- By Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff
“This is what I would wear,” Alta Alexander says as she gives a tour of her upscale women’s clothing boutique, Altatudes.
The store on East 12th Street opened in September. It had been a lifelong dream for the girl who grew up in Smithville, went to Travis High School in Austin and graduated from Huston-Tillotson University.
The store was a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband, Lamont Alexander, who is a real estate investor.
She had talked about wanting to own her own boutique someday when they were first dating 17 years ago, and he remembered that. She’s always loved clothes and been known for the outfits she puts together.
Before Lamont Alexander surprised her with the store, which was previously FreeStore, she told him the space would be great for a beauty shop.
“Or it could be my wife’s boutique,” he told her.
“Don’t play,” she told him. “Are you serious?”
They got to work, transforming the space.
“You can see exactly what’s in my heart,” she says of her boutique.
Alexander, 53, chose yellow for the awning and exterior walls as well as accents inside. “It’s happy, bright, exciting,” she says. It’s also a nod to the Huston-Tillotson colors of maroon and gold.
On one wall, she’s deconstructed a table and hung different parts of it as shelves to display different shoes she stocks. “I’m really proud of it,” she says. “It’s my take on art.”
She has a more contemporary couch in one seating area and vintage chairs from her husband’s godmother’s house in another area. Most of the clothes hang on modern, custom-made racks secured to the walls, but she uses a hotel bellman’s cart for Alta’s Corner, where she highlights new or special items. She uses a vintage armoire to display jewelry. A glass table holds purses. A silver-painted dresser showcases women’s empowerment T-shirts and scarves. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and even the vents have crystal knob features added to them.
Alexander has deep roots in the African-American community in Austin, spanning from her time in school at Huston-Tillotson to her recent work at the State Office of Civil Rights to her time as a member of the Lone Star Chapter of the Links Inc.
She’s brought her love of the community into the store. Saturday, she’s hosting a Hearts & Handbag event, for which people donated handbags and filled them with toiletries for girls. Twenty girls from LBJ High School and Girls Evolving Into Maturity Successfully will come to the store for a day of empowerment and receive one of the bags.
She’s also helped build the East 12th Street Merchants Association, which now holds monthly events to bring the public to shop in this area of Austin.
The store sits across a parking lot from Simpson United Methodist Church and next to the NAACP office. The community is starting to find the store. “As they come over, they are loving it,” she says. “They are always very happy to see a black woman owning an upscale boutique. They are happy and proud.”
She pays attention to stocking clothes in reds and pinks, blues and whites for different African-American sororities. The store, though, isn’t just for the African-American community. The woman she’s trying to dress is in her 30s to 60s, a professional who might have her own business. She wants to be stylish, wearing both modern looks and new takes on retro elegance.
“Unless you have your own stylist, you are not going to just wear one type of style,” she says.
Women want to be unique. She stocks no more than four of any item, except the T-shirts, which are more universal. The hope is that you won’t run into another woman in Austin wearing what you’re wearing. Her clothing prices range from $35 for a T-shirt to $1,200 for a coat.
Alexander doesn’t play into the sizing of different designers, because she knows there’s no universal sizing when it comes to women’s clothing. Instead it’s extra-small, small, medium, large and extra-large in her book.
She’s been able to work with well-known designers including Tracy Reese, who helped connect her to other designers like Rebecca Taylor, Laura Siegel and Project Runway designer Alexander Michael Snyder. She’s also connected with local designer Nina Means to showcase her work.
Alexander hasn’t just accepted the way the clothes come from the designers. She’s been able to work with some of them to switch up designs, such as changing the fabric on the sleeves or putting the shiny side of a dress’s fabric on the inside to feel good against your skin. “It makes me feel still sexy, but be comfortable,” she says of the change-up.
“I’m really big on texture and feel,” she says. Because of that, she’s not big on shopping online, though one of her goals this year is to begin selling some of her stock online.
Alexander wants people to come in and feel like they are shopping her closet, and she wants her store to have pieces that work for many different women. You can change up a shirt by pairing it with jean shorts or a beaded skirt.
“You put your own ’tude,” she says, “your own style.”
But it all starts with pieces Alta Alexander would put in her own closet.