Antoinette: Starting a Business Out of Mom’s Closet

A lot of people joke about a career in fashion as a lifelong game of dress-up, but for Lexi Oliveri it’s a bit more literal. Her Grand Street boutique, Antoinette (named after her mother), is stocked almost exclusively with pieces from her mom’s staggering vintage collection. “When I was little, I would always play with my mom’s wardrobe, which she kept in the attic,” Oliveri says. “She worked in the New York fashion industry in the late 1950s, and, after moving to New Jersey to start a family, she started storing everything—clothing, shoes, accessories—from the 50s to the early 90s. Whether they were pieces she wore or just held onto from my siblings or family members, she kept everything.”

A few of the pieces come from Oliveri’s own closet, too. “I inherited the fashion hoarding,” she says, laughing, and if you leave the shop with a family heirloom, she’ll make sure you know its backstory. But after more than two years in the neighborhood, the shop is beginning to expand its reach. Recently, she’s started carrying exclusive lines from Nina Z. clogs and the Brooklyn Suspender Company, and she’s also hosting monthly in-store pop-ups for local designers. “I love the idea of giving companies and new designers with an online-only presence a place to gain exposure,” she says. And watching Oliveri chat up her customers and colleagues, it’s clear how much the local community is part of the draw. She’s one of the friendliest people you will ever meet (and a welcome change for anyone who’s ever popped into a small boutique only to shop in uncomfortable silence while the sullen owner looks on). “I always say that if someone offered me the same space and rent on Bedford, which obviously gets more traffic, I would say, ‘No, thanks. I’m happy where I am,’” she tells us. “My favorite parts of the day are when all the families wave as they go to the park or neighbors stop by to ask how my day is going.”

And even with plans to expand further (a minor renovation is forthcoming), Oliveri says, “I didn’t open up Antoinette to become a mega retail chain. I did it because I wanted to be a neighborhood business where I could work and do what I love, which is selling vintage, telling stories about my mom, and making friends.”

119 Grand Street, Williamsburg

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

Photo by Austin McAllister

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