The Good Eye of Brian Bolke

The co-founder of retail emporium Forty FIve Ten has a knack for outfitting Dallas’ affluent set.

When Akris designer Albert Kriemler was celebrated by Neiman Marcus at the 2010 Crystal Charity Ball luncheon, he made time to purchase a Balmain tuxedo at Forty Five Ten. The Swiss tastemaker is typical of many fashion and retail executives who beeline to the luxury boutique as soon as wheels hit the tarmac.

The upscale emporium was also top of mind for New York stylist J. Logan Horne, who asked pal Tina (“Bag Snob”) Craig to ferry him over there on his first visit to Dallas. “I fell in love with the store,” Horne says. “They do a really good job of editing what’s out there. It’s a comfortable, relaxed place to shop where it’s more about the experience and really knowing what you’re getting.”

The playfully chic, fashion-forward assortment at Forty Five Ten—and the store’s willingness to stock pricey goods that sometimes can’t be found anywhere else in the country—is catnip to luxury-business insiders. Its distinctive mix, however, has always been engineered with locals in mind.

“We are very cognizant of a woman or man who lives in Dallas, Texas,” says Brian Bolke, the store’s co-founder, president, and chief fashion arbiter. “Knowing our clients by name, understanding their lives, the climate here, what they’ve already seen—those are all factors.”

The store’s 8,000-square-foot space on McKinney Avenue is awash in elite labels and uncommon styles for men and women, as well as in esoteric fragrances, gifts, home furnishings, and pet doodads. Its T Room is a favorite café of the fashionable.

Brands range from the iconic (Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Givenchy) to the avant-garde (Comme des Garçons, Rick Owens, Junya Watanabe), along with fashionista faves (Loewe, The Row, Derek Lam, The Woods) and emerging talents (Ellery, Rosetta Getty). Exotic, obscure products like Nasomatto perfumes nestle near local wares, including Susan Posnick’s cosmetics, Jan Barboglio’s home furnishings, and Elizabeth Showers’ jewels.

“We have to have a balance of things that are quite useful and normal and things that someone has never seen before,” Bolke says. “One of the benchmarks for picking up a new collection is when I know I can do an edit that the designer themselves would go, ‘Wow, I love that.’ ”

Part of Bolke’s strategy is to forego widely
publicized looks, and to part with trends.

Part of Bolke’s strategy is to forego widely publicized looks, and to part with trends once they’re peaking in the market. Since shopping is a global affair thanks to the Internet, he increasingly negotiates with key suppliers for exclusive goods.

In addition, anyone successful in luxury retail today develops close relationships with clients partly by supporting their favorite philanthropic causes. Since day one, Forty Five Ten has helped raise funds for the Dallas Museum of Art, for example, which ties in nicely with the monied flock that embraces edgy fashion.

Bolke, who leads a four-person buying staff and says more hires are imminent, launched Forty Five Ten in 2000 with Bill Mackin and Shelley Musselman. Mackin subsequently left the business for an executive spot at Neiman Marcus, while Musselman, an oilman’s wife and former model, earned an international reputation for her grace, taste, and style. After Musselman died suddenly of an aneurysm in 2011, her husband, Jimmy, agreed to sell their share of the business.

Enter billionaire Tim Headington’s Headington Cos., which recognized Forty Five Ten as an ideal addition to the trendy district the company is building downtown around its Joule hotel. Headington CEO Michael Tregoning was drawn to the store’s deep roots and, most importantly, to its cachet with the affluent set. “Our whole raison d’être … is to create something that is truly unique,” Tregoning says. “Forty Five Ten is probably the only boutique retailer in the area that could move the needle.”

In fact, they want the needle not only to move, but to bounce. And, Forty Five Ten has topped out with sales in excess of $1,000 per square foot,  Bolke says. The four-story building under construction at the Headington development on Main Street will be five times larger than the current location (though a 129-year-old building was controversially razed to make way for it). The new store will boast 45,000 square feet including a top-floor cafe with a wrap-around patio and a large basement for e-commerce, which is projected to grow exponentially.

It’s a dream project for Bolke, a former Neiman’s creative director of store planning who has a degree in environmental design. Ironically and unintentionally, he says, some elements of the new space will reference the store’s 1930s-era edifice on McKinney, such as its scale and incorporation of natural light from both sides of the building. “It’s amazing how what we’ve loved for 15 years will translate—the feeling of it,” Bolke says.

Forty Five Ten has always been a temple of luxury, but the 2.0 version, due in early spring 2016, will also stock more accessibly priced goods, Tregoning notes. But, “We’re not talking H&M,” he hastens to add. “With growth plans as far as revenue and number of clients, you have to look at how to expand the business without alienating what you already have … Brian’s eye is extremely good. I’m sure he’ll find a way.”  

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