Talkin’ Shop: Hooti Couture

To tell the story of the Brooklyn boutique, Hooti Couture is to share the various incarnations of Alison Houtte as cover girl, vintage maven and author.  The vivacious proprietor gives first props, though, to her fashionable grandmother, Clemence Houtte, whose sense of style shaped her own and whose pronunciation of the family surname as “hoo-tee” gives the store its name.  Alison’s infectious joie de vivre is shared with Jacqueline Houtte, her recently deceased mother, a stylish woman glad to have walked the earth whose joyous 1970’s visage smiles on visitors to the shop.

Inspiration

Major life and fashion influences include Grandma Houtte, circa 1940 (on right in black and white photo) and Mom, Jackie in 1973.

I sat down with the infinitely quotable Alison recently to get the goods on her beloved Prospect Heights emporium. She’s got an eye for style and a keen sense of value.  Her business philosophy is simple, “keep it fresh, cheap and chic!”  Since the inception 12 years ago of Hooti Couture, she’s offered prime vintage goods at affordable prices.  Her neighboring Park Slope predecessor, the well curated, Weeds, was her foray into vintage apparel and furnishings retail, but it is with Hooti and her priced-to-move merchandise, that she’s struck gold.  A mint-condition Blackglama coat at $1200 is the highest ticket item in the store right now, though most pieces fall well below that figure.  I snagged a chevron stripe, wasp-waisted Ronnie Heller dress for thirty bucks — love it!

Alison is as warm and welcoming as they come, but she has little patience for the snippy commentary that’s come with moving her base just blocks from Berkeley Place to Flatbush Avenue.  One customer, indignant about the locale change said, “you will never survive because a stroller will not cross that avenue.”  Alison’s response: “Do you see baby clothes in here?”  Eight years later the business is thriving.

I’m a little secondhand shop in Brooklyn, but I cater to each client like she’s in Bergdorf’s.  I think the success has come with the service and price points. It’s great, fun stuff in a fun environment and we get new merchandise weekly.  I buy with love, what I love.

And it is with great love she’s culled the mines for the largely 1980’s collection in store now. “I am loving fashion right now.”  The resurgence of eighties style is clearly delighting her.  The era that thrust her onto the runways and into top fashion mags is evident throughout the store.  Having spent a decade on the catwalks of Paris and New York and posing for celebrated photographers such as Peter Lindbergh and Patrick Demarchelier, she’s traveled the world and seen the very best of fashion.  “I sold myself for ten years, Vogue, Marie Claire, forty-two grand for one day on a Woolite campaign but when the phone stopped ringing,” as it does fairly quickly in the modeling universe, she transferred skills.  “I brought my personality to the game in modeling; I bring the same to the counter at Hooti.”

marieclairecover_1

The cover that launched a decade-long career.

pearls_1

Courrèges and killer brows.

WrapDress

Pretty legs and all.

She uses the personal pronoun when referring to the gently loved resale merchandise she stocks. “What about her, isn’t she a beauty?” she queries, motioning to a brooch. With unabashed glee she helps each item find the right home by getting to know her customers and their tastes very well. She’s not likely to forget a face or a name and her customers genuinely seek her counsel.  With giddy self-deprecation she says, “I’m flattered when someone asks for my advice.  I’m just an ex-fashion model…and they listen!”

AliHilly

Looking for the perfect accessory for a big night out, Hilary Van Santen scores at Hooti.

When asked to shoot some of her store favorites for this piece, Alison jumped back into mannequin-mode tout de suite.  And not for nothing did the experience of coming under the brushes of makeup superstars like Kevyn Aucoin and François Nars have her whip up a flawlessly “beaten” face.  So without further ado, “sexy, cheeky and affordable,” some of Ali’s faves — merchandise available in store, with a few personal pieces thrown in for good measure.

Blackglama

What becomes a legend most?  Alison luxuriates in a late-60’s chocolate mink, $1200 and Wolford tights. This faux-fur capelet, $75, is a perfect topper for Alison’s own Miami thrift find, a sassy zebra print dress.  Red lucite earrings, $10; wood and abalone bangle, $12.

Peace3

Personal paste:  Alison’s own costume jewelry and similar brooches $25-45, adorn these sequined panties, $28.  “I looove the Peace panty,” squeals Alison, “sometimes a gal just needs a little bling for her booty!”

Hats

Fabulously feathered:  Dyed cock feather headpiece, $125 and jaunty fedora, $55.

earring

Warmth and whimsy: nostalgic needlepoint meets modern lucite in this handmade purse, $75; crystals adorn this earring bursting with shooting stars, $28.

ClemCollection

The Clemence collection:  Alison treasures her grandma’s golden oldies from the Whiting and Davis evening bag to the Tura reading glasses she’s transformed to sparkling sunglasses.  Gilty pleasures available in store:  a mesh shoulder bag with a hint of Clem, $75 and a bejeweled Andrew Geller shoe, $25 for the pair.  The diminutive shoe is smaller than many contemporary feet but Alison refers to it as “bedroom art, a pretty thing to look at.”

Handbags

Alison knows her skins and keeps a steady supply of structured handbags from lizard to croc’ and ‘gator, $75-$375.

The wonderfully nostalgic Montauk Club was the perfect venue to launch her delicious romp of a memoir in 2005.  Written with her journalist sister, Melissa Houtte,  Alligators, Old Mink and New Money, shares their modest Florida upbringing, replete with thrift store wardrobes; her “discovery” as a lanky 18-year-old and subsequent launch onto the Paris catwalk, both instrumental in developing her aesthetic and training her eye to find diamonds in the rough; and her often humorous musings about her new life in the vintage trade.

AOMNM

The dimpled author gives a lady-like, raccoon trimmed coat, $450, a quirky twist.   A 70’s era Samsonite travel satchel, $48, is “tagged” Hooti-style with silk flowers and a sequined lion applique.

BeeneBrooch

The power of a great line: arrow brooch, $35; late-eighties Geoffrey Beene, $175 and python-embossed pumps, $25.

She loves creating her windows and the entertainment value of it all.  Go, check out the campy Halloween window display, “I love the silliness of it,”  Alison enthuses, “A sexy dress with a grotesque mask.  Deep down, I’m a little girl.  I love a holiday and Halloween is one of my favorites.”  Have the inevitable holiday yummy, but the real treat is in unearthing a happily-affordable treasure from a fun-loving gal who doesn’t take herself too seriously.  As the sign on her door says, “No drama allowed.”

Hooti Couture

321 Flatbush Avenue

(at Seventh Avenue)

Brooklyn, NY

718.857.1977

18 Responses

  1. This is an excellent article on The Vintage Diva, Alison and her precious gem, Hootie Couture. I am a frequent shopper at Hootie Couture and there’s always something that catches my eye. I think that I always have at least one Hootie piece on.

  2. AMAZING – i always go there and had no idea about all this bkgrd. Love this Sharon!!

  3. Love Hooti! My bestfriend and I have always gone to this store. It was one of our fave Park Slope finds. And when she moved, we followed. My bestfriend lives in New Orleans now, for the past ten plus years, and every time she is home we have to stop through Hooti and shout out Alison. I have many coats, bags, dresses, fab finds in my closet from Hooti. Sharon, now everyone knows…

    Lea B.

  4. WOW! Everywhere I go, Brooklyn, Manhattan, everyone knows about Hooti. Alison is what makes this shop so special, she makes you feel like every piece of clothing you try on makes you look absolutely Fabulous. She is great at accessorizes and can even give you make up tips. And wouldnt you want those kind of tips from a professional? She is so friendly and generous ….. when was the last time you spent $100 and the shop keeper gave you a free piece of jewelry? that is Alison, you feel like you are in her home, not just a store. Everytime I go into the store, there is always a little treasure to find, something to make y ou feel good, that is what this is, a feel good store. I recommend everyone to shop here, regardless of age. There is something for the tweens, the young, the not so old and so on. And there is plenty of lunch spots to rest after a hard day of shopping.

  5. ooh! nice!
    thanks Sharon!

  6. Thank you—you really captured my sister and her store!
    Melissa Houtte

  7. I wish I was a woman, I’d be hanging out there…wait a minute, I wanna hang out there anyway! A lovely article for a lovely woman and a great shop!

  8. I read the book and I must say it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year! Love it! I haven’t got to visit the states this year (which is unusual for me), but next time I’m in town I will be stopping by!!!

    Lucy
    x

  9. Al, can’t you franchise to New Zealand? What am I supposed to wear down here? Miss your dreamy outfits, bags and beads too much.

  10. I carry my Hooti gator bag with pride — and get compliments every time! Oh, if only she’d open a ‘Hooti South’ store, so I didn’t have to travel 800 miles to get to get the good stuff!

  11. A great article and I loved the book! Such fabulous inspiration for anyone who loves, wears, sells, buys or collects vintage clothing!

  12. I am a brooklyn native, I’m 21 years old. I always pass hooti on my way to sugarcane or just trolling downtown and never stopped by, after reading all these great reviews I must say I have to stop by. Miss Houtte is an inspiration and she has me looking into owning my own consignment store! KUDOS!

  13. an old customer of Hooti – and now a new customer of mine in the UK (this lovely lady has now moved from NY to Warwick, UK), recommended that I take a look at the Hooti site and subsequantly I’ve found your great blog. I am also a vintage clothes store owner in the UK, although I’m brand new, and I feel that my ethos is exactly the same as Alisons'; I love clothes, fabrics, fashion and all things beautiful and I believe in great customer service, savvy shopping and good prices. I’ve now been open six months, and it’s going pretty well, but in these tough retail times reading Alisons story – and hearing all her happy and dedicated customers – is a real inspiration to me, I can only hope to be so successful in leading a happy business life and bringing a little bit of vintage joy into peoples lives! Many thanks for the lovely blog

  14. Reading Alison’s book right now, love her and her shop, I will visit it when weather breaks. I just closed my consignment shop after 7 years, but after reading her book I remembered my 1st store with 3 cases of vintage jewelry, straw beaded purses from the 50’s and custom redesigned furniture-hand painted. Now That was fun.

  15. I was so excited when I learned of this website. I was acually shopping at a goodwill when I noticed a lady debating rathering she should purchase a vintage over coat. 100 percent cashmmere made by a pair of coat makers who were out of california prior to the 80`s. This department store was actually forced out of business after the fire. I told her that her coat was definatley a keeper and we began to tallk about vintage clothing. She shared that I had to go to the hootie couture website and read the book oldmink and alligator and new money. She was right!!!!! Love it!!!! Denita

  16. Can I shop on line??????

    • Denita, Hooti does not have online shopping, but contact the store at 718 857 1977 to see how they can best help you find some vintage treasures.

  17. Just read the book alligators old mink and new money. I used to own a vintage clothing store in Londons New Oxford Street called Cuba in the 1980’s. It made me want to get up and own a store again. remembering all of the customers who became friends and all of the finds. The delight in having your taste confirmed. I still have 5 large trunks of things I collected perhaps it will start me off again.

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