DALLAS, United States — It’s no secret that, along with the rodeo, lavish homes and large automobiles, the well-heeled denizens of Dallas, Texas, love fashion.
In 2011, the Dallas Museum of Art was one of four North American cities to host “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier,” while just last spring avant-garde Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck staged a menswear exhibition at Dallas Contemporary.
“The Big D,” as it’s called, has also become an important stop on the designer trunk show circuit. This year alone, Mary Katrantzou, Viktor & Rolf, Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa and Carolina Herrera have visited the city to connect with local consumers.
Even Karl Lagerfeld selected Dallas for Chanel’s 2013 Métiers d’Art show, to be held on December 10, based on the theme “The Return,” a reference to the welcome the American press and the iconic Dallas department store Neiman Marcus — which has since grown into one of America’s most powerful luxury retail groups — gave Chanel when the house reopened after World War II.
The ninth-biggest city in the United States may not have the global cachet of a city like New York, but it certainly has consumer buying power, thanks to oil fortunes, a thriving investment management industry and the sheer number of blue-chip American corporations, from AT&T to Texas Instruments, that are headquartered in the city.
Dallas was ranked 10 on Forbes’ 2013 list of “Top 10 Billionaire Cities.” In fact, New York and Dallas were the only US entries. Meanwhile, Knight Frank Research ranked the Texas city 19 on its 2013 list of “Top 30 Global Cities by High Net Worth Individual Population.” According to the firm, Dallas currently has 2,020 HNWIs, a number it expects will grow by 45 percent over the next decade.
“They obviously have means and they obviously are aware of fashion,” says Jeff Byron, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus’ downtown Dallas location, describing the local luxury consumer. “The Dallas client dresses beautifully and she’s not afraid to express herself through the way she looks.”
Wealthy Dallasites have long frequented fashion retailers like Forty Five Ten in the city’s Uptown district, as well as shopping malls like Highland Park Village (where Tom Ford, Ermenegildo Zegna and Brunello Cucinelli are all set to open locations this fall) and NorthPark Center. But, more recently, luxury shoppers are returning to the city’s downtown Main Street District, where a slew of new fashion retailers are opening shop.
Although Neiman Marcus has operated its flagship location in downtown Dallas for over a century, the only other notable fashion retailer nearby, department store Sanger-Harris, closed its doors in 1989. That changed, this year, with the opening of a new set of sleek, fashion-forward shops that originated in Los Angeles: Traffic Men's, Traffic Women's, Traffic Play, TenOverSix and TenOverSix Presents.
The $78 million retail expansion is the brainchild of the real estate development firm helmed by oil billionaire and movie producer Tim Headington, which also owns Neiman Marcus’ neighbour, The Joule Hotel. Headington Companies, which has several business ties to Los Angeles, aimed to introduce a set of fashion retailers which would compliment Neiman Marcus’ offerings and previously lacked outlets in the Dallas area. Alongside the new Traffic and TenOverSix stores, the company has also brought in an ESPA spa and Taschen bookstore, as well as a 30-foot-tall eyeball sculpture created by contemporary artist Tony Tasset.
“Here, it’s generally speaking, focused on mall locations,” says Michael Tregoning, chief financial officer of Headington Companies. “Downtown has not had much vibrancy over the past 10 or 20 years, and we wanted to bring something unique [to the table] with the fashion retailers, just as we have with the hotel, the art, so it was important for us to choose that type of retailer.”
It didn’t take much convincing for Michael Moldovan, owner of Traffic, to sign onto the project. Moldovan realised that his target consumer was very much present in Dallas when he looked at his own customer database and saw that it had over 1,000 names with home addresses in the area.
“It was virgin territory for us,” says Moldovan. “There’s nothing like our store anywhere in Dallas. We have things here that a lot of places in the state of Texas don’t have.” The “things” that Traffic introduced to the city were offerings like Kenzo, Juun J, D. Gnak by Kang D., Tuesday Night Band Practice, Ann Demeulemeester menswear and Daniel Patrick. In addition, Traffic carries Vivienne Westwood, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, Moschino, DSquared and Comme des Garçons Play, which has its very own store, Traffic Play.
TenOverSix plays the cool, indie counterpart to Traffic’s established, yet edgy positioning. For Joe Cole, Kristen Lee and Brady Cunningham, the founders of TenOverSix, coming to Dallas was a natural choice. The owners decided to stock burgeoning brands like Jesse Kamm, Creatures of Comfort, Novis and Suno, not because they set out to be the only retailers carrying them in the area, but because, says Lee, “We have a pretty long standing relationship with a lot of independent designers out of LA and New York who just happen to not be anywhere in Dallas.”
As it turns out, according to both Moldovan and Lee, who both act as buyers for their respective stores, the customers who shop in Dallas aren’t so different from the customers who frequent Traffic and TenOverSix’s Los Angeles locations, apart from the fact that there are far fewer clients who come from the entertainment industry: “less celebrities, less actors, less musicians,” as Lee puts it.
That, and the Dallas consumer likes to dress up a little more, thanks to a social calendar that revolves around gala events, including the annual Art Ball for the Dallas Museum of Art and the St. Jude Evening Under the Stars. “The customer here is a person who knows fashion and goes to a lot of functions and charity events,” adds Lee. “Our Dallas girl wears higher heels and dresses a little more head to toe."
“LA is a little more casual and eclectic, but overall it’s a very similar kind of girl,” Moldovan concludes. “They’re very educated, they’re on the Internet, they see the fashion shows on the runways."
According to Tregoning, the last few months have seen an increase in traffic to the downtown Dallas neighbourhood, not just from locals, but also from the array of convention goers and travellers who frequent the area. He also noted rising interest in the available storefronts surrounding Neiman Marcus, Traffic, TenOverSix and The Joule.
For his part, Moldovan thinks the renewed interest in downtown Dallas could transform the neighbourhood into something like New York’s Meatpacking District.
Time will tell.