put them in plastic bags, load them into cars and vans and check them in at school.

Over 200 students - guys and gals - modeled in the show. Rest rooms were converted into jam-packed dressing rooms, and still more classrooms were turned into clothing storage areas and beauty salons for hair and makeup artists to do their thing.

J.C. Penney's provided hair stylists to help the teens look their best; many students worked backstage on scenery; others were involved with lighting and music. In many respects, it was just like the big time when top couturiers display their new lines.

Buttorff invited representatives of the local retailing community to sit out front as the teens strutted their stuff. Their constructive criticism, she says, will help make future productions even better and more professional.

All in all, the show as superbly handled. Oh, maybe the lights weren't quite right sometimes. And maybe the music was a bit too loud on occasion. But these were minor things. The lasting memory was the spirit the young people displayed and their clear and obvious love of fashion.

"I have always loved clothes," Buttorff says. "I have designed my own . . . and if somebody mentions the apparel industry, or the seasonal openings in New York, or a great new store that's in town, I still get excited - even after all these years. If I've managed to pass on this enthusiasm to my students - well, it makes me happy and proud. Maybe our program here at Skyline will help to inspire another innovative fashion retailer. Or maybe we're teaching another Calvin Klein!"