Clothing with a Backstory at Hooti Couture Former model Alison Houtte used her runway earnings to open a vintage boutique where every piece of clothing tells its own unique story. Jacki Lyden rummages through the racks at Hooti Couture.

Clothing with a Backstory at Hooti Couture

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

At the other end of the same corner of Brooklyn, as you hit Flatbush Avenue where it becomes Prospect Heights, is a little store with two fir trees parked outside; sparkling windows full of 1950s ball gowns, alligator handbags and what looks to be, but most likely is not, Lana Turner's jewelry. It's run by a former model originally from Florida.

Ms. ALLISON HOUTTE (Owner, Hooti Couture): My name is Allison Houtte. I've been in Brooklyn about 11 years, and I have a little shop called Hooti Couture.

LYDEN: Now in the interest of full disclosure, I've shopped virtually every vintage store from Seattle to Buffalo. I've shopped at Hooti Couture, too. What the other stores don't have is Allison. She can model her clothes brilliantly. She worked in magazines and runways for years in Paris and Manhattan, appeared in Vogue, Elle and more, and she's very tall.

How tall are you, 6'3"?

Ms. HOUTTE: Well, barefoot 5'11 3/4".

LYDEN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. HOUTTE: The heel today, she's about--I'd say she's about a two-inch heel, so I'm definitely over six foot, Jacki.

LYDEN: To Allison, women's items are always she and men's he. As one of six kids, she began hunting for good used clothing at the Tropicaire Flea Market in Miami. When an agent spotted her at age 17 in a local fashion event, life changed forever.

Ms. HOUTTE: The next thing I know--that night, I went home, I said, `Mom and Dad, I'm going to Paris.' They're like, `Oh, yeah. Right,' you know, `What are you crazy?' Three weeks later, I was on a 747 head to toe in vintage going to Paris, France.

LYDEN: You have a wonderful passage where you describe one of the first items you ever bought, and I believe it was a man's suit, a Brooks Brothers' man's suit...

Ms. HOUTTE: Oh, yes.

LYDEN: ...made of wool, which, of course, doesn't get worn that often in south Florida.

Ms. HOUTTE: But it was such a great label, a beautiful design. And it was a dollar for the pants and a dollar for the jacket, so how could I say no?

LYDEN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. HOUTTE: Never realizing I'd be wearing that suit on the plane from Paris to New York City where Vogue magazine had sent a driver to pick me up.

LYDEN: What makes a woman want to buy a piece of vintage clothing?

Ms. HOUTTE: Well, these items have so much history to them. They've been places, there's a lot of character and I know this sounds funny, but I think there's energy in clothing.

LYDEN: Also at Hooti Couture, every piece of clothing has a story, literally, attached by a label and written and illustrated by assistant Mary Coleman, who thinks of each piece of clothing as a character in a novel.

Ms. MARY COLEMAN (Hooti Couture): You know, they're like little stories just waiting to...

LYDEN: Be told.

Ms. COLEMAN: ...so or, be told. Exactly.

LYDEN: Can you show us a copy of them?

Ms. COLEMAN: Oh, yeah.

Ms. HOUTTE: Sure.

Ms. COLEMAN: Sure. Oh, gosh. `I tried heroin; it's not worth OD'ing over.'

LYDEN: Oh, my goodness!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLEMAN: I know.

Ms. HOUTTE: I think that's a message for all of us this time of year.

Ms. COLEMAN: ...(Unintelligible) sensibly...

Ms. HOUTTE: Jacki...

LYDEN: The black leather jacket.

Ms. HOUTTE: Jacki--oh, it's...

Ms. COLEMAN: ...(Unintelligible) 1970s. A chocolate brown.

LYDEN: A chocolate brown. All right.

Ms. COLEMAN: Yeah.

Ms. HOUTTE: Sometimes I have to tell Mary, `Mary, make sure we keep it PG. OK?'

LYDEN: We couldn't leave without giving you a picture of the store owner. Think of 45-year-old Ali McGraw wearing multiple vintage slips and, over that, a lacy blouse and fur collar and an enormous belt buckle and cowboy boots. Yes, she'd stand out in a crowd even in Brooklyn.

Ms. HOUTTE: I love having my own business because I have no rules. You know, with Hooti, I can get away with a pair of flip-flops and an old, beat-up slip. You know, I'll definitely get some looks from customers, and I'm sure they're chattin' out there. But you know what? Chat away.

LYDEN: And if you can't make it to Hooti Couture, Allison and her sister Melissa Houtte have written a brand-new book, "Alligators, Old Mink and New Money: One Woman's Adventures in Vintage Clothing."

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Debbie Elliott returns next weekend. I'm Jacki Lyden.

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