Mannequin Boutique serves the community and fashionistas.
“We’re all about giving every penny that we can to charity,” says Moe Rouse, proprietor of the Vine Street shop, Mannequin Boutique.
For two years, Mannequin Boutique, which sells donated high-end designer items from the likes of Prada and Chanel to contemporary pieces from J. Crew and Ann Taylor to one-of-a-kind vintage items from the 1900s, has been giving back from its current OTR location, but Rouse herself has been giving back for years longer than that.
With the help of one employee and six volunteers, Rouse gives 100 percent of the store’s proceeds to seven nonprofit organizations in Cincinnati: Tender Mercies, the Freestore Foodbank, First Step Home, One Way Farm, Lighthouse Youth Services, Wesley Chapel Mission Center and Caracole. Rouse has been a long-time supporter of these charities because she feels they are smartly run, likes that they support Over-the-Rhine and is familiar with who they help, so she wanted to publicly identify the seven nonprofits as the set list of charities to which Mannequin Boutique would donate.
“I think it’s unique because it is a women’s boutique that gives all of its profits to charity,” Rouse says. “Even when we do things for ourselves, we try to do them for others.”
Because the boutique’s merchandise is gently used, customers can snag great buys for the same high-quality items they might find in another boutique or department store.
“Most places buy from contemporary wholesalers, so you’re getting contemporary, wholesale stuff, which is fabulous. There’s nothing wrong with that at all,” Rouse says. “But for people who can’t afford a $700 outfit, they can come here and get one that’s slightly used that was maybe $1,400 for $200.”
After shopping at Designer Dress Days in the 1990s, a yearly sale inside the old convention center put together by the National Council of Jewish Women — a national organization that works to provide support for women, children and families who need it — Rouse saw the sale losing its impact. She decided to take it over in 2001 and renamed it Designer Donations for Cincinnati Charities. Rouse ran two yearly sales out of a space behind the old Blue Wisp, but when the building had to be torn down, she moved to her current location on Vine Street and opened Mannequin Boutique.
“I was at an antique flea market in Lawrenceburg and I saw this vintage, turn-of-the-century mannequin, and I loved it,” Rouse says. “It was just great. And I thought — well, I have to do this, and I guess I have to call the shop Mannequin.”
Mannequin Boutique provides more than just handbags, jewelry, shoes and clothes — the history behind the vintage items allows customers to walk away with exquisite pieces, each with their own story to tell.
“We have tails from the turn of the century. We have bathing suits that are wool from 1910,” Rouse says. “We have tuxedos — beautiful tuxedos — that men have grown out of, but they bought at the finest places in the world.”
A former electronic media professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music and current trial consultant, Rouse stays busy, but never fails to indulge herself in the world of fashion. She attends vintage shows, travels to New York every month and continues to make frequent trips to Paris, Los Angeles and Denver to stay up-to-date and in-the-know of fashion’s ever-changing market.
“If there’s a show on Chanel, I’ve seen it. If there’s a show on Yves Saint Laurent, I’ve seen it,” Rouse says. “You can pretty much show me anything and if I know what the label is, I can generally pick the decade.”
For Rouse, that’s what makes fashion’s vintage market so exciting — figuring out an item’s value and history. But she admits it doubles for a hefty amount of work. “I think it’s probably more work than a regular store,” she says. “It would seem to me that you go to fashion shows, you go to the markets where you buy things, you have certain labels that you like and that you carry, and you choose it and they ship it to you and you know the prices. All of this [deciding on the worth of a vintage item] is kind of shooting from the hip.”
Despite her frustration of not having time to do more with the store, Rouse is committed to not using the proceeds to hire additional help — she wants to continue to give everything she makes to charity.
“I think the stuff we have is really special. I mean, everyone says that, and for everyone who owns a place, that’s correct,” she says. “We have things, though, that are really hard to find.”
And being able to combine her obsession with fashion with her love for giving back to the community means more to Rouse than the clothes on any mannequin.
Mannequin Boutique hosts private evening events for those who want to reserve the boutique for shopping, wine and appetizers. Shoppers can pick a charity they want the proceeds from the evening to go to, and representatives from the chosen organizations often come to give a speech. To learn more about Rouse or Mannequin Boutique