With Mother’s Day this month, consider for a moment how life might be with a celebrity mom: paparazzi pictures … Hollywood parties – unlimited spoiling – designer clothes – but, most importantly, an enormous department store-style closet. At least that’s how it is for 4-year-old Chase. Her mom, Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins, of the multi-platinum R & B group TLC, recently opened a River Oaks children’s boutique in her name, Chase’s Closet.
The Grammy-winning singer is only in Houston for two days for the store’s debut party – she pushed back this interview twice to spend more time with her daughter in Atlanta. Afterward, she flies to Los Angeles for the semifinals of her UPN reality show, “R U That Girl,” in which contestants audition to record a song with TLC in place of group member Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopez, who died in a 2002 car accident. And then, Tionne will finally get to head home.
In fact, this is the longest period of time she’s ever been away from Chase: five days. Inside the store she seems perfectly comfortable while surrounded by a giant, pink teddy bear and a ‘time-out’ rocking chair for this month’s cover – she even soothes a stranger’s crying baby who had been brought in to model clothes. When the shoot is over, we begin to walk to la Madeleine for a quick lunch, but as she nears the store’s front door, something in the display window catches her eye. It’s a Hullabaloo sundress that she must remember to purchase for Chase before leaving town.
“I tend to over buy for her,” she confesses, “but nothing is cuter than dressing kids like little grown-ups. I could go broke buying all of Chase’s clothes.” Probably so, considering the store is a reflection of Chase’s actual closet – D & G Junior tennis shoes, Moschino blouses, Miss Blumarine swimsuits – not the average buy-them-cheap-because-kids-grow-fast children’s clothes. Tionne’s tastes lean toward designer, but she says such finds can be a rarity in the South.
“I wanted to raise my daughter in a southern environment, without all of the cameras, but there are hardly any good, designer children’s stores in Atlanta,” she says.
That dilemma and the fact her friends said Chase’s closet looked like a store motivated her to open a children’s boutique that would send the fashion-forward styles of New York and Hollywood southbound. Originally considering locating it in her hometown of Atlanta, she knew who she wanted as a partner: Chase’s personal shopper, Tara Brivic-Rowntree. Tara has shopped for Chase from the time she was 6 months old and had collaborated with Tionne on selecting clothes that suited her style – nothing too lacy or with too many flowers.
Chase, however, was not Tara’s only client. The New York celebrity stylist also shopped for Demi Moore and her three girls, the Duchess of York and her daughters, and Diane Sawyer, to name a few. Tara’s waiting list was long, so she initially hesitated about adding Tionne to it, fearing she might be a ‘diva.’ However, once the two went shopping together, she says they became ‘instant friends.’ When Tara’s husband, A.D. Rowntree, was offered a DJ position with Houston’s rock channel 94.5 the Buzz, it made sense that they should open the store here. Getting it ready, however, was no celebrity picnic. Both Tionne and Tara spent an entire night opening boxes and hanging clothes, so its January opening came as quite a relief.
“When everything was finally done, it was all worth it because I think of the store as a gift I can give my daughter,” Tionne says.
When the majority of the store was complete, Tionne flew back to Atlanta, where she would remain and continue to buy for the store. Tara, now living in Houston, would serve as its manager and as a personal shopper for its customers.
“Tara is good at what she does,” Tionne says. “She remembered what I liked and didn’t like for Chase. She would send me items from a store, and I would buy what I wanted, which was usually almost everything. I wanted (our) store to offer that kind of service.”
Having someone who remembers exactly what a customer likes can sometimes be dangerous. Eventually, Chase’s closet grew so large that a ladder was required for hard-to-reach pieces. Each season, Tionne always made sure to keep it fully stocked with the latest styles that weren’t yet mainstream.
“When Juicy [Couture] jogging suits were the ‘in’ thing, Chase had them,” she says. “But she is always on to the next thing before it gets big. I don’t care if it’s made by a famous designer or by someone selling clothes out of the back of their car; if it’s something new and different, I make sure she has it. I was always a trendsetter, and that’s something that I want to transfer to her.” Trend-setting for Tionne began somewhat differently than it did for her daughter. Remembering the days before TLC became the highest-selling female group, she recalls having to act as the group’s stylist.
“I chose most of our clothes, and Lisa painted and airbrushed them,” she says with a smirk and holds back a laugh. “Keep in mind that airbrushing was the style at that time.”
And when it comes to knowing today’s fashion and trends, Tionne might be considered more ‘with it’ than most moms, but, like most children, Chase doesn’t always want her advice.
“Starting from about the time she was 2, she would tell me, ‘Mommy, today I want to wear pink and yellow,'” Tionne says. “So I let her express herself and wear what she wanted, as long as it wasn’t tacky.”
With Chase quickly becoming a fashion diva in her own right, she developed her own opinions of what constituted stylish attire, which could sometimes lead to embarrassing moments. “When she was learning her colors, she saw a woman wearing brown and purple and [loudly] said to me, ‘She doesn’t match,'” Tionne recalls. “The woman really didn’t match, and I found it interesting that [Chase] would associate learning her colors with fashion, but I had to teach her to be quiet and keep some of her thoughts to herself.” Chase’s fashion sense continues to mature, but inevitably so does her clothing size.
“Chase will outgrow [Chase’s Closet] in a second,” Tionne says. The solution: Tionne’s next project, a tween clothing store in Atlanta. Will it be a women’s boutique after that? Maybe. Some might think Tionne spoils Chase, but is giving her daughter a new store with each passing stage really that different from what most moms do for their children? Whether they’re celebrities or housewives, moms usually want to give their children the best of what they can offer. Although it might not always be a new store, a new pair of shoes is always nice. H