by CHRISTINA GEYER
portrait by THOM JACKSON/The Photo Division
If Chanel had not come to Dallas,” says Brian Bolke, owner of the revered boutique Forty Five Ten, “this may not have happened.”
After spending lots of time in the newly revitalized portion of downtown which spans the city blocks of Main and Commerce streets — all due to events that surrounded a Dallas-themed collection shown by Chanel last December in Fair Park, to an international audience of customers and fashion insiders — Bolke was inspired. Why not, he thought, relocate his fashion and home-goods store, opened in 2000 at 4510 McKinney Avenue in the Knox-Henderson neighborhood, to the increasingly trendy part of town.
That inspiration is becoming a reality. In the fall of 2015 — fortuitously in time for the store’s 15th anniversary — Forty Five Ten will open in a grand, multi-story historic building on Main Street, formerly a theater, a department store, a shoe store and a bar. The store, which is being designed by Droese Raney Architecture (its retail projects include Billy Reid, the Art of Shaving and the 2005 and 2011 remodels of Forty Five Ten), will be across the street from the Joule hotel and adjacent to the lawn where artist Tony Tasset’s gigantic sculpture of his own bloodshot eye stares at passersby. At 45,000 square feet, more than five times the size of the original store, the new Forty Five Ten will be a noteworthy expansion and relocation, not just in terms of luxury fashion — the boutique’s offerings are top-notch, from Altuzarra, Balenciaga and Céline to Margiela, Moschino and The Row — but also in terms of how it will add to downtown’s more-bustling scene. Since the Joule hotel’s own sizable expansion, finalized last year, three new shops have joined the 100-year-old Neiman Marcus flagship store on the same block: Tenoversix and Traffic LA, both based in Los Angeles; and Play by Comme des Garçons, based in Paris.
Bolke is not alone in plotting Forty Five Ten’s move. He has financial backing from Headington Companies, the development group that owns the Joule hotel and the Hotel Lumen and is headed by billionaire oilman Tim Headington, now Bolke’s business partner. Last year, to spearhead the retail development of his properties, Headington hired Shelle Sills, the former general manager of Neiman Marcus downtown. Sills, now Headington’s director of retail and projects, has been meeting quietly with Bolke for the last several months, discussing the move, the strategy and the design of the store. (The first powwow was a brainstorming session over drinks at the Mansion Bar.) Both are pioneers of Dallas retail: Sills launched her own retail career when she was 24, purchasing the now-shuttered boutique The Gazebo in 1979 and subsequently introducing Dallas shoppers to the lines Badgley Mischka, Michael Kors and Donna Karan. In 2000, Bolke partnered with Bill Mackin, a former executive in the home-goods division at Neiman Marcus, to open Forty Five Ten. Shortly thereafter, the late fashion collector Shelly Musselman joined in the partnership. The store was a sensation from the start, with a level of well-edited merchandise that stood out, turning it into the internationally recognized boutique it is today. (Vogue magazine in 2009 said, “The store has always brilliantly walked the line between a Texan’s innate love of glamour and glitz and a kind of darkly rich Euro idea of dressing up.” In 2005, The New York Times called it a “major source for high-end goods,” attracting “a clientele from Oprah Winfrey to Gwyneth Paltrow to Laura Bush.”) Bolke and Sills share a passion for local fashion businesses and thus have an innate chemistry. (During a lunch meeting for this story, the conversation energetically bounced between the pair; at times, they finished each other’s sentences.) “This may be one of the most exciting times of my career,” Sills says of working on the project, a move that is not without foresight and guts. “You have to decide,” Bolke says, “whether you want to be comfortable and stand still, or you want to move forward and take risks.” The partnership with Headington Companies, Bolke says, is founded on the bigger picture. “It isn’t just about a five-year plan, it’s more like a 50-year plan.” That plan consists of a vision that Headington has fostered since he first opened the Joule in 2008. In short, it revolves around developing downtown and making it a destination for shopping, dining, living and tourism. “We are just now growing downtown exponentially,” says John Crawford, president and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Downtown Dallas, Inc. “Our goal for the next five to seven years is to keep creating destinations where all kinds of people will come to downtown, from all over North Texas and all over the world.” On Forty Five Ten’s move, he hopes “success breeds success. Different retailers will start seeing that and want to come in. Forty Five Ten is going to be great because it’s a whole different mindset and a different thing [downtown]can offer.”
From the fashion side of things, the new space will allow Bolke to house a larger operation, not just the brick-and-mortar store but also Forty Five Ten’s growing, global e-commerce presence. After joining forces with the online luxury retailer Farfetch a year ago, Bolke has expanded the store’s reach to shoppers around the world, from China to Australia to the Middle East. The new store will include all of Forty Five Ten’s current offerings — women’s and men’s clothing and accessories, beauty and fragrance products, home decor — but substantially more of everything. The new digs will include the beloved T Room restaurant (a see-and-be-seen, gourmet-comfort-food lunch spot for the style set), a new event space and an al fresco area on the rooftop. Bolke and Sills are intent on creating a version of Forty Five Ten that is, indeed, bigger and better, but still focused on the same experiences shoppers have when they walk into the current store — a feeling of casual cool amidst such rarefied merchandise. (No decisions have been made about the McKinney Avenue location, which Bolke leases.) For a moment, Bolke becomes reflective, recalling times during his childhood that he spent with his mother. “All of my best experiences,” he says, “have happened in stores.” Sills nods and quickly concurs: “I have similar memories.”
With any dramatic change, there are, naturally, fears. There are two panicky questions Bolke says he has been asked most when he has told people about the store’s new venue: What will the parking be like, especially in a cramped downtown? Will the T Room still have tuna melts? To the former, Bolke explains that several concepts are being explored and says, “The goal is that you can pull up and park, just like you can at the store now.” To the latter, there is a much shorter answer: “There will always be tuna melts.”
[A version of this story appeared online on August 7, 2014. The above article has been edited to reflect the print version subsequently published on page 23 of the September 2014 issue of FD, with the headline: A seminal boutique’s big move.]