Her pink hair, gilded nails and hipster persona notwithstanding, Vivian Wise is a woman on a serious mission — reinventing retail. After a hiatus from the "back-biting" (her words) world of retail, the owner of the now defunct Velvet Slipper shoe boutique is back. This time around, it's Velvet Slipper Divine and it is unlike anything you've ever imagined.
In fact, a vivid imagination is at the root of this fantasy that Wise is intent on transforming into a very real money-making/philanthropic proposition. It is the grounding and financial acumen of her business partner Bill Wise — her father and former CEO of El Paso Corp. — that gives promise to this unique endeavor. Her concept is to change the black and white world of retailing into an ethereal, moveable feast.
"Not a food truck," she explained in her offices on Hempstead Highway. "But what if I made it something that I could take with me when I travel, something that I take with me when we go to Aspen and take it with me when we go to the Hamptons in the summer? And I'd just always have it with me."
"We're showing you the magnificent. We can do a bespoke version of anything."
Et voila, Babette was born. It is this hyper-decorated Airstream trailer that is the soul of Velvet Slipper Divine, the center of all activities whether retail, philanthropically or purely entertainment oriented.
"It's evolved into a different version of retail," Wise says as she opens the door to Babette, snuggly parked in the warehouse space behind her offices. "It's a store and it's not a store. It's whatever you want it to be.
"Why doesn't my store become somebody else's store for the afternoon and then give back to a worthy charity in the community?"
Designer Valerie Cook helped Wise translate her vision for Babette into an over-the-top rolling fantasy that includes antique Venetian mirrors, Swarovski crystal light fixtures, rhinestone drawer pulls, silk velvet upholstery, throw pillows from Venice and on and on, including her never-worn wedding dress by Angel Sanchez, cheekily displayed on a mannequin. Add plenty of display cases for selling merchandise and ample room for a lively bar component.
Sloan Hall and Tootsies have already signed on for a bit of unconventional retailing aboard Babette. The trailer has been booked as the entertainment focal point of a pigeon shoot in the Hill Country. And it will be the center of attention when Wise throws Babette's invitation-only coming out party, The Night Circus, later in the month. The party, she says, will set the precedent for what can be done. "We're showing you the magnificent. We can do a bespoke version of anything."
For The Night Circus, Wise has signed on Lady Bunny to entertain and arranged for six designers to present their wares in a Moroccan-style bazaar. Jewelry, handbags, cashmeres and photography will be among the one-time-only offerings. She promises that the senses will be overloaded on this night. And there is a philanthropic component. Velvet Slipper Divine has committed "a significant" contribution to Bering Omega in memory of her late, dear friend Clive Watson in addition to matching proceeds from sale of the various items.
"You don't get to shop Babette unless invited," Wise says. "That's how I've reinvented retail."
As for her role on this evening beyond being party host, Wise says, "I'm planning on pulling a Cher. I have three costume changes."
Don't go looking to buy tickets for this event. Everything about Babette is invitation-only. "You don't get to shop Babette unless invited," Wise says. "That's how I've reinvented retail." However, you can work your way onto Babette's invitation list by visiting this page of the website.
If you are having trouble grasping this concept, worry not. That's exactly how Wise has developed her inspiration. It's much like the unicorn, she explains, as she introduces guests to the life-size unicorn made from bottle caps, a commission she made with artist Dakota Pratt. The unicorn, yet to be named, is the Velvet Slipper Divine mascot and will be present at Babette's various outings.
"Velvet Slipper Divine is like the illusive unicorn," Wise explains.