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Two Legends Share How Dallas Is Shaping Fashion

We chatted with designer Levi Palmer and New York Fashion Week founder Fern Mallis about how the city is influencing fashion around the world.
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Jan Strimple Productions’ Jan Strimple presents an award to designers Levi Palmer (middle) and Matthew Harding at The Fashion Group International of Dallas’ The Night of Stars Gala on November 18. Courtesy of The Fashion Group International of Dallas

Earlier this month, The Fashion Group International of Dallas hosted The Night of Stars Gala, a black-tie event at the Thompson Hotel. Held each year, the gala raises funds to provide scholarships for local fashion students in programs at El Centro, Wade College, and others. 

In a room full of prominent Dallasites sporting avant-garde looks, some of the most recognizable leaders in fashion were honored at the November 18 event for their innovation and achievement. The evening’s wardrobe included floor-length gowns of all colors and suits paired with surprising accessories like chains and bolo ties. In addition to the award show, legendary French fashion designer Pierre Cardin put on a rare runway show for the crowd to enjoy.

The event’s attendees included the night’s award-winners, like Cardin; Fern Mallis, the creator of New York Fashion Week and writer of Fashion Lives: Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis; and Dallas designer Levi Palmer, who co-created the London-based ready-to-wear line palmer//harding with partner Matthew Harding. All of the award-winners have one thing in common—they are icons. Each has made significant strides in the fashion industry, bolstering innovation and contributing to the field as we know it today through design and special events.

“I mean it from the heart, this award is a huge acknowledgment for us,” Palmer tells D, reflecting on his experience at the gala. “For me, it’s recognition of the work and dedication and belief and talent that Dallas has. It’s a communal recognition.”

Palmer himself is an example of the talent coming out of the Dallas area that the night celebrated: He attended El Centro’s Fashion Program in 2001. 

“I think the support that Dallas has always provided emerging talent, and not just the financial support, but I think the pride that something is homegrown is one of the most progressive social mindsets,” says Palmer.

Palmer notes that although Dallas is a continually evolving and growing fashion city, the local design schools have had a quiet presence in the fashion world and aren’t receiving as much attention as other more notable schools. Accessibility is a big factor. When comparing the local Dallas fashion programs to the big-name, private fashion schools, there are prominent differences in resources, like materials to work with and general notability.

Nevertheless, the fashion scene in Dallas is one that inspires. 

“There’s nothing like [Dallas shopping] in New York,” Mallis says. “I mean, it’s fantastic. The merchandise mix, the edits, the collections—[Dallas] has everything from the fragrance to the home to the fashion. I’m glad I don’t live here because I’d really be broke.”

The Dallas shopping phenomenon is something that Palmer leaned on to get exposure while creating palmer//harding. When Palmer and Harding started their label, they were competing with many other brands to get into the coveted department stores in fashion capitals like Paris and New York City. However, Palmer had a different idea. Unlike their competitors, they decided to pursue retail opportunities in North Texas. Dallas is the home of Neiman-Marcus, after all, and Highland Park Village, one of the first luxury shopping centers in the country. The city has long been a pivotal, if less frequently recognized, location for brands to sky-rocket into the hands of American fashion consumers.

“We were like, ‘you can have them, we’re gonna go into America through the side door,’” says Palmer, who will dress former First Lady Michelle Obama in palmer//harding for her upcoming book tour. “We were able to cultivate these amazing relationships with smaller retailers that no one was really thinking about internationally.”

For Palmer, his start at El Centro, plus the influence of local retailers, helped to usher him into the international fashion scene. And if The Fashion Group International of Dallas has anything to say about it, many more will follow in his footsteps.


Zoe Roberts

Zoe Roberts

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