Be That Girl: Our Interview With Bettie Page Clothing's Tatyana Khomyakova And Jan Glaser

When I heard that Bettie Page Clothing, a line based on the glamorous styles of the 1950s and named after the famous pinup star Bettie Page, was open for interviews I jumped at the chance to speak with them. I have long been a vintage clothing hunter and Bettie Page Clothing produces the best blend of modernized but retro dresses and clothes. Today, I'm talking with the co-founders of Bettie Page Clothing, Russian-born designer Tatyana Khomyakova and her husband and commercial financier Jan Glaser.

How are you today?
TATYANA: Hi, I'm fine. How are you?

Good! So what is it that you love about the 1950s style?
TATYANA: What I like is how feminine all the styles are. They are just like really classy and ladylike. It is really difficult to find styles like that now. As you know everybody is wearing the same short dresses and they don't look very feminine. They look... hmm... let me find the word for that. It's a not very appropriate word, I know, but... slutty.

TATYANA: And I don't like it. So it's like you have that kind of dresses in the '50s when all the women look really sexy but at the same time it was not exposed too much. So it was kind of mysterious for the guys. I think that way it's more sexy [than] when you open everything and just sort of say, "Here I am," you know, "Look at me, take it, I'm ready." I don't think guys like that kind of easy ladies. Because they all would like to have ladies in which they can open the puzzle. And I think that's the kind of image the dresses from the '50s gives to people.

Here is Jan.

Hi Jan, how are you doing?
JAN: I'm doing well, thanks.

I have to tell you both that I'm actually a big fan of Bettie Page Clothing. I've always loved the retro styles and they are very hard to find. I used to have to pick and choose, maybe a dress would come out with one line for a season and I would get that. My husband even just recently bought me a dress from Bettie Page in your Las Vegas store.
JAN: Oh really?

He was on a business trip and he brought it home. So I was really excited to find there was a store in San Francisco.
JAN: Which dress did he buy?

I think it was called Happy Skulls.
JAN: Oh OK, that's kind of a light, airy thing.

It's really fun. So I was interested in how you got started designing?
JAN: Tatyana was a model in Europe for a while and then did some modeling here in the States. She came over in 1997. And then she really liked the classic European look. And the classic European look just happened to be the '50s. It's when a lot of the famous designers like Chanel and Jean-Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint Laurent and the others first started mass-producing clothing. They came to this country, as well as to Europe post-war. And so Tatyana always saw those as kind of the golden age of fashion and wanted to produce a line that emphasized those classics.

Did you find that your modeling career impacted how you designed?
TATYANA: I think so because you know I was modeling all the dresses but not that kind that I'm making now. And I guess I kind of missed that and I was trying to find something around [and] I couldn't and then I decided to make it myself.

I also noticed that you have a real emphasize in your clothing line on body-hugging curves but they're made in fabrics that still give. Was it important to you to design clothes that fit women of a variety of sizes?
JAN: Yeah, I could probably answer that. I mean, when Tatyana started designing she really just went from extra small to XL, or actually small to XL. And then that migrated to extra small to 1X and now all the way up to 5X. Even 6X, on occasion, not all her styles, but a few of them. There is a whole subculture of plus-sized women that want to wear dresses that emphasize curves, as opposed to the muumuu, you know, of the '70s that just hide everything. So that has been a surprising market.

I read that you were primarily targeting the Rockabilly market when you first launched and that you found you had a wider range of appeal. What other markets--as you mentioned the plus-sized women--have you hit other markets that were a surprise?
JAN: The Rockabilly market was a surprise actually.

Oh, it was?
JAN: Now the initial thinking was to just cater to professional women for business use as well as adult women for just party dresses or daytime dresses.

TATYANA: Cocktail.

JAN: Cocktail dresses.

TATYANA: Because I personally didn't even know about the Rockabilly community very much. I'm not a Rockabilly girl [but] I love them! Very much, all those people because they are so beautiful and so involved in all that stuff so I really respect what they're doing. They know how to dress up, they know how to dance, they know how to have fun. And I'm really very honored that they like my dresses. When I see all the ladies dressed up in Viva Las Vegas I see like 30-40% of them wearing our dresses. That makes me very proud that I discovered that kind of group of people. And as I say I love them and I hope they love me, too, (laughs) even though I am not a Rockabilly girl.

Well, I'm not really a Rockabilly girl myself, although I like Rockabilly music. But I love retro and I had actually started wearing '50s dresses for business. I could find great sheath dresses and little '50s sweaters and I wore them to the office. And not many people were doing that but it was wonderfully professional, so I loved seeing your line come out. If I still worked in an office, I would probably be buying your dresses for work.
TATYANA: Absolutely. And at our retail store, if you ask people who are buying our dresses, most of them are not Rockabilly, they are just regular people who like that kind of elegant style. A lot of them don't have any idea who is Bettie Page.

JAN: Yes, less than 20%, I think are Rockabilly.

TATYANA: Yes, so that means it's for everybody, not only Rockabilly. But Rockabilly they like only that stuff. The rest of the people like our stuff and anything else. [laughs]

So why did you decide to launch in the United States?
JAN: Well, we live in Las Vegas. The original concept was to open a store on the strip in Las Vegas. And Tatyana's original idea, actually both our original idea was just to make clothing for our one store. We didn't really think at the time that we would be adding six stores inside of four years. And that we'd have a whole wholesale division and an internet division as well. So it kind of grew as we prospered. And we took our production offshore at that time and it became more of an organized, sophisticated clothing manufacturing company. That was accidental.

Have you found there is a different reception or demand here in the United States as compared to Europe? I've hear that you're in boutiques across Europe as well.
JAN: Our number one demographic as far as countries that really enjoy our clothing would be the Commonwealth countries. That would include Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland. Those are the ones that, for some reason, just absolutely flock...

TATYANA: We actually over have 1,000 boutiques now who are buying our clothes.

Wow, that's great! Especially since you launched in 2007, is that right? So that's four years, that's an absolutely great ramp up. Congratulations!
JAN: Well, thank you.

I wanted to ask you a little about your different collections. I know you are launching a beachwear line. I'm very excited about this by the way. Can you tell us about that?
TATYANA: Beach Bash Beachwear, we call it. It's a little bit more modern but still with a retro twist. And it has some short little playsuits, and shorts and t-shirts, and little blouses, some kinds of sundresses with vintage prints. Swimsuits, we don't have that many yet but we have only, maybe, six styles now but it's a [new] collection so we're going to grow, of course. And as I said, it's all with a vintage sense of the clothes. It's fun, it's flirty, it's more open. It's just Beach Bash Beachwear, that says it all. [laughs]

I personally have been looking for a high-waisted bikini for quite a long time. You know, you can't quite fit the same swimwear styles after you have a child [laughs] as you did before so I've always admired those '50s-looking bikinis. Are they going to be available in stores?
TATYANA: They are! We received our first shipment orders and we almost sold them out! So we reordered them but we didn't receive the second portion of the items [yet]. It depends on what size, we still have some sizes available but most of them are gone.

TATYANA: So we're hoping to get them back again in June.

OK, so shop in June is what you're telling me?
TATYANA: You can go to and see what's left over there.

OK! I will do that! Now did I read correctly that your son helped design that collection?
TATYANA: Yes, the Beach Bash Beachwear I've been doing together with my son. So I'm hoping that he probably will understand more what young people want to have. Even though it's retro, but we still don't want it to just be retro. We want everybody to like it. That what I was hoping that he could maybe understand it better. He's only 25 years old.

Is he a designer as well or is this more on a consultant basis?
TATYANA: I show him the cuts and say, "How about that?" and "How about this?" and he has some ideas and that's what we do.

That sounds great! I know you have another new line this year... Elvgren?
TATYANA: Yes, Elvgren is one more line and it's based on the paintings of Gil Elvgren.

JAN: Elvgren was the preeminent pinup artist of 1940s and '50s. Gil Elvgren was his name and he's kind of known as the Norman Rockwell of pinup. The idea that Tatyana had was to take a lot of the paintings that Elvgren did and actually replicate the dresses that are in his paintings. If you're familiar with his work then you know all his paintings kind of show an "oops" moment. Where, you know, the girl's skirt is getting caught in a car door or something like that. So what Tatyana did was take the paintings of these dresses, and I forgot how many there are initially, maybe a dozen or so different designs, and take the image and then design a dress based on the image and get it produced. And the dresses are all sold with the painting that shows the original dress and the tagline just says, "Be that girl."

Oh, that's fun.
JAN:Yeah, then it shows the actual dress, so it's kind of a fun thing.

You also have the Bettie Page line and the Tatyana line. What are the differences between the two?
JAN: The Tatyana line is a little more modern. And a little sexier. Some of the stuff is low cut, leg slits, things of that sort. It's just a little edgier, a little more modern.

TATYANA: But not much, as I told you at the beginning that we're not making slutty dresses. But Tatyana is more sexy than Bettie Page line.

That actually leads to my next question... You've talked about how you like it sexy yet more covered up, the mystery behind the package, but your spokesperson is a Playmate. How did you choose Claire Sinclair as your spokesperson?

TATYANA: I don't know, even if she's a Playmate I think she's still like Bettie Page used to be. Bettie Page also had a lot of naked pictures and kind of doing weird stuff but she's so innocent at the same time. Don't you think so?

Claire Sinclair
Oh, yes.
TATYANA: Well, I think Claire Sinclair is just the same. She can be [a] Playboy girl but she can be, at the same time, so innocent in looks and so adorable and sweet. We just love her! And she's a good, good model.

Did you meet her at some point before you chose her as a spokesperson or did it happen that you just knew of her work?
JAN: We had mutual friends.

There is a big similarity between her and Bettie Page. They have that kind of sexy but wholesome vibe.
JAN: That was the thinking. And she kind of looks a little like Bettie and she looks pinup. It's hard to describe. It's like she could have been in a Life Magazine from 1958 or something.

TATYANA: And Tempest Storm is our friend and she's now friends with Claire Sinclair, too. And Tempest Storm says that she really reminds you of Bettie Page. And Tempest Storm knew Bettie Page. They were modeling together and doing some stuff together.

Bettie Page
Have you had any negative feedback at all? The reason I ask is because in this country there is such a push pull between being overtly sexy, too sexy, and there is a lot of controversy sometimes around it.
JAN: We've had some occasional experiences. Our shops in Las Vegas have artwork in them as well, by Olivia who is a pinup artist. And some of them are topless and we've had to take those and probably put them towards the back of the store. We're in locations that are pretty out there, you know we're on the strip in Las Vegas, and we're on Hollywood Boulevard, and on Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, the Gaslamp in San Diego. I don't think any of our stores are worse or even approaching what Victoria's Secret does, for example.

I would have to agree with you there.
JAN: Yeah, so we're OK. We're opening in the Mall of America and they had some issues with us putting in leopard print carpet.

They had a problem with leopard print?
JAN: Yeah. But we got by it and it's OK.

So what were their concerns with leopard print?
JAN: A little daring. A little racy.

Really? Wow. I just don't uh... consider leopard print... [laughs]
JAN: Yeah. Well, who does?

I see you have a lot of celebrities wearing your designs. What kind of feedback have you gotten from that quarter?
JAN: You know it happens by surprise. We never pursue them. We just wake up one morning and somebody points out that Leighton Meester in People Magazine was wearing our dress or that Christina Hendricks was in the store or that...

TATYANA: Kelly Osbourne was just in.

JAN - Kelly Osborne was just in the other night. Pink is just walking around Hollywood Boulevard wearing one of our dresses. So unfortunately our staff in the stores doesn't always recognize them so they don't get a picture of them while they're in the store. We've been talking about that a lot with them. But we never pursue the celebrities; they just seem to come to us. Holly Madison just showed up wearing our stuff all the time.

TATYANA: You know, lots of companies they send in dresses to celebrities hoping they will wear it. But we never do anything like that so it's always a surprise.

Have you had any celebrities request specialty pieces?
JAN: Sometimes we get requests.

TATYANA: Yes, from stylists, yes. We get some.

JAN: Christina Hendricks's stylist, yes, was one I can think of. Imelda May, who's a Rockabilly singer from Ireland, has requested a few. We get some occasionally. We try to accommodate them but we don't really pursue that actively.

TATYANA: If you have special request, of course, we'll send them what they want but we don't look for celebrities ourselves.

Did you ever expect your line to take off so quickly and so kind of famously?
JAN: Well, I expected Tatyana's line to take off. She's much more modest.

TATYANA: No, I really not... because I'd never did anything like that before. And it was kind of the first day when we opened I was sitting across the aisle and looking at our store and I saw that people actually were buying our dresses, like one... two... three! At the time I was just like really impressed! It was one of the happiest moments in my business.

That's wonderful! What a great story. Just to sit across the street and watch, that would be something.
JAN: Yeah, a little scary.

All new business ventures are, aren't they? Especially when it's your creation.
JAN: Yeah, yeah, it's personal then.

TATYANA: And sometimes it's funny moments, sometimes I just go to the movies and I'm sitting next to a lady and she's dressed in my dress. And I always say to my husband, "Oh my god, if she just knew that she's sitting with a designer over there!" [laughs]

So have you had anyone come up to you on the street and recognize you?
JAN: Sometimes. Sometimes they think Tatyana is Bettie Page. Because they don't know who Bettie Page is but they know the store is Bettie Page and they know that Tatyana designs Bettie. So they think Tatyana is Bettie Page.

Oh, how funny!
JAN: That happens a lot when we do fashion shows, runway shows.

JAN: Well, Tatyana introduces herself at the end or she's brought out at the end. So afterwards people refer to her, "Oh hi Bettie, how are you?"

I guess I'm surprised that more people don't recognize or know the history of Bettie Page.
JAN: It's probably 10% or less of the people who actually know who Bettie Page is.

I guess when we think about when her career really was quite a long time ago.
JAN: But there's been a movie, there was a movie about her about three years ago, four years ago, called The Notorious Bettie Page. It was kind of a general release and it plays on HBO and Showtime a lot. But even with that, when we named the store Bettie Page it was kind of a trivia question for us. We were thinking of something from the '50s, that would hearken back to the '50s. Tatyana had no idea who Bettie Page was and I kind of knew it as almost a trivia question. It certainly wasn't at the forefront of my mind. And then once we got the name and once we opened the store we realized there was a fairly good sized cult following.

Do you plan on opening more stores at some point?
JAN: We do plan to open more stores but they will be in select locations. We're not going to be in every mall or anything like that. We want to open in high traffic, tourist-oriented locations like Haight-Ashbury or Union Square would be another example. Mall of America. We're looking at New York or Miami or Boston, things of that nature.

TATYANA: The Mall of America store is actually opening the end of this month.

And what are your plans next?
TATYANA: We have some plans but I don't want to comment now. Let it be a surprise.

Now it's time for our CB3, the questions we ask on all our interviews. Which do you prefer: Thriller or Purple Rain?
TATYANA: Thriller.

Debbie Gibson or Tiffany?
TATYANA: Tiffany.

And finally, 16 Candles or Pretty in Pink?
TATYANA: Pretty in Pink.

Thank you both so much! This was a lovely interview.
TATYANA: Thank you!

You can see more of Tatyana's great designs at Bettie Page Clothing and Beach Bash Beachwear.

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