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It's a Clothing Shopper's Dream Come True--They Buy, Customers Pay Bills

April 02, 1987|ELISABETH DUNHAM | Elizabeth Dunham is a Venice free-lance writer

Connie Watts and Sandra Fox first met in a department store doing what they both loved to do: clothes shopping.

"I'm a clothes-a-holic," Watts said.

That love of apparel has led the women to an unusual business venture: a weekly clothes auction in a hotel bar in which they resell women's clothes purchased at sales or close-outs. Among the items are sweat shirts and other women's clothes.

"We buy good-looking clothes at a low price," said Watts, a model for the "Bid-and-Go" auction Monday nights at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys. "Then we go home and paint them and jack up the prices."

The auctions--at 7:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.--in the Wingwalkers Lounge draw crowds of up to 200, both men and women. An auctioneer in a tuxedo establishes a price to start the bidding, with most items selling from $5 to $20.

Lounge manager Dan Greene said the clothes auction has increased bar business. "We've definitely had bigger crowds in here since they started six weeks ago," Greene said.

Bids Offered From Bar

One recent Monday night, a sleek, blond model glided through the lounge in a gauzy, tan jump suit. "Isn't this cute?" she said to a couple having a drink at one table. "It's French cotton." The man and woman simultaneously reached out to touch the fabric.

Men offered the bulk of the bids throughout the auction. A man sitting alone at the bar clutching a glass of beer bid on every other piece of clothing modeled during the second show.

"When they walk by, they smile and talk to me because they know I'll buy the clothes," said Don Hamilton, an insurance agent from Canoga Park. Since he started coming to the show about five weeks ago, Hamilton said, he has spent more than $500 on women's clothing.

"I buy theses clothes and don't always have someone to give them to. So the girls in my office end up with them," he said.

Unlike models at more formal affairs, models at the auction laugh and smile as they show the outfits.

Watts, a Woodland Hills resident, would not say how much profit she and Fox make on the auction. "We don't make a lot of money, but we have a good time." Watts and Fox spend $300 to $400 a week on clothing for the auction, she said.

About half of the clothes, mostly sweat shirts, are adorned with fabric paint. Although Fox prefers painting delicate designs, Watts says she likes to brush on bold streaks of colors.

"You'd have to have guts to wear them. They're really unusual," Watts said.

Of their meeting at a department store, Watts, a brunette, said, "I've always had a lot of trouble with women talking to me because they always feel inferior or whatever. When I go somewhere, I dress to kill."

A Friendship Develops

That day, however, "I walked into this place and Sandra looked at me and said, 'Gee, you look nice in that.' I looked up at her and said, 'You talking to me?' Right then, I knew we were going to be friends."

A year later, the two women decided to sell sweat shirts designed by Watts.

"It all started with a mirrored sweat shirt," Watts said, referring to tiny mirrors that are glued onto the fabric. "I wore it in front of some friends and they just flipped over it."

A few months later, Watts and Fox started their first regular lunch shows at Dimples in Burbank, selling sweat shirts, lingerie and swimwear--all of which were modeled for restaurant customers.

"That's when we knew we had a thing," Watts said. "But we didn't want a skin show after a while. We wanted it to be a classy little show."

Since then, the women have run lunch shows in several restaurants in the Valley. At one point, they were doing shows in five restaurants a week. Now, Watts said, she is content with the Monday night auction and the lunch-time shows she does in the dining room of the Airtel on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

"I love to shop, but not so much for myself anymore," Watts said. "Now, if I see something I like, I have to pick up two of them."

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