It’s no secret that I have a flair for the extraordinary and unexpected. I like to flirt with the boundaries of style and fashion; maintain my Blair Waldorf classic headband and ballet flats on Sundays and let down my hair a la Carrie Bradshaw with a surprising skirt and remarkable wedges on Saturdays. Every other weekday in between is as eclectic and distinctive as my new favorite Houston shop spot: À Bientôt.
I’ve never experienced a drug high but walking into the River Oaks boutique is as close to it as I think I’ll ever get. It’s my new crack-cocaine ladies and I am officially addicted. Allow me to paint a proper picture of this boutique for you…until you make your way over for some serious retail therapy of your own that is. A Bientot is stocked floor to ceiling (literally) with jewelry, kurtas, shoes, handbags, more jewelry, shawls, headbands, gifts, pillows, more jewelry, stationary, party décor, children’s layette and even monogrammed travel gear. Did I mention there’s LOTS of jewelry? It is a feast for the eyes; a color explosion; it’s the place where women whose accessories you covet shop; it’s the place to go when you want to make a statement with what you wear on your neck, wrists, fingers and ears. Most people have a happy place. Me? À Bientôt is MY euphoric place. I am going to give it the ultimate shopping classification by going as far as actually creating my own word online to describe A Bientot: shopgasmic! You are welcome Urban Dictionary.
After living in tres chic Paris and subsequently spending fifteen years working in the fashion industry in New York City, À Bientôt founder Betty Newton eventually moved back to Houston where she began designing and manufacturing little girl’s dresses. The native Texan opened a small shop near her current location at the corner of River Oaks Boulevard and Westheimer that operated only one day a week for three hours. In fact, a fun bit of trivia for our Loopsters, many of the little girls who shopped Newton’s designs fourteen years ago are currently employed at A Bientot, which means “see you soon” in French. “Kathryn has been with us nine years and we’ve known her forever,” says Newton of one of her store’s chic and youthful managers.
As time passed Newton expanded her business and began buying accessories and other fabulous accoutrements by designers such as Big Buddha, Jeffrey Campbell, Bernardo, Kenneth Jay Lane, Tom Horn, BLVD, Replica, Susan Shaw, Moyna, J. McLaughlin, Sulu, and Gretchen Scott, which are only a few of the 250 lines the boutique carries. Nestled still within all of that is Stacy Perlitz’s shop, Creative Paperworks. “We’ve known each other since college,” says Perlitz of Newton. “I did a trunk show at the other location and Betty just asked me to stay. We’re like family here.” Perlitz, who carries everything from Lily Pulitzer designs to stationary, napkins, customized cups, travel accessories, notepads and the Mecca of personalized items, is only part of the team that comprises this inimitable boutique.
Just one year before coming aboard, Newton welcomed partner Cristiana Anderson in 2000. Since then the style mavens have traveled all over the world shopping for unique pieces to add to their collection. “You have never seen two people who like to shop more than Cristiana and me. And eating is second!” says Newton. “We go everywhere and find inspiration everywhere.” Indeed, the mother of two recently returned from a trip to Morocco with arms full of bags donning multicolored tassels which are presently causing a frenzy in the front windows and drawing in customers like mad. “We discovered these fun bags in Marrakesh but jewelry is still our first love,” says Newton. “Then shawls, then handbags, then shoes.”
Newton, who says one of her favorite parts of owning À Bientôt is that she gets to dress up every day, has an innate ability to create and combine accessories in a way that few people really can. She is dripping in magnificent jewelry from her boutique that doesn’t make a “statement” so much as an earsplitting declaration, and when I interrupt to tell her that I simply adore the chunky necklace she is wearing, which is actually a necklace AND a bracelet hooked together, she tells me that it is an estate piece she found years ago. I continue our conversation though privately I am terribly disappointed that I can’t own the necklace when I suddenly perk up to learn that Newton loved the jewelry pairing so much she had it replicated for her boutique. Fortunately for me in this case, À Bientôt manufactures about 30 percent of its own products, which includes the piece I am coveting. Already envisioning how I would make the robust necklace my own, I purchased it before leaving and even wore it out that evening to dinner. And the next night out for cocktails too.
Indeed, Newton has a talent in her industry and she is quick to tell you that she views jewelry and accessories as one would view art. Treating them like collector’s items, Newton even has handbags strewn about the house on shelves, coffee tables, and in her dressing room. “Santi is a Thai handbag designer we carry. We love his creations so much and they are so unique, I just have to display them like art.”
Seems À Bientôt’s customers love the store’s unique designs too. I am marveling at the variety of patrons eagerly snatching up items ranging from $28 to $600. “We have all types of customers here,” says Newton. “From strollers to wheelchairs. We just like to let people shop without pressure or a salesperson over your shoulder.” And she is right. This is my second time to visit the boutique in one day. I arrived when the store opened and scooped up a gold chainmail handbag ($42) and layette ($16) for my baby fashionista, then claiming I needed “more information” made my way back in the afternoon for some more personal shopping. It’s like I said, addiction ladies; a devilishly irresistible addiction.