Like many 16-year-old girls, Amber and Allie Malott crave designer clothes. Only not for the labels. For these identical twins, it's the whimsical buttons on a blouse, the pleats that make the back of a white blouse just as interesting as it is in the front, the high heels that actually smell like perfume. ¶ "It's that something extra that makes it special," said Allie, who with her sister hopes to become a fashion designer someday. She holds up a blouse that appears to be plaid. A closer look reveals small fish sprinkled into the print.
The girls, who both sport Chanel eyeglass frames, write their own fashion blog and keep little black books that hold sketches they hope to turn into real clothes and sell out of their own store someday.
For now, they're getting started with A & A Boutique, a consignment store that opened last week specializing in high-end designer clothes, shoes and accessories. Think Prada. Chanel. Versace. Burberry. Salvatore Ferragamo. Louis Vuitton.
"I really love Ann Taylor pants because they fit me just right," confessed their mother and store co-owner, Lori Malott. "But we can't sell them in the store."
The girls, who attended Quail Hollow Elementary when they were little but are now homeschooled, have been into fashion since they were old enough to dress themselves, their mother said. They would buy Barbies, only to cut their hair and put them in homemade clothes.
"They didn't want what was in the store," Lori recalled.
When International Plaza opened, they practically lived there, saving all their money for unique items.
A meeting there in September with Tim Gunn, fashion designer and mentor on the television show Project Runway, inspired the teens to open the store.
"He told us to study the business and marketing first," said Amber.
The girls' father, Michael, a machinist and owner of Axiom Automation in Zephyrhills, encouraged them to open the boutique after his business had an especially good year. He even built metal shelving for them that includes the A & A logo in the legs.
They leased a space at a strip mall at 2653 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., next to Dickey's Barbecue Pit in the Shoppes of Wesley Chapel.
To get starting inventory, they bought some items from consignment stores in other places. They also have been accepting items from sellers by appointment.
While Lori said she oversees the accounts and "boring stuff," her daughters inspect the clothes, price them and create window displays. Price tags are applied with a safety pin through the clothing tags so as not to damage fabrics.
Don't bother to sneak in fakes. The girls said they know how to spot counterfeits, though they don't divulge specifics. Prices depend on an item's condition and rarity but generally run about 50 to 75 percent less than retail.
"I'm so thrilled for them," said Lynda Levitt, an image consultant who worked as a brand ambassador for Chanel at Saks in Tampa, where the twins held their 15th birthday party.
She recalled how they would visit and ask questions.
"They would come in and show me their designs," she said. "They would spend hours drawing them. They were just amazing."
She recalled how Allie once designed and sewed a pair of pants with different scraps of fabric and created a matching bag.
"They really are awed by the artistry," she said. "It wasn't about owning a Chanel bag. It was their knowledge about what (designer) Karl Lagerfeld did for the Chanel line. They get that Coco Chanel was the mother of this and how Karl Lagerfeld has taken that brand and with artistry created something new."
Today the twins are never without their little black books, which contain design sketches or ideas. They also maintain a fashion blog and can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. They work as a team but have different styles. Amber is more classic, while Allie describes herself as "whimsical."
The twins kicked off their store opening last week with giveaways, live music, wine and hors d'oeuvres.
They hope to become a mecca for fashionistas who don't want to have to drive so far south for high-end goods.
"We want to be a spot for girls' nights," said Allie.