New for the Night: Champagne Dresses on a Beer Budget

Men have been renting tuxedos for years, so it's about time that women get equal access to high-end clothing rental. Not all of us can afford to splurge on an evening gown or a cocktail dress we will only wear once a year (or less) and that's where Houston's newest haute couture concept store comes in.

New for the Night allows women to rent cocktail dresses and evening gowns from well-known, high-end designers for a fraction of their retail cost.

The concept of dress rental itself isn't brand-new; Rent the Runway is a popular online destination for dress rental that offers members up to 90 percent off dresses and accessories for special events. New for the Night is poised to set itself apart, and we sat down with its creator, Brittany Sakowitz, to talk about her new venture.

The biggest thing setting New for the Night apart from a national competitor is its local showroom, where Houston women can make an appointment to try on dresses. Are you traveling or living outside of Texas? No problem, you can still order a dress directly from the New for the Night Web site once it goes live.

As for right now, the River Oaks showroom is already hopping with customers. "The showroom is open and we've been very busy this week, and the Web site will launch next week," Brittany informed us during a telephone interview last week. "We carry dresses by designers like Tibi, Alice by Temperley, Rebecca Taylor, Robert Rodriguez -- some of them online, some of them in the showroom, and we sell accessories. We're picking up a lot of new designers along with established designers; some of the newer ones are Alice in Paris and Catherine Deane out of London."

The business plan for New for the Night was created during an entrepreneurship class at the University of Houston, but Sakowitz credits growing up with two sisters with the inspiration for the New for the Night concept.

"I have two sisters, one in New York and one in L.A., and we're about the same size, and growing up we were always screaming about borrowing each other's clothes. Finally we were just like, 'You know what? I'll pay you $20 to wear your dress!' which is kind of a funny thing for girls in high school, but it made us not fight!"

Born and raised in Houston, Brittany works full-time as a corporate attorney; combined with New for the Night, she has been keeping very busy. "I'm very passionate about both, so it doesn't feel like work," she explained. When asked what designers inspire her personal style, Brittany cited Oscar de la Renta (her sister designs for them) for his ability to cut clothing for women that is both feminine and flattering, as well as Diane von Furstenburg and Rebecca Taylor.

Currently New for the Night is holding about 250 dresses in 50 styles in stock, but they will triple their offerings by the end of March. Dresses are ordered directly from the designers, and Brittany reports that designer responses have been very positive.

"I think that Rent the Runway really paved the way for this concept, making it easier to approach designers. I think designers used to think that this was going to cannibalize their sales, but what they found out was that it actually raises brand awareness for their lines and draws a new audience to their market. I think the target market is smarter and people are shopping around; it's democratizing fashion."

When asked about the trend of high-end designers entering the retail market (Missoni and Jason Wu for Target, for example) Brittany said, "I think it's great -- it's aspirational dressing. People see a design on a celebrity and they say, 'I want to wear that, I want to be able to afford that,' and if we can rent it to them, they will be able to afford it someday. We give them exposure to a designer and they can affiliate it with a great event -- after prom, you'll always remember who the designer was that you wore and how much fun you had so later when you're looking to buy something, you'll buy that again."

You can make an appointment to visit the New for the Night showroom at 3209 Westheimer, and visit them on Facebook and Tumblr. Bookmark their Web site, which is slated to go live this week.

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Christina Uticone