On a recent balmy spring day, with winds stronger than any hairspray could resist, a half-ton pickup truck hauling a 25-foot-long Airstream trailer wrapped in teal pulls up in front of my friend Melanie's house in Denton, just missing the mailbox.
Out from the truck bounces a pair of blondes, Rosie Vann-Dalton, 38, and Sande Brandt, 46, the creators of Couture in a Can, the 1-year-old boutique on wheels that, with an appointment and a $250 deposit (a credit toward a purchase), will show up anywhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, seven days a week.
Wearing 4-inch Carlos Santana heels, skinny black jeans (Hudson) and a puffy cream-colored blouse (Hazel) with a fringy T-shirt "scarf" (Easley) draped around her neck, Vann-Dalton unfurls the hot-pink carpet along the sidewalk, while her brother, Dallas Vann, the sometimes driver of "the Can" (Sande's husband, Andy Brandt, also drives), pushes two metal flamingos into the grass, just to the left of the trailer's door. Inside the trailer, Sande Brandt punches up a Blake Shelton song.
Now the shopping can begin.
Inspiration on wheels
A little over a year ago, Vann-Dalton and Brandt were both working at White House/Black Market at Southlake Town Square when Sande let it slip that what she really wanted to do was to have her own store. Later that day, Vann-Dalton sent her a text: "Are you serious?"
She was. The pair immediately started looking for retail space in the Southlake area, something small that would work as a boutique. But they couldn't find anything. Frustrated, one afternoon while drinking coffee together in Brandt's kitchen -- which overlooked the back yard and Sande's husband's rarely used Airstream trailer -- the light came on. Says Brandt, "That's when it hit us -- why not just take the store to them?"
Think food truck, but with fashion instead of falafel.
Brandt persuaded her husband, who works in retail construction, to tear out the trailer's insides and retrofit it with all the basics needed for a boutique -- a dressing room for two, a seat, and plenty of rods and shelves to hold as many as 25 lines of separates, dresses, T-shirts and two lines of denim. Six weeks and a $20,000 investment later, Couture in a Can hit the road and started racking up the miles -- and the profits, which came after a mere six months.
"We knew we had a strong partnership, a unique concept and a handful of ladies that would trust us to try this new way to shop," says Vann-Dalton, who adds that neither of them is really surprised that they've done so well. "They are the reason we have been able to grow and be successful so quickly."
Their customers fall into two camps, shoppers and nonshoppers, all professionals in their early 30s to late 50s. For shopaholics, they host Couture in a Can parties, where groups of women pile into the trailer and sip "Cantinis" (champagne, raspberry vodka and raspberry lemonade) while they peruse the racks. Nonshoppers, women who don't have time to shop or who'd rather not face the traffic at the mall, like the convenience -- and the personal service. Like a personal stylist, Vann-Dalton and Brandt pull together different outfits using the same pieces, which rings up bigger tickets.
"We want to be able to dress you, to show you what goes with what," says Vann-Dalton. "We all tend to go for the same look. We're teaching people how to use pieces in other ways."
That pays off for their business and the customer.
The average sale per customer: $1,000-$1,400.
Pulling a look together
I step inside and sit on the leopard-print bench seat toward the front of the trailer. The interior has been painted creamy yellow. Rods hold collections of 1970s-inspired maxi dresses in psychedelic prints and stripes, crisp white blouses with knife pleats around the cuffs and hem, T-shirts with leather pockets, and super-skinny, stretchy jeans in wild prints and patterns and colors from electric blue to a subtle cinnamon.
I feel completely underdressed in my faded, baggy Wranglers, vintage cowboy boots, and a slouchy white T-shirt from my yoga shala in Paris. I'm not even wearing lipgloss.
"Wouldn't she look great in that Union of Angels black high-low?" Vann-Dalton, the more animated of the duo, asks Brandt, who's standing next to me in floral-print 5-inch heels and blue denim (Hudson), a black tank (Hazel) and a black jacket (Tart). "That would look so great with your boots."
Before I know it, I'm in a sleeveless dress that skims my knees in the front and drapes down the back nearly to the floor -- thus the name, high-low. The dress fits, and I can see how easy it would be to wear, especially in Texas in the summer, but the asymmetry feels strange to me, so I peel it off and hand it back. Next up: blue tiger-print jeans and a gray T-shirt tank top with a leather pocket. Then a leopard-print dress by the line Stop Staring! and a tie-dye maxi by Sky. Then comes the most wearable outfit: a pair of tobacco stretch jeans by Level 99 with a high-low cream top with lace around the bottom and an off-white lace vest, both by Hazel. Brandt rolls up one leg of the jeans into a neat cuff that hits mid-calf. "The pants are so versatile," she says, "because you can roll them up and they're like a crop."
Vann-Dalton chimes in, "To me this is the ultimate outfit. It's not matchy-matchy. It looks like something you just threw together."
Which is what they're going for. Selling pieces that can be easily mixed with others -- but not necessarily matched -- to extend the life of one's wardrobe. It's a concept that all of us, whether we're high-low wearers or not, can embrace.