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.
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.”
The cover that launched a decade-long career.
Courrèges and killer brows.
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!”
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.
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.
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!”
Fabulously feathered: Dyed cock feather headpiece, $125 and jaunty fedora, $55.
Warmth and whimsy: nostalgic needlepoint meets modern lucite in this handmade purse, $75; crystals adorn this earring bursting with shooting stars, $28.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
321 Flatbush Avenue
(at Seventh Avenue)