It's a Thursday afternoon at A&A Boutique, a consignment shop in Wesley Chapel. The doors are locked, but a woman juggling two bouquets of roses struggles to knock on the door anyway. Another woman bustles from the back of the store to let her in.
"Oh my God, come in, come in,'' she says smiling. She calls over her shoulder to her daughter at the back of the store. "Amber come out here.''
A long-haired brunette with dark-rimmed glasses peeks from behind a set of curtains at the back of the store. "Oh my God, thank you,'' she cries running up to the woman holding the roses. "Allie, come here.''
A girl who looks exactly like Amber only with shorter dark hair gets up from the desk where she's sitting and walks toward the woman holding the flowers.
"Congratulations, girls,'' the flower bearer says. "It's going to be a great night. I'm so excited for you.''
Why the roses? The twin sisters are preparing to launch their first fashion collection inspired by the fairy tale Thumbelina under their brand name TWIN at The Vault in downtown Tampa.
Born With Fashion In Their Bones
Amber and Allie Malott, 17, vowed to launch their own collection under their own brand name by their 18th birthday. They launched the brand on Sept. 27. They turn 18 on October 19.
"It all started because Amber and I knew we were going to open a boutique one day for our own brand,'' says Allie. "We had the opportunity to meet Tim Gunn
at a fashion event at International Mall
. He did a little fashion show about how to pair things together. And we asked him about getting into the fashion business. We wanted to know how to do it without having to be interns because they usually don't let family members work together.''
"But we complete each other's creative process,'' Amber says. "So Tim told us to study business and marketing, and so we did.''
Their debut collection is inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale, Thumbelina, and features watercolor paintings created by the girls and printed onto satin, chiffon and charmeuse fabrics, some embellished with Swarovski crystals and semi-precious stones.
Allie says it takes clothing from the land of evening wear into ready-to-wear. "We like to do very wearable silhouettes with prints and details that people maybe wouldn't wear in their everyday lives.''
"It's a very good mixture of what Allie and I wear,'' explains Amber. "Allie wears all this really cute stuff, like prints and stuff. And I wear a lot of neutrals and blazers.''
The girls say their passion for fashion began with Barbies when they were younger. "We would save up our money and buy these really expensive Barbies and then just cut up their clothing. It used to drive mom crazy,'' she giggles.
Amber adds: "We also drew and painted a lot. We're very artistic and that's why our prints are so artistic. They're drawn by us, and Allie takes them into Photoshop and whites out the background because we use watercolor paper and you can see the bumpiness. And then we get a manufacturer to print them for us on fabric.''
Sharing The Creative Process
Allie explains their creative process. "I'll just say, 'Hey, how are you feeling about the color pink in peplum?', and Amber'll say, 'Hey, I was thinking that, too.' I'll design something wackadoodle and Amber'll say, 'But nobody would wear that. So let's take that silhouette and make it simpler or cinch it in'.''
"Or I'll design something and Allie'll say, 'I don't think that's special enough, let's put this on it','' adds Amber. "We just work so well together.''
"In seventh grade we learned that fashion was a real career,'' says Allie. "And since then we've designed collections.''
"We love consignment,'' Allie continues. "But there weren't any in our area. We had to go to New Tampa and we were like, well, maybe we should open our own. We would have our own boutique
and a bunch of clients when we launch our own line.''
"We felt like we were ready,'' says Amber. "Allie was like, 'Hey, what about Thumbelina as our theme','' says Amber. "And I said, 'Yeah, that sounds really cute. Let's do it.' I think our collection took like six months to design.''
"I guess I was inspired by our little dog Chloe,'' says Allie. "She was so teeny tiny and I thought, 'How would the world look for someone so teeny tiny? And I started thinking about one of our childhood stories, and Thumbelina [came to mind]. She's like, as big as your thumb'.''
Amber adds: "We use very nice fabrics. When you buy something really expensive with good fabric and it's made well, it lasts.''
"It also makes you feel beautiful -- that soft fabric brushing against your skin and a wonderful fit feels wonderful,'' adds Allie. "We just aim to make people feel special and beautiful -- like they're wearing a piece of the story.''
Amber turns to her sister. "Hey, that was really good.'' They high-five.
Choosing A Different Path
The girls are homeschooled. "I feel like in the school environment there wasn't a lot of learning taking place,'' says Allie. "It was just like, the solar system every single year. I was like, 'yes, I know what the solar system is. Thank you.' I think I see my friends just as often as I did when I was in school because even though they were right next to me, I couldn’t talk to them in class. I still see them on the weekends.''
"Honestly, they pretty much home school themselves,'' says their mom Lori. "Every once in a while I’ll ask them how they're doing. Allie was learning Photoshop and I said, 'Are you tracking the hours? And she said, 'for what?' And I said, 'That's a class!'.''
Lori says her daughters report their progress to one of their teachers from an earlier grade. "She understands how the girls learn.''
Lori adds they have a lot of support from customers. "We have like 22 volunteers coming to the show and most of them have been customers. They're just so eager to help the girls. They've kind of been on this journey with us from the beginning.''
The store is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. "We do the jobs of 50 people,'' Lori laughs.
We do, Amber chuckles. "I work with the websites and stuff.''
Lori interrupts. "She doesn't work with it, she built it. Allie takes care of all the online store stuff -- Etsy and eBay. She's even designed a magazine, wrote the articles -- everything. Designed the look book, too.
Show Time In Downtown Tampa
It's 7:40 p.m. on Friday. The Vault
sign outside has been replaced with a sign simply bearing TWIN in all caps.
Inside is an eclectic mix of people wearing Armani suits, jeans with tennis shoes and a fedora; Jimmy Choo's and Prada and cotton skirts and twin sets. Servers in black and white mill through the crowd with shiny silver trays that gleam in the bright lights bathing the interior hall, which is painted brilliant white from floor to ceiling.
At least 100 white VIP gift bags bearing the TWIN brand sit atop two long white benches that line the polished runway. The bags contain a look book designed and signed by the debuting designers. Two white flats flank the back of the stage, each etched with "TWIN'' in simple black letters against a white curtain backdrop.
At 8:06 p.m. photographers begin gather at the end of the runway, readying their equipment. Among them is a boy who appears to be between 10 and 12 years old. His camera hangs heavily around his neck. He confers with a tall blonde photographer standing next to him as they compare cameras.
At 8:30 Lori takes the mic and welcomes the crowd to her daughters' debut. She encourages them to make a bid for the three watercolor paintings on auction in an anteroom, two painted by Amber, and one by Allie. All proceeds to benefit local hospitals.
The lights go down and the first model struts onto the runway. She wears a white silk tee with a flowing beetle print and chiffon skirt. The photographers shoot frame after frame. Other models follow, presenting a collection that features a variety of dresses, skirts and blouses in flowing white fabrics and vibrant shiny pink. A pair of pants bearing yellow and green beetles draws approving smiles from the audience.
At 8:40 p.m. the sisters take their bow to thunderous applause.
Behind The Scenes
Back upstairs in the staging area, models must be dressed to mingle with the waiting crowd. Neither twin looks the least bit frazzled, even when a pair of fairy wings breaks. The wings are simply removed and everyone moves on.
A model in a vibrantly patterned blouse and equally vibrant detachable collar asks Allie how she looks. "It's very like, mix and match,'' Allie answers. She goes in search of something else.
Amber stands nearby with a model dressed in a more sedate blouse and detachable collar. "Where'd Allie go?'' she asks, sending two additional models down in the elevator.
Allie reappears and confers with her sister about the collars. They decide to switch them and send the models down the elevator to the waiting crowd.
Lori stands nearby, watching and smiling. Her daughters walk over to her. "Do we look alright?'' Allie asks. "We're ready to go downstairs and party now.''
The elevator door opens, and mom and daughters join a few caterers for the ride down. When asked how she feels, Lori answers, "Excited, emotional, proud. Very proud.''
Once downstairs, the girls pose with their models for photographers and friends.
Outside, a lone saxophone plays George Michael's "Careless Whisper'' somewhere down Franklin Street as fashionable patrons leave The Vault.
Deb Saxton, a long-time A&A Boutique
customer, tells friends, "These girls eat, drink, live and breathe fashion. It's in their bones.''
Missy Kavanaugh, a professional freelance writer based in Safety Harbor, FL, enjoys writing children's books, helping children and adults reach their creative potential and kayaking the waterways that surround the Tampa Bay region. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.