Stepping into Pretty Parlor’s pastel pink front room on Summit Avenue feels like stepping into an alternate universe, a bedazzled boudoir where beautiful things burst from every surface. Whimsical parasols and candy-colored crinoline petticoats festoon the ceiling alongside paper lanterns and an elegant chandelier that has supported the weight of an acrobatic showgirl on more than one occasion. Brilliantly beaded dresses and chiffon nighties rest languidly on their hangers, kimono sleeve silk robes drape suggestively above a ladies’ dressing table. Everything is loveliness dreamily frozen in time until the right person with the right eye comes along and a love connection is made. In this glorious setting, it wouldn’t be altogether surprising if the cast of an MGM musical materialized in tap shoes at the precise moment when the right garment is slipped over the right body and perfect shopping bliss is attained.
photo from 2002
Proprietress Anna Banana, as clients and Capitol Hill neighbors fondly refer to her, celebrates 14 years of Pretty Parlor on November 28. One gets the feeling in talking with her that these moments of fashion-induced euphoria have occurred over and over between these hallowed pink walls, not to mention in the thrill of the hunt for the Parlor’s impeccable inventory. Growing up in St.Paul, Minnesota, Anna’s grandfather was a tailor. When he died, Anna was tasked with going through his incredible collection of garments and selling them to vintage stores. In high school, Anna was a self-described “clothes horse”, supporting her trend-savvy ways by working at Contempo Casuals at the mall. During college, she scoured thrift shops for vintage pieces. “I was that skier on the hill in vintage Bogner,” she admits.
photo from 2004
Thrifting unearthed a treasure trove of finds in those days. “The good stuff. For FIVE DOLLARS,” she whispers. “Then I started buying because I had this thing of this can’t be in here, even if it doesn’t fit me, I still have to have it,” she says of endless trips to Goodwill and other resale emporiums. Along the way, she amassed a collection of vintage wear that eventually became Pretty Parlor’s first merchandise offering in 2001, at the same Capitol Hill location where the shop is today. From the boudoir furniture to the carefully curated garments, Anna’s flair for fashion has made the retail space into a sort of walk-in closet art installation. A former art director for Nordstrom, Anna’s vision and persistence have also made the shop a stable community hub in the shaky world of independent retail. Although she’s weathered much along the way, including an early split with her original business partner, two locations (the shop temporarily moved to Phinney Ridge, then back again when her former partner’s place folded), three shop cats, one dog, and a near fatal accident just before the shop’s ten year anniversary. “I was on my way to Costume & Display to pick out the decoration letters for our ten-year party,” she said. “I remember thinking ‘Should I spell ten, or should I get a one and a zero…when WHAM; it happened, ” she recalls. As she recovered, she contemplated the future of Pretty Parlor.
photo from 2007
Fit and availability can be elusive in vintage, and Anna began to hit wholesale markets in search of modern but retro-inspired looks that could be ordered in a range of sizes easy to fit and wear. She cultivated sources for meticulously reproduced vintage dresses that also came in a wider size range and featured exquisite beadwork and detailing. This realigned focus took her business to a whole new level. As for true vintage aficionados, there aren’t as many as you’d think walking in the door. Many of her clients aren’t vintage shoppers at all, she says, but instead come in for a head to toe look for a holiday party, themed wedding, or special occasion (“Special O”, Anna calls it). Pretty Parlor carries local designers on consignment – Jamie Von Stratton’s designs are a particularly hot item and Pretty Parlor has sold her pieces for 13 years.
photo from 2010
“In the beginning, it was puff sleeves, everybody wanted puff sleeves,” Anna says of the ebb and flow of fashion trends. “80s career blouses with puff sleeves. Now everybody wants boy cut, straight up and down, slimming, or 90s, 80s looking things. I have to say, though, pop culture defines what is hot at the moment for us, in entertainment. Mad Men was huge for us…and now that’s over, and then they also switched to the 70s for a while (which was unfortunate), but that kept us going.” Menswear is also bigger now, a direct result of Mad Men and The Great Gatsby, she says. Though Pretty Parlor has always featured some menswear – look for the fanciful “Manland” sign – Anna finds there’s a renewed demand for a cool-looking shoe, a great tie, a handsome jacket. Adding a bridal boutique behind the shop has also been hugely successful, the room itself dressed to the nines as one might expect. The exquisite merchandise edit throughout the boutique is a direct result of Anna’s finely tuned buying skills. “Every piece here is fantastic. I ask myself, ‘would I have sex with this person?’ If the answer is yes, then I buy it. If the answer is no then I don’t buy it.” Anna’s mother, Barb, is also essential to the shop’s DNA. Every two weeks she comes into lovingly repair and restore new merchandise at a work table in the back. “I have a hard time selling anything with a hole, stain, or mark, or with sequins missing,” Anna says. “Barb is amazing. Four out of five things that go in the shop need fixing. Everything gets love here, every button.”
photo from 2012
As for the weird and wonderful creative heart of the neighborhood, Anna strongly feels that it’s still pounding – despite the dramatic face-lift currently taking place on Capitol Hill. The saddest part is the uptick in violent crime, though Anna is quick to point out that plenty of good things happen as well. When Anna’s first beloved shop cat, Vincent, was viciously attacked by a dog a few summers ago, a fundraiser to help with his vet bills far exceeded Anna’s modest expectations, raising over nine thousand dollars in a few days from friends and neighbors that walk by the shop regularly and shared the fundraiser with others around the country.
Pretty Parlor (119 Summit Ave. E, Capitol Hill, Seattle) celebrates 14 years of fabulousness Saturday, November 28 with a special trunk show and shopping event from 2-6pm. It also happens to be Small Business Saturday. J. Von Stratton and The Burlesque Boutique will have special selections for the occasion and there will be a storewide 14% discount. It’s also an opportunity to meet Sophia, the sleek rescue kitty who has happily taken up residence at the shop after Vincent passed away last summer. All are welcome, as long as the rules of the parlor are followed: “You should only buy pieces that you love,” Anna says. “Don’t buy it because it’s on sale. Don’t buy it because there’s only one left and it kind of fits. Buy it if you LOVE IT.”