The Shophound can't help pondering whether or not the iconic 1950s pin-up Bettie Page, if she were still alive, would be especially thrilled to see that The Bowery is where a sizable store bearing her name and image has opened. After all, in her day, the Bowery was not a place where respectable people went shopping or even where people who posed for racy fetish pictures, like Ms. Page did, would want to spend any amount of time.
Of course, we know that the Bowery has changed, and Bettie Page Clothing, which opened late last year in a gleaming modern building, is flanked by the luxury boutique Blue & Cream and Daniel Boulud's DBGB restaurant. Patricia Field is only a stone's throw away as are John Varvatos' and Billy Reid's boutiques, so she is now in good company. What we wondered as we strolled through the store was how Ms. Page, who died in 2008, managed to create an 11-unit dress chain? Well, it turns out that Bettie Page is one of the wealthiest dead celebrities, with an estate that reaps several million dollars a year in royalties. There are Bettie Page Lingerie, Swimwear and Shoe lines along with a healthy business in prints, photos and even a line of erotic fiction. Fortunately for the late model and erstwhile Christian missionary, she eventually found her way to reputable licensing representation during the 1990s, though she lived much of her post-modeling life troubled and penniless before she discovered that she had become a cult figure.
So what to make of Bettie Page Clothing today? The brainchild of one Tatyana Khomyakova, the store does not, as one might expect, trade in the kind of fetish gear that made its namesake so infamous. It actually offers reproductions of the kind of 1950s-style clothes Ms. Page might have worn off-duty —Think of what Dita von Teese might wear offstage if she didn't have the money for couture (Bettie Page dresses retail in the $150 to $200 range). The store does its best to recreate a vintage dress shop feeling without all the musty patina —tidy but not luxurious or slick. In a weird sort of disconnect, brand-new old fashioned mannequins wear pristine thrift shop dresses available in multiple sizes on the racks a few steps away. In case you don't recognize the novelty aspect of the store, the staff is in full costume, dressed head to toe in current merchandise, and if they can't pull off Ms. Page's signature bangs, they are encouraged to sport beehives or some other elaborate 50s hairstyle. The store is cheery with a relatively wholesome atmosphere, although there is a bit of officially sanctioned Bettie Page memorabilia here and there. If you didn't know who Page really was, you might think she was some kind of raven haired Donna Reed. As for East Village New Yorkers, who have been mining the 1950s for authentic vintage apparel since the days of "Desperately Seeking Susan", we can't see them being too impressed with ersatz nostalgia-wear despite its licensed pedigree. Of course, we all know that such stores aren't necessarily aimed at the locals. Consider it a part of the extended New York City theme park created expressly for tourists. Thanks, Mayor Bloomberg!
Bettie Page Clothing 303 Bowery between Houston & East 1st Streets, East Village