Elizabeth Lavin

Shopping

The Nasher’s Donald Fowler on What Makes a Great Gift, and Dressing For Your Age

Get to know the Nasher’s director of retail beyond the gift shop.

Donald Fowler is a passionate guy. Whether touting his latest finds at the Nasher Sculpture Center Store or talking about his new four-person musical, he says it’s all the same. “I don’t attack my job any differently than I do my art. It’s all forward motion. With everything in life, I try to push myself to the very edge of the tree limb, because that’s where the fruit is.”

Ranking among Dallas’ most renowned gift gurus, with a career that includes stints at the crème de la crème of retailers—Translations, Stanley Korshak, Nest, and now the Nasher—Fowler has refined a remarkable eye for good design. “Every job has taught me a different thing,” he says. “Early on, I learned that taste is something you acquire. It can be taught, but only by being in it and around it.”

He cites three essentials for great gifting: be appropriate, be thoughtful, and be fun. All apply to the best presents Fowler says he’s ever given (a song cycle of a friend’s favorite poems) and received (money to back his production of Creep, a horror mystery-musical about Jack the Ripper that he wrote and composed).

While he attended both Texas Tech and UNT, Fowler considers Playhouse West in Los Angeles his “real” schooling, studying with an array of aspiring actors including Jeff Goldblum. His flair for showmanship can be traced back to great-grandparents who were traveling vaudeville performers.

His biggest challenge is finding a way to blend his multidimensional careers and interests. “The visual arts world is very different than the performance arts world,” he says. “I’m just now getting a hand on it.”

In the shop, photo by Elizabeth Lavin

Fowler on…

The best roles: “I fall in love with all the guys I get to be, although there are a couple of roles I’d like to repeat. I would play the emcee in Cabaret again and Guido from Nine and Harry from The Collection—don’t get me started. Theater is my trade. I would never not do it.”

Stocking his shelves: “Approachability is key. The old days of exclusionary luxury are over. The internet has leveled the playing field. The only exception is artist-based work. That’s where the Nasher fits in because we can feature a lot of handmade goods. It’s the new luxury because everything else can be had.”

Trends to watch: “Aggressive out-of-the-box design and color. The ’80s. Punk. And the Ettore Sottsass, Memphis Group-inspired trend—unexpected forms, bold color, and graphic patterns—has just progressed.”

An Arts District gem: “The Artisan Craft Kitchen and Terrace Bar on Flora Street. It’s like a New York deli-diner, only better. You can eat indoors or out. There’s also handcrafted cocktails and tapas-style bites in the evening.”

His guilty pleasure: RuPaul’s Drag Race. I love it. This past season of all-stars where they crowned two queens was really good.”

Dressing for your age: “It’s a young man’s world, which is as annoying as hell to me. Finding the right balance can be tricky. When you get older, the details really matter—cuff links, socks, linings, all the hidden secrets. And it’s always good to add some humor, like a bright-colored pocket square. For work, a suit is always good if it’s tailored well. But it’s all about dressing appropriately. You also have to have a cool pair of tennis shoes, a cool t-shirt, and jeans that aren’t too tight.”

His apartment: “My main living area is Halston meets midcentury. The sofa is peacock-blue velvet. The curtains are khaki-green velvet. I have a midcentury dining table, but my chair seats are done in velvet tiger. There’s a brass sculpture on the table, which is very ’70s. The most interesting item I have is a Gaudí Calvet armchair.”

His fantasy dinner party: Cate Blanchett (“Her performance in Blue Jasmine is beyond extraordinary”), Chris Hemsworth (“Thor is my boy crush”), Tennessee Williams, Diana Vreeland (“Have you seen the documentary The Eye Has to Travel?”), Sean Penn, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (“He’d tell the best stories”).

His bucket list: “It’s bottomless and keeps changing. Prague. Creep going to Broadway. My new musical, Oregon, getting written and produced. And the Nasher being recognized as one of the top five museum stores in the world.”

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