You want Escada? I got Escada!

The flashy German designer has been the rage of Ladies Who Lunch. Now it needs a younger, hipper customer. What Ann Dunn knows about selling fabulous fashion to the most darling girls.

Everybody calls her the Flying Dunn.

You don’t have to know Ann Dunn long to understand why. At 5-foot-10. she cuts a striking figure working the plum real estate at Lilly Dodson/Escada. That’s her: flying from the phone to her fitting room, flying from the Lilly Dodson half of the Highland Park Village boutique, through Shoes, and into the gold mine that is Escada. Part Zig Ziglar, part used-car salesman, Dunn could sell Mary Kay to a Prada junkie.

She talks rapid-fire, punctuating her run-on sentences with the unexpected exclamation point, lowering her voice when she realty wants to draw you in. snapping her fingers to speed things up. Spend a day with Dunn and you’ll understand why she gave up that morning Coke. Everything is: A) FABulous, B) A-dor-able, C)Yummy. D) A hoot! Her clients are: E) Darling gals. When the Flying Dunn is making a sale, there’s no one else in the world, no one quite like you-those bones! that face!- who could wear Escada in quite that way. In spite of yourself, you believe her. It looks FABulous!

Yummy! Such a darling gal.

When she’s really passionate about defending a point of view (like, say, the peculiar hold Escada has on rich Dallas women who like to bathe themselves in loud, look-at-me colors like fuchsia), she’ll thump her chest. “I’m a Texan!” she declares. “I’m a born-and-raised, dead-on Texan!” Thump, thump. “And I can wear my pink, but I can also wear my black.” Thump. “I want to get people out of the box!” The box: That’s Dunn-speak for stereotypes.

Don’t “box in” her clients. She resists the notion that the Escada faithful can be contained in that box that says “Well-Preserved Society Matron.”

Dunn offers a big, glossy Escada look-book of the spring/summer collection as proof. On its pages are Vogue-like photos of pouty. Escadaclad twentysomethings, some of them bra-less, others navelbaring (a teal in itself, given the fact [fiai [he collection hay never been designed to be the slightest bit provocative). In fact, in Dallas-where the German fashion house built one of its four U.S. flagships to accommodate the overwhelming demand-the Escada faithful is made up of Gene Jones, Pat Patterson, Nancy Scholz, Lana Andrews. and other assorted well-married, and well-divorced women of, you know, a certain age. “I hate to put my ladies in a box,” Dunn says emphatically, quickly moving on to her next thought, which was, oh yes, let’s see. her uniform.

Like the other Escada sales associates, Dunn is required to wear Escada on the job. The uniform-a conservative, gun-metal gray pantsuit-is not so much Escada as we know it, but Escada as Escada wants us to know it. The German fashion label uses color the way Helmut Lang uses black (unabashedly). The uniforms are key to the company’s push to present itself as a more forgiving Giorgio Armani, a more accessible Calvin Klein.

Wearing gun-metal gray all day long is no small concession for someone like Dunn, a leggy beauty with an innate sense of style. She once took a job as a Braniff flight attendant just so she could wear the Pucci- and Halston-designed uniforms.

“I must tell you, from the heart,” Dunn says, “this is the one thing I disagree with. I believe people attach themselves to you because you create that credibility where they say, ’Hmmm, I like your style.’ Unfortunately, this is not me. So it’s difficult when people see what I have on.”

Dunn was peddling an altogether different sensibility at Stanley Korshak when she got a call from Bill Dodson in 1990. He was opening a third location of the boutique his mother launched in Richardson 36 years ago. Looking for someone to lure a new kind of customer to the new kind of Lilly Dodson, he called Ann Dunn at the suggeslion of a mutual friend. She was content selling cutting-edge to the fashion-conscious m Korshak but agreed to meet with Dodson anyway. Five years passed before Dunn, out on her own as a wardrobe consultant, called up Dodson asking if his offer were still good. In the midst of a nasty divorce, she needed the kind of security an entrepreneurial venture couldn’t offer.

By then, Dodson had closed the Richardson store, as well as the second location on Oak Lawn. The Lilly Dodson in Highland Park Village– virtually the last of a dying breed of locally owned, high-end specialty boutiques-had found its niche selling Escada, the curiously popular line of flashy yet conservative women’s wear based not in New York, not in Paris, not in Milan, but in Munich, of all places.

As it turns out. Margaretha Ley. the late German designer who launched Escada 21 years ago, knew something about fashion as it relates to Dallas women. When Dunn went to work for Bill Dodson in 1995, Dodson business was growing at an annual rate of 20 percent, mostly because of the overwhelming demand for Escada, In turn, Lilly Dodson earned national rights to debut the label’s fall and spring collections twice a year. Although most people in Dallas thought of Lilly Dodson and Escada as one and the same, the line was just one of Lilly Dodson’s many vendors. Until the end of last year, anyway, when Escada opened its own Dallas boutique in the old Gerald Tomlin Antiques space. From the outside, Lilly Dodson and Escada appear to be separate {the movie theater divides the two. and each has its own entrance), but they are actually one. The arrangement is entirely unique: Dodson owns the boutique that bears the name of his mother (who retired in 19%) and oversees the one that accounts for half of his overall business. The Dallas Escada is projecting S8 million in sales this year, making it fourth among the company’s 1.1.S. boutiques, behind New York. Beverly Hills, and Chicago.

“My present employment has been terribly lucrative.” says Dunn, who worked the sales floors at the Dallas Sakowitz. (until it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy) and Stanley Korshak (which opened its doors just in time for the 1980s recession). “We make a lot of money here.”

How much, of course, she won’t say, although Dodson himself says top sales associates like Dunn easily bring in six figures a year working on a combination of commission and salary.

By all appearances, peddling big shoulders and short skirts-in the most mix-and-matchable, Garanimal-worthy colors imaginable-is clearly lucrative. Last year, “a really good year,” Dunn bought the apartment next door to her place on the 15th floor of a Turtle Creek high-rise. After renovations are complete, she’ll have a commanding-FABulous, you might say-view of downtown Dallas.

“When these women spend,” she says of the Escada faithful, “man, they spend.”’

À typical day goes something like this:

9:00 An hour before the doors open at Lilly Dodson/Escada, 12 sales associates are gathered for a crash course on Zang Toi,

Nordstrom held the Dallas exclusive on the Malaysian designer best known for brightly colored, body-hugging pieces with plenty of embellishment. But then Bill Dodson discovered the department store was selling $300,000 worth of Zang Toi a year. Not only could Dodson use a cut of the business, but the designer could be a powerful lure for that younger customer he’s been thinking about lately. And since Zang Toi qualifies as “event dressing”-the credo at Lilly Dodson/Escada- -he wouldn’t be alien-ating his longtime patrons,

Dodson is launching the designer with a two-day trunk show^-retail-speak for the traveling showcase of a designer’s upcoming collection. Trunk shows are big business for Bill Dodson: The Lilly Dodson boutique does about $4 million El year through 30 trunk shows; the semiannual Escada trunk shows, the largest in the world, bring in $3.5 million combined.

Half of the sales associates al Lilly Dodson/Escada work for Lilly Dodson and the other half for Escada, But everyone cross-sells. Escada, they know. Zang Toi? They’re still trying to get the pronunciation down.

This morning, a representative for the designer (zang toy, not zang twah, as a few sales associates have guessed) is here to show the collection, explain the way each piece should be worn, and offer sales tips.

“Nana Trump is a huge client,” the rep says, as a model emerges from the fitting room wearing ;in icy-blue hand-embroidered strapless mini underneath a sweeping, to-the-floor skirt that opens in back to reveal plenty of calf. The confection is Cinderella all the way.

“Ivana Trump,” the rep adds, “bought this dress in three colors.”

Thrree takes on Cinderella at $6.000 apiece? The sales associates are appropriately impressed, but the Ivana mention is more than just a celebrity name-drop. The sales associates will use it the same way a real estate agent uses location: as a seal-the-deal sales tool. What better image to offer the Lilly Dodson/Escada customer than Ivana Trump, poster girl for the wealthy, preserved, leased, and bleached?

But the icy-blue Cinderella ensemble evokes a different image for Dunn. Forget Ivana. ’This is very Sharon Stone,” she says to herself, scribbling the names of clients- Karen Weiner, Julie Harrison, Jo Heinz., June Bennett-onto a sheet of paper.

“You can call il Dallas,” Dunn says, “but it’s very Hollywood.”

10:30 Until Ann Dunn showed up for her first day of work four years ago and viewed-in full-all the Escada, she’d never seen so much color Entire racks devoted to screaming yellow, powdery pink, lime green. Nancy Reagan red.

And fuchsia. Who knew there was enough of a demand in Dallas to devote this much square footage to fuchsia? Big-shouldered fuchsia blazers, short little fuchsia minis, pleated fuchsia trousers, silk fuchsia blouses. spectator pumps, and handbags.

It wasn’t long before Durai witnessed her first Escada trunk show. The Stanley Korshak alum who had built a career selling a minimalist’s view of fashion (in a color spectrum that began at gray and rarely ventured beyond black) stood to the side and watched her coworkers sell $2 million worth of Escada over the course of four days.

The Flying Dunn got the message: Color sells.

“At Korshak, I was used to selling Armani, Calvin. Donna-edgy, loved it. There’s nothing in fashion 1 don’t like. Bui when I walked in the door here and saw a loi of color, well, I wasn’t used to color.” This is Dunn’s testimonial. Confession is about to give way to epiphany. “The reason I was brought over here was to bring in a new client, a different client. But the thing is, it’s not a different client!” Pause for emphasis. “It’s not!”

Not thai her Korshak clients could be convinced. Bill Dodson sent a letter to Dunn”s longtime customers announcing (he arrival of his star sales associate. Bui even thai wasn’t enough. Dunn had to work the phones.

She’s still working the phones.

“I’m real funny about putting things in boxes because that’s what I’ve had to break down to get my very edgy clients over here.” she says. “I’d say, ’Y’all, really, you (rusted me at Korshak. puh-lease trust me here.” They would say. ’But. Ann’”-Dunn leans in and lowers her voice as if she is about to say something scandalous-“’it’s really not my kind of stare.’” She steps back, throws her amis out as if to embrace the world of Escada around her. “So we’d do pieces. Look around! See how prenyl See how bright!”

She pulls from the rack a pink jeans jacket ($650) and a pair of matching pink jeans (S^65). “Look at these FABulous pink jean1-outfits. 1 have some clients who would say, “Ohmygod Ann. are you kidding?’ But it’s all attitude. It isn’t color. I’ll put any color together. What color doesn’t go together?”

Well, you think to yourself,pUik. But you lack the energy-Dunn’s energy-to challenge her theory.

“Four years ago, it. was, ’You’re wearing that pink suit? Ohmygod. I wouldn’t he caught dead in pink!’ Now, as you can see. the Sharon Stones of the world have led us. Our Hollywood starlets have always led us.”

The key to Dunn’s six-figure success; She uses one side of the store to lure customers to the other.

Over the course of the two-day Zang Toi Bunk show, she’ll call her former Korshak clients to come in and see the collection: before they leave, she’ll introduce them to Escada. Meanwhile, she’ll introduce Zang Toi to the steady stream of Escada faithful.

Right now, Dunn is perched at her desk “front and center Escada” (as she refers to her “territory”), working the phones. She’s got two days to get her “’edgy clients’” in to see Zang Toi. Two overstuffed client books filled with (altered dossiers going back to her Korshak days are open before her.

“I am just a nut because usually Em going 90 miles an hour.” she says, opening one of the client books. “There are salespeople who write down ever)’ single thing they sell (heir clients.” Phone to ear. she is searching for a number. “Certain clients. I remember every single tiring in their closets because I’ve bonded with them. And then there arc some 1 kind of don”t remember-but I know what they like.” She is dialing the number. “Its kind of like if you drive a white car. the next time around you’ll probably drive a white car. Did you know that? If a woman walks in wearing a red suit, believe me, you can sell her another red suit.”

But what about Zang Toi?

She gets the client’s answering machine arid leaves a message telling her all about the FABulous things she’s got from Zang Toi. “It’s very Sharon Stone…”

12:20 Dunn’s 12:30 appointment is early.

The sixtysome- thing matron from Wichita Falls-a. “longtime client who followed me from Stanley Korshak, thank you God!” Dunn says, bringing her hands together and looking up to the ceiling-regularly flies into Dallas by private plane just to shop Escada. Today. she’s here not 10 shop but. to pick up an Escada outfit she left for alterations. The woman, among Dunn’s lop 15 clients, is already hooked on Escada. Dunn will use the opportunity to sell Zang Toi,

She guides Wichita Falls through the shoe department-the line of demarcation separating Escada from Lilly Dodson-leans in, and lowers her voice. “You know,” Dunn says, her tone hushed and confidential, “Sharon Stone loves Zang Toi.”

Wichita Falls returns the kind of blank, expression that says Sharon Who?, and Dunn (being Dunn) smoothly, seamlessly, summons the belter image. She invokes. Ivana Trump’s name. Ahhh, says Wichita Falls, nodding her head.

Like the fisherman who casts his line with the wrong bait only to | discover his error in lime to substitute a tastier morsel. Dunn is able to keep Wichita Falls on the line: She offers the woman a drink, then Hies down to the 5,900 square feet of office space in the basement (otherwise known as “the Dungeon”) to retrieve a Diet Coke.

Wichita Falls, left browsing the Zang Toi racks, has a look on her face thai suggests she is trying to picture Ivana Trump in the shapely, sparkly minis and skin-tight pantsuits before her. Within minutes, the Flying Dunn returns with a Diet Coke.

But Wichita Falls has wandered fur from Zang Toi. Dunn finds her hack in Escada, trying on her newest (now-altered) Escada in Dunn’s designated fitting room (located. handily, in Escada Couture). Dunn offers her the Diet Coke, but Wichita Falls declines.

’Tm ready to go.” she says.

Dunn seems stunned. In a tare moment, she is left with nothing to say.

Except; “Want a to-go cup?”

1:00 It’s lunchtime at Cafe Highland Park, and the Flying Dunn is thinking about Bob Minyard.

With 20 shopping days left till Christmas, she sent ’’Wish Lists” to the men in her client books, offering suggestions on what to buy the women in their lives. After she mailed a Wish List to the heir of the Minyard grocery store chain-“one of my FAVorite gentlemen in this city! Is he not a hoot?!” -he called her back and said, “Annie, thank you for the suggestions, but my girlfriend wants pylons and weights.”

Pylons and weights?

“’For her boat.’”

“All I could say was, ’Ohmygod. Bobby, you picked the right person.”

But then, last night, she woke from a dead sleep with a flash. “1 thought to myself, ’OK. in the middle of winter, when the boat is in the davit somewhere, what do you need? You need a little fragrance to warm things up!”’

When she gets back to the store, she’ll call Minyard and suggest a bottle of Escada Eau de Parfum ($100 for a 3.4-ounce boule). In fact, she probably ought: to do that now, Dunn summons the waiter. Could he package her salad in a to-go box?

“You never want to miss the guys,” she says;, gathering her things.

3:00 Originally, il was lemonade.

Little Ann Shirreff was not just another East Dallas kid with a lemonade stand. She was Hie kid with a sales incentive. Neighbors who bought this many cups of cold lemonade also got a bag of plastic toys-at no extra cost! -taken from Ann’s own collection of gumball-machine rejects.

“I’ve always been very competitive,” Dunn says.

Getting a young woman to buy Escada is just as challenging. The key. Dunn has discovered, is to get it on her body,

Witness the Flying Dunn in motion: She’ll takes a fuchsia blazer off the rack. walk far from the rest of the fuchsia to gel it “out of context,” and then throw it dramatically onto the floor, next to a pair of black pants (“Bill hates it when I do this!”). Once she’s paired the pieces against the floor’s neutral backdrop and shows that- tempered with a little black-Escada doesn’t have to be blinding, she’ 11 pick up the blazer. Placing herself-strategically-between the client and the mirror, she’ll slip the blazer onto the woman’s back, adjust the collar and the shoulders, secure the buttons, and then step aside.

Dunn believes impressions are made within 30 seconds, She’s careful to gel il right before her 30 seconds begin. “Stanley Marcus used to say, ’Show a customer three items in three different price points and. No, 1, you’re going to catch her style, and, No. 2, you’re going to catch her price point.””

Back from lunch, her three afternoon appointments are, variously: early, late, and on time. Three Carolina Herrera gowns are waiting for the woman who’s looking for a dress to wear to her daughter’s wedding. (Dunn sells one of the three.) At least three outfits await the young woman who just had a baby ami needs a few things to get her through the holiday party season. (.Dunn sells them all.) An altered suit waits for the woman in a third fitting room.

Flying from one fitting room to another (and another), she never gets around to .showing any of them Zang Toi. She doesn’t have to.

7:00 An hour after Lilly Dodson/Escada closes its doors for the day, Dunn is .still selling.

The sales floor, at this hoar, is down Preston Road at the Highland Park home of Deedie Rose. An organization called the Friends of Contemporary Art has gathered for a reception. The group is made up, largely, of Dunn’s former clientele at Korshak. Which is why she stopped by her apartment first to change out of her Escada gun-metal gray and into some-thing from her own closet.

Dunn involves herself in the Dallas social scene “not because I’m so social,” she explains, “but rather because this is where I meet my clients.” Tonight she wears what could pass for a black Armani suit, but is, in fact, from the Escada Coulure collection. Dunn’s no fool. She’s dressed specifically for a crowd that thinks Screaming fuchsia! when they think Escada (assuming they think of Escada at all).

“Sometimes people have the misconception that Escada is only about color,” she says, building up to one of her impassioned points of view. “If you are traveling to Monte Carlo and you want to wear all pink, so be it! Who am I to judge someone for not wearing all black?!” Dunn thumps her chest. This is my favorite,” she says of lier black Escada Couture suit. “Ann Dunn’s favorite. “But does that mean 1 don’t like to sell pink cashmere? I’ve gotten to where ! love it.”

Tonight’s crowd is not the pink set.

What looks like a sea of black and gray to anyone else looks like ’tons of future Zang Toi clients” to Dunn. She zeroes in on Mary Noel Lament, one of her former clients at Korshak. Lamont has shopped Lilly Dodson/Escada but rarely buys anything for herself. “Hopefully, at some point, she will become a grand customer. But truly, you can’t be everything to everybody.”

Not that she isn’i trying to he. Within minutes, Dunn is telling Lamont about Zang Toi. The line is FABulous! Yummy !

The Flying Dunn is on. Leaning in and lowering her voice, she swoops in to seal the deal. “It’s very Hollywood, very Sharon Stone…”


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