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how your favorite shop shops
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We are all too familiar with the unflattering stereotype of Texans: those new acquirers of wealth who mix a notorious lack of taste with a particular love of extravagance and ostentatiousness. Yet as Dallas continues to prosper, it’s hard to ignore the city’s impact on business, culture and fashion.

But what is the fashion industry’s view of Dallas customers? Why do buyers buy as they do, and do they buy differently for Dallas consumers? Who, if anyone, is responsible for setting local fashion trends? We put these questions to some of Dallas’

leading retailers, buyers and designers, and found their responses diverse and provocative.

“Dallas women have a special kind of independence mixed with a die-hard belief in femininity,” says Craig Lidji, vice president and buyer for Lou Lattimore, a prestigious family-owned specialty store. At 26, Lidji has been in and around retail for most of his life-and if there is one thing he knows (in addition to clothing), it’s his customers. He says that Dallas women don’t necessarily follow trends but are more interested in being well-groomed and in looking and feeling beautiful. “For example,” he says, “my customers rejected the menswear look that was prevalent this past year, along with the Japanese look, which just wasn’t upbeat enough. There’s a vigorous quality to this city and its people, and some clothes just don’t fit the mood.” Although Lidji believes that his customers don’t follow fashion trends, Lou Lattimore is not considered a conservative store-it carries the latest “fun” fashions, as well as standard classics. “We pride ourselves on being the first to carry certain designers,” Lidji says, “and we try to provide a broad range for age groups.” (Lidji was the first retailer in the country to buy the designs of both Stephen Sprouse and Carolina Herrera.) And although Dallas is viewed nationwide as an affluent city, Lidji points out that his Dallas customers have a no-nonsense attitude about prices. “Women here are interested in value and common-sense shopping,” he says. “They never buy just for the sake of spending.” When it comes to buying, Lidji confides that he tries to keep an open mind for every market. “I always try to let the market educate me,” he says, adding that he strives to please himself as well as his customers. “I have never bought anything I didn’t like.” But, he says, “Fashion shouldn’t be dictated by anyone. It should be inspired-and that inspiration can come from the streets or the couture runway.”

“The Dallas woman loves color, and she loves it 12 months out of the year,” says Shelle Bagot, The Gazebo’s owner and buyer. “This is an important distinction from the East Coast, where women go more for beige, navy or black.” Other distinguishing traits of Dallas women, says Bagot, are that they shop a great deal, dress for men and are very label-conscious. Bagot’s job is a demanding one, since she must divide her time between the marketplaces of the world (keeping current on what’s being shown in New York, Paris and Milan) and the floor of her shop so that, she says, “I will know my customers and their needs.” Bagot notes that Dallas women of today are more secure and self-confident in their fashion outlooks and, as a result, “we don’t have that mannequin look of the past.” Bagot says that there isn’t a more fashion-aware group of women in the country than in Dallas. “I am very committed to making a fashion statement at The Gazebo,” Bagot says. “After all, this is a fashion store. People want the newest and the best, and we want to provide it.” She says that the major change she’s seen in Dallas women is that they have become more individualistic in their personal style and approach to fashion: “The Dallas woman will not be dictated to. If it doesn’t look good on, she doesn’t want it.”

“Yes, Marshall Field’s does buy a little differently for its Dallas store,” says Sandy Sacks, senior vice president of Marshall Field’s Texas division. “We buy more color and experimental fashion for the Dallas market. And we find that the buyers who visit from Chicago and spend time with us tend to buy earlier-not just for the climate, but because the action is faster here. The race is on in Dallas to see who can do it the fastest and the best.” Ten or 15 years ago, he says, he would have described Dallas’ fashion look for men as “burgundy polyester with white patent leather” and for women “uninteresting and uninspired, like Ultra-suede. But not anymore!” Why? Because Dallas is coming of age: “There are many diversified looks-much more contemporary and fun. In the past, people were unwilling to experiment. They went into a store and bought the whole outfit-from the stockings and shoes down to precise accessories- and they never deviated from that look. Today there is a much broader acceptance of many different styles, from a short leather mini to a long full skirt. And it’s because there are so many people involved and interested in the fashion industry overall that it can support a myriad of looks. And that’s healthy.”

Daria Retian, vice president and director of fashion communications at Neiman-Marcus, says that there is no longer a single fashion look in Dallas. Why? Because the city, as well as its residents, she says, has become more “international and cosmopolitan.”

“There used to be a very ’bon chic’ look led by retailers who understood ’bon chic,’” Retian says. “In the past, people were very proper and conservative. They needed the reassurance of a store to put them together, and the stores made a big effort to do this. But today, she says, there is a real change in who dictates a fashion look: “The designers of grande couture and the grande dames used to lead the pack, and people who wanted to belong followed the rules of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and watched what the stores unveiled each season. Now, clothes are seasonless; people travel everywhere. They decide for themselves their own looks and their own styles. They are much more independent than before.” Retian says that certain trends used to start with the fashion elite at very high prices and were then reinterpreted for the masses. Now it starts anywhere and everywhere in between. But Retian is quick to point out that it is most definitely the customers who dictate fashion. “Many a look has been destroyed because it did not fit customers’ lifestyles or moods,” she says. “It is very important not to divorce fashion from lifestyle. Fashion is not just what you have on your back; it is your whole way of life.”

Todd Oldham, a Dallas-based fashion designer with three divisions (Congovid, Congodress and Todd Oldham Menswear) to his credit, creates clothing that’s carried in such stores as Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Lou Lattimore and Trouvé. When asked about a “Dallas look,” Oldham says that younger people appear to be setting the trends. “We’re getting there,” he says. “Have you been to Valley View lately? The kids out there know what’s happening. There’s a big MTV influence, and kids are having more fun and experimenting with different looks.” Oldham says that there are two distinctly different approaches to fashion in Dallas: “There are some people who understand how to put a new look together. Then there’s the Old Guard, who follow traditional rules and have never developed their own style. But that’s okay, since the Old Guard gives Dallas that special flavor of the romantic South that is so distinctive and rare-a kind of Old World charm.” He says that if there is one thing that marks a difference in Dallas fashion today, it’s that people have so many options from which to choose: “Good con-temoorarv manufacturers are doing fashion at a price that people can afford.” He considers his own designs to be in this category, but says that he does not design for the masses: “My clothes are not mainstream at all; I do things that I would like to wear.” But, he says, “Women should have the confidence to dress for themselves. I suppose if one wants to follow a dictator, there are many to choose from as far as designers are concerned. But in the end, we’re all just editors, and we keep reinterpreting.”

As owner of and buyer for Harold’s in Highland Park Village, Becky Casey is no newcomer to the world of fashion and retail. Her father, Harold Powell, has been in the fashion business for 36 years and owns and operates eight stores throughout the Southwest. Harold’s has become a Dallas institution by building its business on a distinctive style of clothing that has its heritage in a menswear tradition.

“The thing I’ve noticed is how well-put-together the young people are here,” says Casey. “I always look at the junior market because they can really pick up on a trend.” Casey says that the approach at Harold’s is “to buy what we like and what we would be comfortable wearing ourselves. We study the designers, go to all the domestic markets and make two trips a year to England, as well. We really strive to be aware of what’s happening in the fashion world at large, and then we reinterpret it for our own special look.” Fabrication is the key at Harold’s. “We used to wonder why the quality that was inherent in menswear was missing in womenswear,” Casey says. “We decided to take menswear fabrics and translate them into women’s clothing that was tailored but still soft and feminine. Our clothes are timeless, and we like to think of them as investment pieces.” As to who dictates a fashion look, Casey says that it’s a matter of editing: “The designer creates the fashions which are, in turn, edited by the buyers; but the customer is the final word. The only true sign of success is at the consumer level.”

Jan Barboglio Feldman-Macdonald and Cristina Barboglio Lynch started their Dallas design business in 1981, and were an overnight success here and in New York. “Albert Lidji was our first Dallas account,” Jan says, “and when we went to New York shortly thereafter, Saks Fifth Avenue bought from the line.” Both women rate Dallas as a very fashion-conscious city-“a lot more so than many other cities.” And, they say, fashion in Dallas is led by the individual: “Both of us feel very strongly that no majority of the populace can be dictated to by a fashion look or designer,” Cristina says. “That just doesn’t happen anymore. Take, for instance, the variety of skirt lengths acceptable today. It depends on the individual’s taste.” Both designers say that there are two very obvious influences that affect fashions today: “We are influenced first by the European collections. Secondly, lifestyle and climate play major roles in affecting how one dresses. We see this all the time on our side of the business,” says Jan. “For example, a buyer from a large specialty store such as Neiman-Marcus will buy different looks for different parts of the country. It’s still the same store, and it’s all from the same line, but different regions have different needs. When we approach a new collection, we do try to take the different regions into consideration, especially in piece-good selections and in the way particular items can be added to a certain look-such as layering for New York.” The sisters feel that the underlying mood of their designs is femininity. Says Jan, “We find that too often people have mistakenly assumed that if something is frivolous or feminine, it’s not sophisticated. But that’s not true-it can be both, and we hope we’ve shown that.”

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