THE BLOG
05/11/2010 10:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Astoria Characters: The Chic Shopkeeper

"Clothing is like art," says Kristie Foster. "It's to admire."

The statuesque Kristie, does, indeed, look like a gallery work. She's clad in a two-layer shirt dress, deep iris purple over light lavender, that makes her Tiffany-blue eyes pop like spring crocuses.

Her neck is decorated with a long, flowing vintage scarf that features dancing angels that accent her short, highlighted blond hair. Her retro-style spectator shoes, in cream, complement the white leather wraparound band of her wristwatch and the slinky silver snake bracelet coiled around her arm.

The owner of KrisTEES is a live billboard for her chic boutique, which carries contemporary women's clothing, accessories and jewelry made by Astoria artists as well as designers from around the world. "Everything in KrisTEES is in an understated style," she says. "It's basics with a twist."

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Kristie brings her own style of high-fashion to the neighborhood.

The cuts of the T-shirts, for example, work well with the office suit or weekend jeans. They are made of featherweight cotton, soft and light as a newborn's pinky. And the funky leather bracelets, with their big bows, turn the wrist into a perennial birthday present. "What sets everything in the shop apart are the cut and the drape of the fabrics," she says.

Kristie is a genius at mixing vintage and contemporary with flair. Her high-end elegant establishment, where the median price is $120, is tailored to fit perfectly next door to an old-time laundry and deli/grocery store.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
At KrisTEES, even the jewelry is displayed like works of art.

Kristie, who grew up in a middle-class family in Westhampton Beach, one of Long Island's tony tourist meccas, fell in love with fashion in her mother's closet. She and her two sisters spent many a day playing dress up and dress shop.

"I am the middle child, and part of being a middle child pushed me to do something that would make me stand out a little bit," Kristie says. "Other kids loved dolls, but for me it was the touch, feel and the color of fabrics. Even in high school, I dressed differently from everyone else."

After she earned a fashion merchandising degree from the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, she headed to Manhattan, where she worked in the fashion industry for a number of companies -- Hartz & Co., Victoria's Secret Catalogue, Calvin Klein Jeans and the Jacob Siegel Co.

"I used to work crazy hours," she says. "I would go in at 9 and not want to leave even at 10 or 11 at night."

Having spent 13 years in the business, she decided it was time to step out on her own.
"I wanted to create something new and different that had my own spin," she says. "I saved money for five years to open the boutique."

A longtime Astoria resident, Kristie longed to create a retail shop that would cater to fashion-conscious residents like her who had no choice but to go to Manhattan to shop.

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Leather bow bracelets are among KrisTEES' unique accessories.

"I had considered the Lower East Side and Long Island City, but my heart was in Astoria," she says. "I push myself to do something until I can't do it any more. When I'm scared, I push myself more, and I was really scared to do this in this neighborhood because nobody thought bringing big-city looks and prices here would work."

That was 3 1/2 years ago, and Kristie, who also is a stylist to private clients in Manhattan, has developed quite a following. Part of her success lies in the fact that she holds events, including fashion shows, that draw hundreds of people, and works with several local artists/designers to develop exclusive products for KrisTEES. (Her next event, a celebration of summer shopping, is Thursday.)

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Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The shopping experience at KrisTEES starts at the painted windows.

Her work has been recognized by the community and the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg invited her to this year's Queens Community Member Breakfast at Gracie Mansion and this summer, Kristie will attend the Mayor's Neighborhood Awards barbeque.

"Every client who comes into my shop, I feel flattered that I was chosen," Kristie says. "I try to make every customer's experience unique. It feels so wonderful to see someone wear a look that they look so great in. When you look great, it makes you feel wonderful -- it's like medicine for the soul."

Kristie mans the shop solo, and even when it's not open, she's working. "I always try to promote my designers," she says. "I always thought I would have an investor and open other boutiques like KrisTEES in other cities around the country."

But if that doesn't happen, she'll not be disappointed. After all, she says, "Life is an adventure."
And she'll be dressed her best for whatever comes her way.

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at Nruhling@gmail.com.
Copyright 2010 by Nancy A. Ruhling