Going to Extremes
A local entrepreneur travels the world in pursuit of cutting-edge couture.
|Lyne Butterworth of Kissimmee sells global couture on her online boutique, planettogs.com. Gauze halter, $260, Gloria Coelho, Brazil; skirt, $175, TIAN, Singapore. |
A kissimmee townhouse isn’t a place you’d expect to find cutting-edge couture. But filling nearly the entire upstairs of Lyne Butterworth’s home in long rows and stacked high on shelves are designer clothes from around the globe, likely never before seen on these shores: A corset dress as silvery as mercury, a cream-colored wool jacket with an incredible asymmetric cut, wool trousers that look like they belong to a stilt walker.
And there’s Butterworth standing in the middle of it all, a bundle of nervous energy looking as wholesome and happy-go-lucky as someone from a small town in the Midwest—which she is. As the owner and sole employee of PlanetTogs, it’s her job to sell these clothes on the Web or by appointment.
“I don’t have a background in fashion at all,’’ she acknowledges. So how did she end up with this amazing finery?
Butterworth, 33, was an attorney practicing criminal law in Oklahoma when she moved here in 2003 to pursue a corporate law lead at Disney. That didn’t pan out, but as a self-
professed Disney freak, she took a gig as a dancing character, which she still does seasonally. (“I’m usually Chip. I’m chipmunk size,’’ she says.)
Not one to put all her acorns in one basket, Butterworth hit on an idea for a business in 2006. “I noticed seeing the same clothes in every store: same labels, same garments,’’ she recalls. “There was no diversity. I thought there was a need that hadn’t been met.” She began to travel the world using frequent flyer miles and lots of frugal discipline to find beautiful clothing. After a frustrating year of learning fashion by the seat of her pants by approaching boutiques and designers directly, Butterworth eventually realized that to get the designs she was after, she needed to go to fashion week.
Most of the fashion world’s attention is on the famous fashion weeks in New York and Paris, where high-end designers debut new seasonal collections. But fashion weeks also happen in such spots as Brazil, Dubai, Australia, Vietnam and Russia. These were places Butterworth intended to find undiscovered designers and fashions no one in the States had.
Her first fashion week was in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007; then she moved on to shows in Singapore, Dubai, Latvia, Bucharest. Butterworth bravely worked around cultural and language barriers, buying collections directly from aspiring designers who were thrilled to have an American boutique owner paying attention to them. With more than 150 unique pieces in various colors and sizes gathered from about a dozen global designers (with most pieces priced at around $600), Butterworth finally had the inventory to launch last November.
Alas, that has been the easy part. Selling the exotic couture has been a challenge. For one thing, the clothes Butterworth is drawn to are gorgeous but eccentric. It takes just the right fashion lover to appreciate a dress with bat wing-like shoulders.
|1. Black, high-shoulder dress, $1,700. 2. Midnight blue mini, $1,200. Both 1 & 2: Konstantina Mittas, Australia. 3. White ruffled blouse, $540, Ana Sekularac, Serbia; silk sailor trousers, $640, Truong AnhVu, Vietnam. 4. Metallic “armour” dress, $835, Leonardo Salinas, Australia. All planettogs.com.|
In fact, upon seeking advice, Butterworth was chastised by a merchandising consultant in New York for trying to sell labels no one had heard of.
“The idea is brilliant,” concedes that consultant, Mercedes Gonzales of Global Purchasing Companies in New York. “But only if it were in a brick-and-mortar store. People need to see the clothes, feel them.”
Despite the naysayers, Butterworth still finds time, between chipmunk gigs, to travel nine to 10 times a year on scouting trips. And she has secured the backing of local people who want to see her succeed. One of those is Tara Fontana, a luxury fashion marketing guru and consultant.
“This girl is on to something,’’ Fontana says. “If it didn’t have potential, I wouldn’t have touched it. Her biggest obstacle is getting designer recognition.”
Fontana hopes that exclusive trunk shows in front of the right savvy buyers will jump-start Butterworth’s business and drive customers to her wares online.
Orlando-based stylist Tammara Kohler of Fused Fashion is also a fan. She says the people likely to appreciate Butterworth’s taste are those who view clothing design as an art form and seek out creativity.
“The commercial market has become somewhat cookie cutter,” she says. “Clients that choose to wear pieces from PlanetTogs are most concerned with being original.”
For now, the clothes are beautiful gems, buried deep in Butterworth’s townhouse, waiting to be discovered. Those who make the effort will be rewarded with a garment that likely no one else in Florida, and possibly the entire United States, owns.
For the fashion-obsessed, that’s the ultimate trip.