Alligators, Old Mink and New Money : One Woman’s Adventures in Vintage Clothing
Author: Alison Houtte, Melissa Houtte
Some people’s memories revolve around the company they shared or the food they ate; Alison Houtte remembers her life in terms of fashion. Her mother was always looking for a bargain; most of what the Houttes owned came from garage sales or neighbors. Alison, the youngest, learned to be creative with her hand-me-downs, spicing old clothes up with accessories and the right shoes. When I interviewed her on the phone, she told me that even at the age of ten she was an entrepreneur with her own fruit stand who knew, “hard work is gonna get you far.” From her Miami childhood to her modeling days in Paris, the Houtte “thrift gene” prevailed for Alison, both necessarily due to her financial independence – she flew to Paris to start modeling in a 50-cent suit – and morally due to her love of a good find.
Finally she came to New York and settled down in Brooklyn, sharing a shop with a friend in Park Slope. But she quickly grew out of her share of the space and opened her own, Hooti Couture, on Flatbush Avenue (B, Q trains to 7th Avenue) where she remains and flourishes today. And for good reason – you don’t stay in business for ten years without a passion for what you do, but of course passion isn’t enough. Houtte’s keen sense of vintage fashion extends beyond the ability to put an outfit together. She seems to have an uncanny knack for knowing where and when to shop, and coming from her it all sounds like common sense: “When I’m searching for fall and winter looks, I shop the Northeast. But when it comes to preparing for my spring/summer collection, I head south.” So it’s no surprise to hear that her window displays often coincide with the newest Bloomingdales catalog, or that well-known fashion gurus come to her for the latest furs. And, naturally, Houtte’s items are the better bargain by a landslide.
As a fashion-savvy vintage addict, Houtte is above all a successful business woman. She’s charismatic (she pulled over on the side of a Pennsylvania highway to talk to me during a day of vintage shopping), knowledgeable, and loves what she does enough to maintain morals and pride – she’d rather see an item go to someone who will appreciate it and wear it well. And this is the crux of the book: what could pass as simply an easy read about vintage fashion is filled with wisdom about running a business, knowing and accepting oneself (and one’s own sense of style) and a true dedication and love for every aspect of what one does. Vintage, Alison says, is about “giving a new life to something that had become a castoff,” and that, certainly, is a lesson worth learning.