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chic boutiques
By Roxanna Strawn
When it comes to fashion, the Tampa Bay woman has access to virtually everything imaginable. Department stores. Specialty stores. Mass-market giants like Target. Best of all, however, is the wide selection of chic and unique boutiques. Boutique shoppers know they can expect individualized service, one-of-a-kind finds, and clothing and accessories that help define the person within.

Tampa Bay Metro magazine has uncovered nine of the best boutiques from all around the Bay, and spent some time getting to know the entrepreneurial women who have created shopping havens. Some spent the formative years of their career in department store hell, working long hours and learning the ropes. Kit Stewart, owner of Kit's Well-Heeled & Well-Dressed, remembers her crazy existence as a buyer for Federated Department Stores, the massive owner of Macy’s and virtually every other department store across the nation. Stewart says, “I don’t care how early you got there in the morning it wasn't early enough and no matter how late you stayed it wasn't late enough.” Regardless of where they learned, these individuals are business-savvy and know what the customer wants.

Fashion-savvy shoppers are the winners here, because they can count on an excellent shopping experience, an eclectic and ever-changing mix of merchandise, and access to items that could normally only be found in places such as New York, L.A., or Europe.

Nadalie Brattlof
of CC's Boutique
CC’s Boutique
Brides from all around the Bay area have been customers of CC’s Boutique for 27 years. The shop is still going strong and specializes in “occasion” dressing: weddings, prom, debutante parties, and black tie.

Nadalie Brattlof moved from Dallas to St. Pete after purchasing the shop a year ago. She and her husband, a Delta Airlines pilot, wanted to invest in a successful business with an established reputation. Brattlof says the Tampa area bride is a little older and wiser, with an average age of 27. “They know exactly what they want, but are relaxed and mature,” she says.

It may be surprising to know that the most popular color for a wedding gown is ivory. Brattlof says there aren’t a lot of women who can wear stark white. Even in a specialized area such as bridal gowns, trends come and go. Hot at the moment and on the horizon are full skirts with a gather at the bottom (known as “pick up” skirts), lace, and embellishment with beads, pearls, or crystals.

The store carries designer wedding gowns and other attire (from After Six to Vera Wang), many of which are purchased off the rack. The full-service salon can outfit a wedding party from tiara to toe.

Brattlof is thrilled with her new business and expects it to grow. Her shop is becoming known as the place to go for a dress for Quinceañera, the rite-of-passage ceremony for 15-year-old girls from Latin cultures. She says these ceremonies are often considered more important by the family than when the girl actually gets married.

With Brattlof at the helm, it seems likely that CC’s will be around for at least another 27 years.

770 4th Avenue North • St. Petersburg
www.ccsboutique.com • 727-823-1761

Deborah Skyrms
of Deborah Kents
Deborah Kents
Deborah Kents celebrates 26 years in business this month. The South Tampa institution is owned by Deborah Skyrms, whose philosophy about fashion can be summed up in one word: style.

Skyrms, a Tampa native, started her career as a buyer for Maas Brothers, which she says was an excellent training ground. She majored in merchandising and textiles, an area in which she still maintains a strong interest. Inspired by her artistic grandparents, Skyrms fell in love with fabric and pays close attention to how fabrics look and feel on the body.

She describes her merchandise as “understated elegance,” and her customers as women representing many lifestyles who are active, travel, and artsy. Shoppers will find designer clothing and shoes, accessories, and jewelry. Lovers of anything vintage should check out the selection of jewelry, including several Bakelight pieces. Prices start at around $25 for a Michael Stars t-shirt and go up from there.

“I always felt my store was more about style than trend or fashion,” she says. “I work with each woman to help them develop their own personal style.”

So what does Skyrms see on the horizon? For starters, she says black is back. “For me it was never out. Midnight blue is coming on strong, especially for evening. Other upcoming looks are about proportion, from the oversized top and pencil pant to the opposite -- more of a Katherine Hepburn look showcasing wide-legged trousers.”

Those who love color will find shades that are more subdued, according to Skyrms.

When asked about the secret to her success, Skyrms immediately credits her staff. “They’re all incredible,” she says. “They all have my attitude that customer service comes first.”

2120 S. Dale Mabry • Tampa
www.deborahkents.com • 813-259-1150

Mary Osiason
of The Pink Palm
The Pink Palm
Pink and green girls (you know who you are) will go gaga when they walk into The Pink Palm. The boutique, which has two locations, started five years ago as a Lilly Pulitzer store. It has expanded with new lines that are complementary to the Lilly look. Owner Mary Osiason has added LaCoste (very hip now that it’s no longer part of Izod), Trina Turk, and other designers that she says are “still girly, but a little racier.”

Osiason said the clothing she sells reflects her personal style. “I’ve always loved anything colorful and fun,” she says. “It fit my lifestyle. I felt there was a need for a Lilly Pulitzer signature store because finding it was difficult. No one carried the entire line.”

Armed with a business degree and a background in fashion, Osiason says she loves what she does. “If you’re going to do a Lilly store you’re going to have the nicest customers,” she says. “I love my customers and they really are just nice people.”

Those who think Lilly’s look is played out haven’t looked lately. Recent years have seen the addition of more fashion-forward clothing, although colorful prints that evoke images of sunshine and the beach are still the core of the look.

The hottest selling item of the past year was the halter dress, according to Osiason, and she says to look for embroidered jeans and lots of suede. At cocktail time, expect to see lots of black lace.
In addition to clothing, The Pink Palm carries shoes, jewelry and home accessories including comforters and pillows.

1532 S. Dale Mabry • Tampa
2957 West Bay Drive • Belleair Bluffs
813-259-9780 and 727-586-5996

Ambria and Sheri Feth
of Ambria's
It’s a family affair at Ambria’s, a special-occasion dressing boutique. The shop opened in 1999, shortly after 7-year-old, freckle-faced Ambria Feth was born. Sherri and Norbert Feth and Norbert’s mother Renata opened their store and named it after the baby. Mother-in-law Renata had owned a bridal business in Long Island and Sherri decided to follow in the tradition....but in a much warmer climate....and in a “this is not your mother’s wedding” way.

Who shops Ambria’s? Second-time around brides, destination brides, mothers-of-the-bride, and anyone looking for unusual and affordable evening wear, where the price rarely exceeds $1,000 (for lavish hand-beading and awesome attention to detail).

The store is designed like a New York-style showroom, with gowns lining the walls and even hung from the ceiling. The Sue Wong line of beaded dresses is often chosen by non-traditional brides because of the many designs and colors as well as the spectacular hand beading. The more traditional bride or mother-of-the-bride will probably like the Daymor line, which Feth refers to as “my Jackie O line.”

Plus-size women should check out Ambria’s, which carries sizes up to 28 and 3x.

200 Beach Dr. NE • St. Petersburg
www.ambrias.com • 727-895-8609

Georgette Diaz
of Georgette's
Georgette Diaz probably knows more about the Tampa Bay social scene than anyone else. That’s because her namesake boutique in Old Hyde Park Village is the place to go when searching for party attire. Georgette and her daughter Tashia Diaz, who manages the store, keep detailed records of every charity event, debutante ball, posh party and who’s wearing what. Anyone who’s ever ended up sitting next to someone in the exact same dress will appreciate this service.

Diaz characterizes her personal sense of style as “neat and well put-together.” Regarding the Tampa Bay woman, she describes her as “constantly evolving and revolving.”

Why? Diaz says of Tampa, “We’re such a young city, and we welcome newcomers. We dress for warm weather, and want to be cool and comfortable. We’re a sleeping giant on the social scene. The social calendar is jam-packed and I sometimes find it amazing that we have so many reasons to get dressed up!”

Georgette’s, in business since 1979 and in Hyde Park for 18 years, has become an institution serving three generations of customers. Customers receive specialized service in a family atmosphere, Diaz says. “We’re not a typical mall store.”

In addition to providing a huge selection of evening wear for everything from the prom to parties to weddings, Georgette’s has a fantastic selection of casual daytime clothing, jeans, and shoes. Brighton lovers will find a large selection of handbags, shoes, and jewelry, including a charm bracelet exclusive to the state of Florida.

Diaz predicts the color trend to stay strong. Her trips to Europe confirm that individualized looking pieces are still on-trend. She’s also seeing ruching – gathering of fabric to form a rippled effect – on casual pants and a variety of lengths on skirts and trousers.

1619 Snow Ave. Old Hyde Park Village
Tampa • 813-254-1141

Lindy Bengston of Malindy Elene
Malindy Elene
If being a princess bride is your heart’s desire, look no further than Malindy Elene, St. Pete’s upscale couture bridal and special occasion dressing boutique. Visitors are ushered in through an elegant lobby, which has a grand piano as a major focal point. Walk a little further into the store and you may see a customer trying on a gown while her friends and family sip champagne.

What’s special about Malindy Elene is the ambiance. Dresses are individually displayed and are not encased in plastic bags. Most are samples, not necessarily for individual sale, and can be customized in virtually any way to suit a bride’s taste and body-type.

Owner Lindy Bengston, who exudes southern charm and endless enthusiasm about her six-year-old boutique, says her discriminating customers expect – and receive – the highest level of service. Buying a gown at her store is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Bengston and her staff ensure that it’s pleasurable for all involved. This could be anything from driving to a customer’s home to take measurements to delivering a gown to the church.

Among the designers represented: Carolina Herrera, Badgely Miska, Monique Lhuillier, Melissa Sweet, and Anne Barge.

As far as trends go, Bengston says the empire waist is very popular, as are more figure-hugging shapes and trumpet skirts. “Girls like the plunging V neckline and back, in part because everyone is so sick of strapless gowns,” she said.

That’s good to know if you’re shelling out $12,000 on a wedding gown. Don’t be afraid to walk through the door if you have a smaller dress budget though, because these gowns start at around $2,500. Champagne included.

1180 Central Ave. • St. Petersburg
www.malindyelene.com • 727-898-6866

Debbie Karam
of DKM Accessories
DKM Accessories
Looking for Gasparilla goods? Embellished t-shirts? Hello Kitty jewelry? Check out DKM Accessories, where you’ll find fun and funky casual clothing, handbags, shoes, and more.

Being on-trend is what DKM is all about. Want the look of Chanel but hesitate to shell out? Try the look-a-like logo earrings for about $40. Owner Debbie Karam says she buys what she likes and wears and is often surprised to look in major fashion magazines and discover celebrities are wearing items she carries in her store.

There’s always something to look at, as merchandise turns very quickly at DKM. Regular customers know they need to stop in at least once a week or things can come and go before they even see it.

South Tampa residents should take a look at the adorable hand-painted tote bags featuring area landmarks. For $110, a shopper has a nice memento of home or vacation and a piece of art, to boot.
The boutique started in South Tampa and has a second location in WestShore Plaza. Karam says the merchandise mix at the mall is more targeted to the teen market.

Lovers of the whimsical My Flat in London line will find a nice selection of bags and other accessories. Even Nordstrom doesn’t carry as large a selection of this particular line.

Two locations: 3104 Palmira Ave. at MacDill
and WestShore Plaza
813-902-0044 or 813-288-0499

Kit Stewart
of Kit's Well-Heeled and
Kit’s Well-Heeled and Well-Dressed
Kit Stewart, proprietress of Kit’s Well-Heeled and Well-Dressed in Hyde Park Village, is the walking embodiment of her style philosophy. On a recent hot and humid day she was sophisticated, cool, collected, and very hip as she spoke of her boutique and how it has evolved through the years.

The store originally was located on Swann Avenue and sold shoes (Kit’s Well-Heeled). Stewart later relocated to a space on Howard just south of Swann and the name changed to Kit’s Well-Heeled and Well-Dressed. Two years ago, the managers of Hyde Park Village were recruiting high-end specialty retail boutiques and Stewart made the move.

Stewart says Hyde Park Village continues to evolve to a destination where shoppers will discover unique, one-of-a-kind, and high-fashion clothing and accessories that cannot be found in cookie-cutter chain stores.

Her merchandise mix can be described as a combination of casual to dressy, day to evening…with an edge. When Stewart gets dressed, she’s not concerned if each separate represents a different designer. In fact, that’s what makes people look unique, she says. She and her staff consult with customers in a way similar to what a celebrity stylist might do. They’re very good at putting things together in a fresh and individualized way. Having trouble deciding on a look or style? The folks at Kit’s are happy to figure it out for you.

Besides clothing, Kit’s carries shoes, jewelry, belts, foundation garments, and handbags. Prices start in the twenty-dollar range and go up from there.

The Tampa Bay woman, Stewart says, has access to world-class, sophisticated, high-end stores and can find more here than in Atlanta or Miami. She says her customers should strive to look and feel great every day.

An alumnus of the grueling Federated Department Store system, Stewart learned the retail ropes the hard way. She says she never thought she’d have her own store, but she loves it and can’t imagine doing anything else.

What’s hot right now? Stewart says skinny jeans are back, but so are wide-legged pants and gauchos. Shoes of all styles –
from flats to platforms – are going strong. Ankle straps and
wedges are also hot.

714 S. Village Circle • Hyde Park Village
Tampa • 813-250-1253

Sydney Dickie
of Sydney Buchanan
Sydney Buchanan
Sydney Dickie loved sterling silver jewelry so much she started a business selling it out of her home. Eleven years ago, she opened a jewelry and gift boutique, Sydney Buchanan, and has been in her current location for five years.

When Dickie started selling silver jewelry, she says there weren’t a lot of places to buy it. Originally from Texas, Dickie has good resources for silver jewelry there as well as access to some up-and-coming designers. She looks for designers who make one-of-a-kind pieces and aren’t normally found in department stores.

Besides jewelry, shoppers will find handbags, watches, clothing and gift items. She carries Jude Frances jewelry (featured on Oprah), which is 14-kt gold, diamond, and semi-precious stone jewelry. A popular item in this line is a small diamond huggie earring that can be personalized with interchangeable charms. A hot watch in Hollywood – the Freelook Aquamarine rubber watch – is now in stock.

Dickie carries a lot of cross jewelry and her shop is becoming known as the place to look for one-of-a-kind crosses. Another favorite is the mom and baby initial necklace…large initial charm for mom, smaller charm for baby.

Dickie’s customer is a woman in her 30s and 40s who wants fresh and unusual accessories that can’t be found everywhere.

4017 Henderson Blvd. • Tampa
813-258-9600 •

––by Roxanna Strawn

Metro Life Media, Inc.
3902 Henderson Boulevard, Suite 100, Tampa, Florida 33629
(c) Copyright 2006 Tampa Bay Metro Magazine