“I’m a little slower, but I’m up!” Debi Boyette says in a determinedly cheerful voice. “Everyone keeps telling me to take it slow, and I am listening to my body. But while I was recuperating at home I organized everything I could, and now there’s nothing left to organize—so I have to be working.”
Rewind to mid-January: Boyette is preparing to fly to Washington, DC with her six-year-old daughter to attend the Womxn’s March. The night before they plan to fly out, she and a friend take their pre-teen sons to a show at The Crocodile. The kids go into the middle of the venue to wait for A Boogie With Da Hoodie to take the stage, and the moms munch pizza in a booth by the windows.
Minutes later, a Prius rolls silently by, someone inside firing a high-powered rifle into the windows of the Crocodile. People dive to the floor, glass cracks, and Boyette feels something punch through her back.
“It was an inch, maybe inch and a half from my spine,” she says softly, eyes wide. “I was overwhelmingly calm. I told my friend, ‘call 911, I just got shot.’ I was so calm that she didn’t believe me for a moment. But I felt like if I began to panic, if I worried, the pain would get worse. I felt like I was slo-mo, and everything outside me was sped up, like a movie.”
Boyette and two others were injured in the drive-by, which police identified as gang-related. The investigation remains open.
Back in the Boutique
In the sun-drenched interior of her boutique, Le Merde, Boyette sits in the pink-poufed embrace of a vintage boudoir chair. She’s a slim column of stylish head-to-toe black, with Chanel shoes and perfect wing-tipped eyeliner. Less than a month ago she was drifting in and out of morphine haze in the hospital.
It’s hard to square the two images.
Since then, Boyette has slowly re-entered her normal life, dropping in to carefully—perhaps obsessively—rearrange the merchandise.
Some visitors know that “Le Merde” is loosely translated as “the shit.” If you’re a Francophile, you might also know that “the shit” is actually La Merde in French. Boyette knows it, too. She didn’t want the name to be completely literal, so she tweaked it.
Being half-French herself, she likes that it’s a little off-kilter. “So many people come in asking what the name means, and then they laugh so hard. This is exactly what I wanted. People not to take things so seriously, have fun in life, laugh and be positive.”
Le Merde allows Boyette to express her eclectic aesthetic: a beguiling whirl of lush art, plush furniture, vintage fashion and accessories. Porcelain swans mix with art magazines atop a burnished, round-lipped 1950s vanity. Racks of your grandma’s most sequin-encrusted party blouses shimmer next to sleek jumpsuits and leggings. Laugh-out-loud vintage finds contributed by buyers Becca Leitman, Love and Squalor (Sara Pignotlet and Christopher Bird) and Citizen Rosebud hang by handmade candles by artist and Le Merde VP Oliver Stellfox.
Boyette is inspired by artists, fashion buyers and stockists who believe in their work and in themselves—who think they’re the shit.
A Personal, Old-School Touch
Boyette also rotates constantly through a selection of carefully-chosen clothing and furniture from her massive personal stash, most of which came with her in a semi-truck from Atlanta in 2001. How does a 42-year-old woman end up with such an extensive vintage collection?
“My love for vintage comes from growing up with older people. My dad had me when he was in his mid-60s, and his neighborhood in Florida was filled with elderly folks who dressed well all the time, especially for church. Ladies in their blazers and suit dresses with little hats; men in their polyester pants, and bow ties. My uncle had an antique shop, and I was surrounded by the things from the past that were loved and preserved.”
There’s also the constant presence of art in Le Merde that signals this is more than a boutique. Boyette—a painter herself—was one of the founding members of Crawl Space Gallery, a collective that ran from 2002-2009. (It occupied what is now Ghost Gallery on Capitol Hill.)
Though she left the group in 2004 to focus on raising her son, she returned to the retail world in 2014 with Scribble Studios in Ballard. That gallery—run with Lesley Broadgate—focused on teaching and workshops.
“Since I was little I’ve thought about storefronts, and what my dream store would be. I understand the bones of business and retail, but I’ve always been a rebel. The typical corporate model lacks soul and community. Why can’t you be successful, but also cultivate and support what you’re passionate about? I love business, art, fashion and my neighborhood. Why does it have to be cutthroat?”
Le Merde is a step closer to the ideal business she’s always wanted to run. The mixture of work on display is largely local, and Boyette invites the designers, vintage buyers and artists who show to organize and stage their work. She’s offered the space to burgeoning stylists, helping them grow their practice as a mentor. There have even been art classes in the shop, something Boyette hopes to revive once she’s back to her old energy.
A Fight Worth Having
2016 had already been a trying year for Boyette. After losing her lease in a previous location, she moved into a shared space down the street. It seemed like a dream arrangement, but it quickly turned into a nightmare. The owner of the adjacent shop, started accusing her of “trying to steal his business away and making his shop look bad.”
Making Le Merde look its best suddenly became a liability, but it didn’t slow Boyette down. Then, the adjacent shop abruptly closed, leaving Boyette with bills to pay on both storefronts, and thousands in damages to the space where she says the other shop owner had been living.
“I brought in a lawyer, who has helped me negotiate keeping both spaces and not having the rent raised. My lawyer and landlords’ lawyer keep butting heads. Every month I get an eviction notice, and every month I prove I’m a good tenant. All of it takes away from what I’m here for, what I want to accomplish. It grinds me down.”
Boyette plans to persevere in the face of both her injury and her real estate woes. Just how sustainable the juggling act is, she isn’t quite sure. But, since the violent act that tore apart her peace of mind, she’s added a new mission to her roster: raising funds and awareness about gun violence and responsibility.
“I think a lot about what brought the people who shot me to that point. What did they go through to decide, ‘I’m going to join a gang; I’m going to kill people’? To live in a way where this is no recognition for life? I need to do more, to provide more for our future generations, to cultivate a better future for all of us.”
On March 18, Le Merde will host an ’80s night costume party and dance party with live music by The Aqua-Nets. The majority of proceeds will go to Grandmothers Against Gun Violence and the Alliance For Gun Responsibility, while other funds will be directed towards Boyette’s own considerable medical expenses.
“I don’t want to be fearful of getting back into life,’ Boyette says as she carefully levers herself to her feet to help a customer. “I’m excited to be healing. Life is so short, and there are so many things I want to do.”
’80s Costume Party/ Gun Awareness Benefit with the Aqua-Nets
When: March 18th, 6pm-8pm
Where: Le Merde (7315 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, Washington 98103)