mardi 19 mai 2009

A fun memoir

Awhile back, I enjoyed reading a book called A Vintage Affair. It was one of those enjoyably quick reads about a topic dear to me (if Red Addict has a fondness for vampire stories, I’ve a thing for vintage!). Recently, I came across a book with such a fun title--Alligators, Old Mink and New Money with a subtitle that caught my attention One Woman’s Adventures in Vintage Clothing. How can I resist such a title?

Despite such a quirky sounding title, the book is actually a memoir. It tells the story of Allison Houtte who is discovered by an agent in her teens, sent to Paris to become a model and then reinvents herself as a vintage shop owner with her store “Hooti Couture” in New York.

This is a nice fun read thanks to the authors’ (it is co-written by sisters Allison and Melissa Houtte) breezy and humorous style. Not to mention the fact that Allison seems to be a genuinely down to earth person who’s not afraid to poke light fun of herself. I liked that about this book, there are far too many books nowadays that take themselves far too seriously! It was also nice to read about someone who was able to find a wonderful second career that is as fulfilling if not more so than the first one.

The book is filled with humorous anecdotes about Allison’s adventures in thrifting which are entertaining indeed. And she's honest too about her misadventures. She doesn’t hesitate to tell readers that when she started her boutique she didn’t necessarily have the needed expertise on vintage. For example, she tells this memorable story of having bought and sold dresses without any clue as to who the designer was, only to be told later on by a loyal customer that the dresses were by the late great American designer Claire McCardell. Another equally memorable story is about the bag that got away. She tells readers that in the late 70s while modeling in Paris, she took a trip to the famed Marche aux Puces, as she was desperate for what she called a “flea market fix”. She set off to find a dealer who specialized in vintage Hermes Kelly bags that a friend had told her about. Allison had already noticed these bags on many a fashionable French woman’s arm but had no idea herself as to their value. When she did find the dealer she was shocked to say the least, that the starting price was 500$. The price was much more than she expected or was willing to pay, so for the first time in her life she left the flea market without buying anything. Only later on did she realize that “Any Hermes bag, she bought that day would be worth at least four times what she would have spent.” Reading this anecdote, sure made me wish I had the good fortune to come across a vintage Kelly at 500$!

Having finished the book, I wondered whether the store is still up. A quick check online shows that Hoote Couture is still very much around. Maybe the next time I’m in Brooklyn, I’m going to pop by for a visit. It would be fun to meet the woman behind the story!

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