WHAT’S THE BEST THING about owning a boutique? “The buying trips!” says Andrea Nicolau, co-owner of Haute Culture in Bird Rock.
Nicolau’s friend and business partner, Jennifer Deer, agrees: “Having my own store was my personal American dream.”
Both take buying inventory very seriously. “A woman’s closet is like a sanctuary; it’s a private and protected place,” Deer says. “I choose wisely because I know the items I bring back will fill many of those sanctified places.”
And like many a woman’s closet, Haute Culture is an intimate space possessing a decidedly feminine quality. The mood is soft and comfortable, yet sexy and playful. Whimsy peacefully coexists with rock-and-roll.
“What I love most about fashion is that it provides self-expression,” says Deer. “A woman can portray an essence of who she is just by walking down the street.”
Nicolau and Deer provide their clients with one-of-a-kind looks that don’t lead to a budgeting catastrophe. “We seek to have that amazing dress, skirt or top and then create a personal look through accessory options,” Deer says. “We want to be unique and ahead of the curve without being drastically runway.”
Staying ahead of the curve requires frequent trips to Los Angeles, New York and Brazil, but the jet-setting works. Between Deer’s classic, edgy and offbeat picks and Nicolau’s younger, flowy, party-girl approach, Haute Culture offers an up-to-the-minute array of pieces not found everywhere else.
“We prefer smaller, up-and-coming designers, not ones who are all over the department stores,” says Nicolau, whose thrill comes from the finding. “It’s easy to go to the top designers because, of course, everybody knows them. They’re also the most expensive. It’s much harder to find quality designers at good prices.”
Racks are lined with denim from We The People and Chilli Pepper, and rock-star apparel from Libertalia, For Love and Liberty, and Young, Fabulous and Broke, but dresses are the real draw. Flirty numbers from Tea and Honey; edgier, breezy pieces from Lola Faturoti; artsy silhouettes from Biya; and cocktail-party looks from YAYA and Mimi Turner round out the retail roster. “We try to buy things you can dress up or down . . . comfortable, easy, timeless pieces,” says Nicolau. “We like dresses because they’re so easy to pair with beautiful high heels or flats and are something you can wear anytime.”
This attention to what women want has earned the Haute Culture duo a loyal and ever-growing fan base. Clients range from 20-somethings seeking a fabulous nightclub dress to 30- and 40-somethings in need of a more-sophisticated look.
“Being in Bird Rock, we are really a ‘neighborhood’ spot,” says Deer. “Learning our customer base, desired price points and how far our clients want to take fashion is a huge focus.”
And Deer loves that there are so many styles available, from surf and street cultures to high fashion. The key to individual style, as the name Haute Culture implies, is less about following trends and more about knowing how to bring different looks together in a distinguished and refined way.