...this odd-looking word...may come from an Anglo-Norman French word hapertas, which may have been a type of fabric. But nothing other than these vague suppositions is known about its origin. It went through lots of variant spellings before it settled down to the modern form around the middle of the sixteenth century...Its meaning down the centuries has been as diverse as its origin is mysterious... Around the sixteenth century, the trade narrowed in focus and often referred to a hatter, a sense now obsolete (such sellers were also called milliners, originally a trader in goods from Milan, a term now restricted to providers of female headgear). Another part of the trade split off, that of providing a multitude of small items needed by tailors and dressmakers, the notions of that dictionary reference. - from www.worldwidewords.org
In each issue, we feature unique haberdashers from around the globe. Our featured haberdashers will not all be ageless women like us but they will be people who have something relevant to share with us. Not too far in our future, we've got someone from Oscar de la Renta coming to talk to us. Then there's the cobbler in Paris. The glover from Germany. The milliner in Milan. We kid you not. There's no end to where our Haberdasheries page might take you.
This time, we are featuring a young novice - a small shop owner in the tiny town of Grand Coteau, Louisiana, down the road from the world-renowned, historic Sacred Heart Academy. Her little boutique, Pistache, and the famous girls boarding school are two must-stops... Just in case you ever find yourself driving down I-49 between Lafayette and Opelousas and see a sign for the easy-to-miss (but hard to forget) little Creole-Cajun town of Grand Coteau.
FINDING THE RIGHT DRESS is sometimes as elusive - and as much about luck and timing - as finding the right man. But when you find the one you like, you just know it's the right fit.
Men and dresses. It's an interesting concept. There are some dresses that thrill your soul, to be sure, just like there are some men who do the same.
Lovely Alyce, in a romantic old-fashioned waltz with the love of her life, David Klier. David just proposed recently, so Alyce is about to put her fashion eye to choosing the dress for that forever memorable walk down the aisle. She promises to send us wedding pictures! (Isn't David just too cute? And he's an organic farmer to boot!) Photo courtesy of Brewyet Photography.
True Blue Love
Lovely Alyce is a novice to both and knew next to nothing about either, she will readily admit. But she's clearly got good instincts for a beginner. In this last year, she found her calling as a boutique-owner and fashion buyer - and she also found true love. As years go, it doesn't get much better than that.
"I don't have a fashion degree, I don't have any formal training whatsoever," Alyce marvels. "I think just having a good eye is what gets me through."
Alyce (not Alice but instead Ah-leece) is a small town girl from historic Opelousas, Louisiana, the birthplace of Zydeco music and the home of the Yambilee festival.
"I love being in the heart of Cajun country. I have a real soul connection to St. Landry Parish. The history here is tangible, palpable."
"I suppose my love of history is at the root of my love affair with vintage clothing, accessories, home decor. It's what drew me to live in Grand Coteau." Alyce loved the 19th century architecture, the historic shops, the girls school established by nuns in 1821 with its international student body, the old Jesuit college for priests, the history of the place. "I dreamed of having a shop in this little town, but I wasn't sure it would ever happen."
Finding her calling was a circuitous path. She was interested in nutrition, dietetics and nursing, but decided that just wasn't her. So she switched her major over to PR because she really is a people person. She then combined her interest in food and her studies in marketing by promoting Creole Foods. After that, she worked in St. Landry Parish tourism for awhile.
"An interesting thread that ran through all of my jobs was that I loved getting dressed up for work, going to the Salvation Army and spending $10 and coming up with an outfit no one realized came from a second-hand shop. I was a young girl on a budget, so my professional wardrobe was creatively put together thrift-store clothing."
That was her foxhole training for the fashion world.
Alyce had gone straight into an 8-5 grind during and after college, so she took some time off and travelled to Italy, working as an au pair with two young girls one spring and summer. The beauty of Italy renewed her creative spirit.
When she came back to Grand Coteau, she got a job at the Symphony. Her friend and neighbor in Grand Coteau, Nancy, owned The Kitchen Shop, as well as the boutique Pistache back then. She brought Alyce under her wing to tutor her in all manner of life-arts, and in return, Alyce helped Nancy out at community events.
Nancy and her mother Granny - who passed away recently but was the heart of The Kitchen Shop - bonded with Alyce over old-fashioned sweet dough pies. Alyce was one of the few young girls in the area who made them. Nancy and Granny had been featured in a magazine for their shop and pies.
"Sweet dough pies are a dying art," Alyce says. "It'used to be a Cajun staple. I got the recipe from my grandmother, and I bonded with Nancy and Granny over our common love for these pies. The words 'dying art' break my heart to say. They sound so harsh, but truly people that make them are now are so few and far in between. It's a tricky dough that's hard to work with - it takes that right touch."
Granny - who personally tied every one of the signature elaborate bows that went out of their two stores - was beginning to fail, and Nancy was looking ahead to slowing down. They saw potential in Alyce. Nancy kept touching base with Alyce and then one day she offered her the dress shop.
"I had the thought that Granny and Nancy might be looking for someone to eventually take over, but I pictured myself in that charming little kitchen making my pies. I never thought I would be a boutique owner. But when Nancy offered the dress shop, it made sense somehow. It was just the right thing at the right time, so I went for it. I suppose it was sort of an ah-ha moment for me. I had always liked putting outfits together. I'd modeled vintage clothing for people before. I was passionate about beautiful, meaningful clothing."
It all seemed rather fated. Her work in tourism and marketing all prepared her for being a business owner in Southwest Louisiana. Her fascination with history drew her to Grand Coteau. Her love of her grandmother's pies bonded her with Nancy and Granny who wanted a younger woman to pass their legacy on to.
The "thread" woven through her various jobs was more than just her passion for dressing up. Her interest in fashion, too, was not just about clothes.
"The thread in my work history was really the connection that each place had to the local culture. Whether it was through music, food, historic sites, or the fashion piece of it that I'm doing now, it all relates to this local culture that has always inspired me. Whether it's a dress I've discovered that puts you in the Festival spirit or the dress for the Mother of the Bride that she can dance in all night long. It's all about community. That's where my heart is, and Pistache represents that. It's a place where mothers, daughters, and even grandmothers can all find something that speaks to their souls."
There is another thread that has woven itself through Alyce's work and life: a passion for carrying on culture and tradition through generations of women.
Alyce always wanted to learn how to tie Granny's bows and she spent hours by the older woman's side, visiting in The Kitchen Shop, but they somehow never got around to working on bows. One day Granny appeared unexpectedly in the dress shop and said: "It's time for you to learn how to tie the bows." They spent hours together that day until Alyce got it right. A few weeks later, Granny returned to check on her progress and make sure she had it down.
"I thought it was strange," Alyce says, "because she never came to the dress shop. So I suppose I wasn't surprised when she passed away just two months after that day she came in to teach me how to tie the bows."
Learning at the knee from older women comes naturally to Alyce. She absorbs their lessons and wisdom like a sponge.
"We've been to market in other cities, but Nancy just took me to market in New York for the first time this summer, and she and her husband Jesse taught me so much." Nancy is an experienced retailer and Jesse is an artist by trade. They both have a good eye. "Going to market is like thrift-store shopping on a huge level, but spending like $10,000 instead of $10."
You have to have an eye for it but Alyce is a natural.
"I know a good piece, a good designer when I look at it," Alyce says. "Even if it fits all my other criteria, bottom line, I have to like it. It has to make me feel good."
Her shop is designed to make other women feel good.
"Pistache has this overarching aesthetic, like a little story, it has an heirloom feel, romantic, feminine, with lots of textures, pretty patterns, softness. It's a place where women come with their girlfriends to escape, ooh and ah, laugh, try things on, treat themselves."
The original designer featured when Nancy first opened Pistache was April Cornell out of Burlington, Vermont. Nancy carried her linens and aprons in the kitchen shop and her clothing line in the dress shop. She is still Alyce's signature designer at Pistache. Alyce and Nancy recently went to see the designer in Vermont. "April is an amazing woman. She has been designing for almost 40 years, she has seen so much of the world, she has spent her life creating beauty, but she is so real and her designs are for real women."
Bell bottoms are one of the latest things in the new April Cornell line for Fall - and they are deliciously embroidered at the bottom of the bell bottom.
"I thought it was a really risky move," Alyce remembers. "My core clientele ranges from 45-60 and they've already done bell bottoms. I was worried they wouldn't go for it a second time, but they love them."
Surprised to learn her bread-and-butter at the shop is 40+ women like us?
Alyce says women from all over the world come into the shop with their daughters when visiting the Sacred Heart Academy. They buy gifts for the girls, but they are shopping for themselves when they hit the door at Pistache.
Mata Traders is another of her favorite designers - organic cotton, fair trade, out of Chicago, female-run. "They are mostly A-line to the knee dress styles - swingy and pocketed - perfect for Louisiana festivals and dancing. They've got a good twirl factor."
At the thought of dancing, the subject rolls back around to love and the topic of her recent engagement.
"I think love, it's all in the timing. Can you receive the love that's being offered to you? There are times in your life when you can, times when you can't. The timing just has to be right."
Her words are reminiscent of her comments about the boutique when it was offered: how it was just the right thing at the right time.
"Love?" she says with a small sigh. "I don't know, think about it, what's better than love? There's no better feeling. Even the parts that are hurtful, it's so real, it's so consuming. Do I believe in true love? Yes. Even though I'm practical and I say love is about timing, at the same time, it's about finding that one person that just makes sense for you, who is clued in to what makes you tick, your personality, your interests, you just match, you mesh... He just fits."
Fits. What an interesting word choice. Fits like your favorite dress.
"I just knew," Alyce says wistfully, "I knew right from our second date that I was going to marry him."
And as we know, Alyce has an eye for these things.
Alyce and Nancy lollygagging around the store in classic Mata Traders attire.
Taken by Alyce her last night in New York City (above) after her first NYC buying trip with Nancy and Jesse (pictured together below).
From the April Cornell website.
Fall fashions from Pistache.
Funky fresh fall colors to choose from.
Painting the town red. Photos courtesy of Pistache.
Her shop, Pistache (French for peanut) is 10 minutes down the road from her hometown of Opelousas in Grand Coteau, which has even more of a connection to Louisiana's vivid past.
Check out this fun photo from Alyce. We nabbed it off her Facebook page. (Don't tell).
Is this fashionable fishing? (Or should we call it: The One That Didn't Get Away.)
Coming soon. You'll be able to buy items direct from Alyce's unique boutique Pistache in Grand Coteau.
294 E. Martin L King Rd, Grand Coteau, LA 70541