July 16, 2011

Book Review: Alligators, Old Mink & New Money

Though it's not newly published, we hope you'll enjoy this book review from our old site design's free info section. Over the next few days, we're transferring these articles to our blog... consider it website housekeeping. :) Meantime I hope you'll see something intriguing amongst the posts!

The quirky title is an apt descriptor of the lively contents in this book by sisters Alison & Melissa Houtte. It chronicles Alison's journey from a newly discovered model in the 1980s, who flew alone to Paris in her teens, to a vintage clothing shopowner in Brooklyn sharing anecdotes about buying and selling in this interesting niche business.

Alison's stories will resonate with fellow vintage dealers, and they're a fun vicarious experience for shoppers. She recounts having a customer find a label in a dress before she did, learning who Claire McCardell was only after selling a few McCardell designs. She found the quandary of explaining the differences in size labels over the years too difficult - "very few people want to hear that today's size eight was once a fourteen" - and began snipping sizes out of garments. And she recounts the tension involved in haggling with customers, as well as having customers bid up other shoppers for choice pieces.

Buy This Book

Alison is a true fashionista, having walked the runways of Paris long before she became a student of vintage clothes. Her relationships with clothes are passionate and practical at the same time. In one anecdote that reads like a rite of passage, Alison was coaxed into buying a $2000 Hermes jacket while a fledging model making her first real wages. After many enjoyable and impressive wearings, the realization about her purchase was a mature one - "I also have come to realize that I've spent much more, in smaller increments, on countless piece of clothing that are long gone and forgotten. Applying fashion math, I have no regrets about my Hermes fling". In later years, she continues to weave stories of favorite vintage finds next to anecdotes about the development of her store. While these are also a treat, including pictures of these clothes would have been worthy eye candy.

Throughout this book, Alison's philosophy shines through as earnest and down-to-earth regarding her mission, business expectations and style of dressing. In business, she finds nothing is perfect, including competition and location. In fashion, she believes "dressing is an adventure, not a chore", even on the days when you appraise your outfit and wonder what went wrong before you left the house. As a shopowner, she is able to play the gleeful matchmaker, finding clothes for "people who see a future for something from the past". The promise of eternal dress-up is an enticing one in this book, and a light read the fashion hound will enjoy.

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