Imagine you’ve just turned 25, you aren’t sure what direction to go with life (because who is?) and you’re idling on Facebook (because who isn’t?) when you get a message that just says, “Hey. Do you know anyone that wants to buy a cute little vintage store?”
That’s how Etoile Boutique’s current owner, Falon Quillen, came to manage the much-loved vintage shop and designer boutique that’s been drawing curious folks to the Milk District for almost 10 years. Original shop owner, Katie Reynolds, opened the shop in 2006, but when she received a job offer to design clothes in Portland, she likely felt as particular about finding the right fit for her store’s new face as the typical vintage shopper is about the unique garments they find in Etoile. It was fast decided, the shop changed hands, and Quillen took over in 2010.
“We put so much pressure on ourselves, and this just seemed like everything that I was capable of, compiled into one job,” Quillen says. “I worked at Alchemy before that, and I made jewelry. I did photography. I loved aesthetics, and I’ve always loved sales. At Alchemy, after getting them from point A to point B with their hair styling, I liked selling them products to make sure they could achieve the same look independently. That’s kind of what I do with the store, get people feeling the way they want to be feeling.”
She slightly altered the store’s internal management from the multiple-vendor consignment shop organization, where she was dealing with a variety of vintage sellers (as well as local designers who still leverage the shop to showcase special items as Reynolds originally intended), to today’s model where she has a private buyer. That resource not only brings in all the divine styles the shop is well-known for, but also acts as a personal shopper for customers seeking a specific look they don’t already see in the store.
Etoile keeps a “want list,” and if they find a piece that seems to match the customer’s request, they text the customer a photo and give them first dibs. If the customer doesn’t want it, the item goes into the shop, a new treasure slipped into the racks for someone else to discover. More frequently, this service, along with the on-site tailoring, cements customer loyalty, because even if you don’t see something you want, and even if something doesn’t fit, the shop can work with you to realize your stylistic vision.
“We offer alterations on things in and outside of the store,” Quillen says. “We have a lot of regulars that will come in with pieces that are modern or from another vintage shop and they just want our opinion on what to wear it with, or ‘I got this top and I need a certain style of pant to go with it.’ That’s probably the most fun is the problem solving of how to make things work. Because if you fall in love with something, and it doesn’t fit you, we have a seamstress to make that happen. Or if you don’t have the right print to go with this color, we can try and make that happen.”
“Making it happen” is a decent way to describe how Etoile and now-defunct Covert Skate Shop helped transform the Milk District from a mostly abandoned strip with Sportstown as its primary beacon to the thriving home of popular, crowd-attracting events like Tasty Tuesdays. Quillen credits Covert’s (and now Spacebar’s) Tommy Mot for helping Etoile settle in initially in the up-and-coming neighborhood, a spot that Etoile has only just begun to outgrow. Most recently, Etoile opened a second shop in the Winter Park Village location of Adjectives Market, creating a new horizon for the purveyor of throwback looks that never seem to go out of style.
“It’s really exciting,” Quillen says. “It’s kind of hard to determine which pieces to put in which store. Because even though the average Milk District-goer and the average Winter Park Village-goer is vastly different, it’s still really important to me to maintain my original concept and my original brand. … I think that’s become the biggest challenge is trying to fill both spaces with greatness.”
And for anyone who might be curious, Quillen responded to that charming, harmless inquiry from Reynolds five years ago in the enthusiastic, loud fashion that also characterizes the bold vintage store:
“Hell yeah, I’ll buy Etoile!”