Upon turning the last page of Alison Houtte’s
memoir, "Alligators, Old Mink & New Money," GO
Girl was grinning from ear to ear. She knew she must seek out
the style guru who penned this comic, inspirational tale and
ply from her the secrets of living an even more glamorous, fashionable
Houtte’s memories of her early modeling days - posing for Vogue and Marie Claire magazines, strutting down the runways of Paris and inspiring white hot fashion designers like Courreges - are impressive, but what is truly jaw-dropping is her transition from that rarified world to the down-and-dirty mission of rescuing fabulous vintage clothes from Pennsylvania for Brooklyn’s style-conscious consumers shopping on what Houtte calls "gritty, grimy, screaming Flatbush Avenue."
After all, as the ’gator bag fanatic says, today’s designers continue to be influenced by popular fabrics and shapes from yesteryear, so why not wear the original inspiration - especially if Houtte’s prices for clothing and accessories are a fraction of those charged on Madison Avenue?
"Mine are better quality and they’re the real thing," asserts Houtte. She says that while she still finds Vogue to be an excellent barometer for what’s next, after 25 years in the fashion biz, her instinct is her best weapon.
"If I love it, I buy it," said Houtte.
When GO Girl made her pilgrimage to Houtte’s Prospect Heights boutique (which relocated from Park Slope in 2002), she hoped to earn a nod of approval for her vintage-inspired houndstooth Isaac Mizrahi skirt, but mostly she just hoped that she would be considered worthy enough to enter this widely admired temple of fur stoles, beaded bags and sexy shoes.
But as soon as she arrived, GO Girl stopped worrying. This eclectic shop, which carries wares for men and women, has an all-are-welcome vibe. Truly, anything goes.
Houtte does not disappoint in the glamour department. The 6-foot-tall, thin beauty is perfectly polished from her pointy-toed patent leather boots to the flawless edging of her pink lip-gloss. GO Girl basked in her glow, blinking her eyes in awe like Dorothy coming upon the Good Witch.
And there is indeed an aura about Houtte, who works in her store four days a week. Despite being a little under the weather, her enthusiasm was infectious, and her wild stories left GO Girl rollicking with laughter.
During the meeting, at the ungodly hour of 11, Houtte, 45, revealed that she enjoys a party just as much as GO Girl. In fact, she said she pooh-poohed the idea of having a book signing in a bookstore in favor of having a celebratory bash at the Montauk Club on Dec. 3.
When GO Girl asked what Alison Houtte’s signature cocktail is, she revealed that she does not have one, like GO Girl’s martini, but three!: rum and Diet Coke with lime; gin and tonic; and "at Christmas, my Mom’s homemade eggnog."
Just as Hooti Couture must be restocked for the change of seasons, so must a girl’s choice of cocktail bend with the wind. GO Girl had so much to learn.
Unfortunately, while Houtte did admire GO Girl’s eye-popping skirt, it did trigger a heartbreaking story of loss. It reminded Houtte of the time she sold her mother’s houndstooth jacket, and upon feeling seller’s remorse, she did the unthinkable: she swallowed her pride and dialed the new owner - a friend of a friend - asking if she could buy back the jacket.
Houtte recalled that the triumphant owner said, "You’re never getting this jacket" because of the number of compliments she had received while wearing it.
GO Girl felt for Houtte - clothes are so much more than the socially mandated way to mask nudity. They are mementos of beloved family members and triggers of wonderful memories.
When the shop’s phone rang, interrupting GO Girl’s audience with the fashionista, Houtte simply took the phone off the hook and muffled the buzzing with a fur wrap.
Of course! Now GO Girl must add "$500 fur phone muffler" to her own Christmas wish list.
Reading her book, and chatting with Houtte in person, is not unlike a blast of sugar from a Jacques Torres chocolate truffle. She can regale you with stories about life in Manhattan’s fast lane or dating a billionaire who didn’t measure up - too short and too rich, she complained - who she was introduced to by her hairdresser (Frederic Fekkai!), but alas, all party girls must eventually tap the brakes.
For Houtte, "Brooklyn was my rehab." Now that she has her book and her shop and her "dashing Argentinean boyfriend" cooking for her at home, it seems Houtte is enjoying her modified pace. And if there aren’t enough invitations to fabulous parties in the mailbox, she’ll just throw her own.
But the Hooti Couture life is not always glam. Houtte has foiled the dastardly plots of scam artists pretending to be fundraising for little league teams; and thieving, cape-wearing gypsies. She has chased a shoplifter down the avenue and even exposed a faux nun!
"I was beaten every day by those damn nuns," Houtte recalled her suddenly invaluable days as a student of the Sacred Heart school. "I saw the fake veil and sneakers, and asked to see [some nun] ID. She snapped at me, but I told her, ’The word’s out about fake nuns on the avenue.’ She didn’t get me. I was so proud, I called every neighbor to warn them about the fake nun." (Houtte’s also the vice president of the Flatbush Avenue Business Improvement District.)
She grew up in Florida with a yard full of rattlesnakes, so Houtte’s no shrinking violet. The youngest of six children, she teamed up with her oldest sister, journalist Melissa Houtte, to write the book.
Houtte supplied the stories - from memory. (After one infuriated boyfriend found her "boyfriend journal," replete with its own rating system, Houtte said she gave up journaling.)
After the holidays, the diva of vintage will undoubtedly make more memories when she hits the highways in her GMC Suburban to make the long trek to Florida to promote her new book. But while she’s away, she’ll still have Hooti Couture on her mind while she scours Miami’s second-hand stores for additions to her Spring 2006 collection.
GO Girl’s last Christmas wish is that she could ride shotgun.
"Alligators, Old Mink & New Money: One Woman’s Adventures in Vintage Clothing" is available at Hooti Couture (321 Flatbush Ave. at Seventh Avenue in Prospect Heights). For information, call (718) 857-1977 or visit www.hootic