Fashion / Shopping

The New Face of Dallas Fashion

Already a Creative Rock Star, Kristen Cole is Getting Down to the Business of Shaking Up the Fashion World

BY // 09.07.18
photography Misael Rodriguez

In February, Kristen Cole landed in the relentless glare of the spotlight. Her concept store, Tenoversix, which she founded in Los Angeles in 2008 and subsequently brought to Dallas in 2013 (and Miami earlier this year), was acquired by Headington Companies. In the same breath, Cole was named president and chief creative officer of fashion juggernaut Forty Five Ten, as well as Tenoversix — an appointment that rocked the retail and fashion scenes.

What would this new face mean for the future of both companies — the former, a beloved Dallas staple, and the latter, an avant-garde new kid on the block. Headington Companies, which is based in Dallas and owned by the enigmatic and ambitious Tim Headington, reigns over The Joule, Forty Five Ten and restaurants Sassetta, Wheelhouse, Americano, and CBD Provisions. But that’s another story for another day.

Kristen Cole’s new charge is a heady one: Expand both brands into new markets (Forty Five Ten Aspen and a gargantuan flagship in New York’s Hudson Yards are on the way); evolve the stores’ creative visions; and lead Headington Companies’ retail strategy. Yet Kristen and her husband-collaborator, Joe Cole, are no strangers to Headington Companies.

Kristen brought Tenoversix to Dallas as part of Headington’s Joule hotel lobby expansion, while her husband came on board as a creative consultant, advising Headington Companies’ hospitality, restaurant, interior design, retail, branding, and programming concepts. Shortly after opening Tenoversix here, the couple left L.A. — they shuttered the L.A. Tenoversix in 2017 — and moved to Austin, where Kristen was creative director of luxury retailer ByGeorge.

Since taking the Headington helm, Kristen has kept a relatively low-profile, as she quietly made changes corporately and cosmetically to both Forty Five Ten and Tenoversix. But on this balmy August afternoon, six months after her career shift and a week before she moved into her new Preston Hollow home, Kristen Cole is finally ready to chat. We take a seat in a quiet corner of the bar at Mirador — Kristen, casual-cool in a Rosetta Getty skirt, Céline pumps, and a Balenciaga blouse — for what evolved into an hourlong conversation about everything from feminism to the nitty-gritty of running a bourgeoning retail empire.

One thing is certain: Kristen is far more than a creative mind. She is direct and savvy, with an uncompromising vision. And she is ready to get down to business.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Nutshell: I grew up on the East Coast in suburban New Jersey, spent summers on Cape Cod. I’m an East Coast girl. NYU for undergrad and Parsons School of Design for graduate school in fashion design. Lived in New York for my 20s. Lived in L.A. for most of my 30s. I’ve been in Austin for the last three and a half years.

Those are two big transitions.

And I’m about to do it again, moving from Austin to Dallas. I kept an apartment in New York forever. I still have roots there. It was very formative — all of my early fashion, design, and styling jobs were there. My fashion community, by and large, is there.

You’ll be here full-time?

Yes. We just bought a house here. And we’re getting an apartment in New York this fall.

You’ll be spending a lot of time in New York with Forty Five Ten opening in Hudson Yards.

Well, I always go a lot. I’m basically there every other month — and with the store opening, I’ll probably be there once a month.

Your new Dallas home.

Preston Hollow. I’m really excited about the move to Dallas. It’s going to be nice to sink my teeth into everything here.

The decorating process. Is that a big thing for you?

I’m equally interested in fashion and design. Part of my forming Tenoversix was wanting to put fashion and design and everything that speaks the same language — that’s part of the same community — under one roof. The house we’re moving into is gallery-like. It’s very white-box simple, so it will be mostly about our art and our furniture.

What art are you collecting?

My husband and I have a collection of mostly contemporary art and a little bit modern. Some ’60s and ’70s modern like Laddie John Dill and Julian Stanczak, which is all very cubist and very modern. Contemporary art… we have Katherine Bradford, Katherine Bernhardt, Tony Matelli (which we absolutely love), John Riepenhoff… a lot of younger cool contemporary artists.

You and your husband live, work, create together. How does that all work?

We met in New York when we were in our early 20s and have been working and collaborating and doing different things together — and apart — ever since.

Your engagement ring is gorgeous.

It’s vintage Art Deco from the ’30s. My husband and I got it in Los Angeles, where we got engaged. We got married in Palm Springs. It’s onyx and diamonds. I wear a lot of contemporary designs, for sure — but I do love vintage, and we are going to have a bigger component of vintage jewelry at Forty Five Ten and Tenoversix.

Tell me about the beginning of Tenoversix.

It was the result of moving to Los Angeles and being in a void landscape of good retail. No one can even imagine that now because L.A. has become such a Mecca, but when we moved to Silver Lake in 2008, there were no good shops. There was Maxfield and Fred Segal, and that was it. There was nothing cool and young and emerging. I had been so surrounded by that in New York, and I traveled a lot to Dover Street Market in London, Corso Como in Milan, and Colette in Paris.

I was so disappointed by the retail scene that I decided to move out of styling and design and into retail. It was a way to support the people I knew who were young designers and young artists and put it all under one roof. It was the first concept store — no one was doing anything like that in L.A. Now, there’s so much great retail there. That is one of the many reasons I knew it was time to leave.

When you opened Tenoversix in Dallas, did you ever imagine you would end up running Forty Five Ten as well?

No! That’s the interesting and surprising and lovely thing about life. It always surprises you. Even when we were building our home in Austin, we were like, ‘We think we’ll be here for a while.’ But we know enough to know — and we know ourselves enough to know — that who knows. We’ll see where life brings us. Definitely, this was unexpected. If I told my 21-year-old self that I’d be moving to Texas, I’d be like, ‘What?!’ But it’s surprising, and I’m legitimately very excited.

Tell us about the 21-year-old self. What formative moments shaped your career?

At NYU, I majored in international business and economics and minored in women’s studies. I thought I wanted to do something with women and something philanthropic. But I was around the fashion scene. Sex and the City was on. Pat Fields was in my neighborhood. I was really into editorial shoots and magazines, and I got into styling. I wanted to be part of that visual world and took a sharp turn. I got an internship at a fashion blog. I started going to Parsons. And it quickly turned into a fashion career. I designed for Theory. I designed shoes for all sorts of different designers. I did a lot of runway collaborations and a lot of celebrity styling, editorial styling, and commercial styling. I fully delved into that world.

And then came another pivot: from styling and design into retail.

Starting Tenoversix was a nice moment for me to synthesize all my interests in design, fashion, editorial, and creative direction. When you curate a store, you have an opportunity to create a story — I hate to use the word curate — and manifest all these synergies between different disciplines. I like creating a little world for people to come into, get out of the real world, and get inspired.

Creating a fantasy world is very much what we do at the magazine.

And it’s a service — especially in these times.

You talked about women’s issues. That’s very topical right now.

I hire talented women. I buy a lot of collections that are designed by women and women-led companies. I’m co-chairing something in Austin for Planned Parenthood. My husband and I support women artists As a total feminist, it has always been top of mind for me.

I think it’s good in fashion to have that consciousness.

I work in a fun — I don’t want to say frivolous — field. You know, it’s not essential. It’s the fun and the fluff of life. It’s important and inspiring and good for our souls. But at the same time, I want to make sure I’m always supporting good people.

When you brought Tenoversix to Dallas it was — and still is — very much a one-of-a-kind concept; a lot of Dallasites had a tricky time understanding the brand.

It was a great moment to learn to stick to my guns and not adapt to location. I had that moment of: ‘Do we buy this selection for Dallas, from what everyone has told me about how Dallas women dress and what Dallas women want? Or, do we just do our thing and see what happens?’ We just did our thing and put in the most progressive, cool independent design we could find — and women were interested.

When you look at the history of Forty Five Ten and when Brian Bolke first opened the store on McKinney Avenue, it’s that same subversive driving force that made it a success.

The same ethos! That’s one of the really nice things about coming on board with Forty Five Ten: There are a lot of conceptual synergies. I love the work that Brian did. I think it was really ahead of its time, and I’m happy to continue that conversation and move it into more of the national, international marketplace.

Forty Five Ten set a powerful foundation for fashion in Dallas.

With technology and accessibility, the world is smaller. We all know what’s going on and we’re all very aware. So, we can bring the best of the best here and it’s not like people aren’t going to understand what’s going on at Balenciaga or Celine or Molly Goddard. People understand. We’re all connected.

Does the influencer culture play a role in what you do?

I don’t take influencers into consideration at all. I don’t follow influencers. I’m not interested. They’re doing interesting stuff — but it’s not for me. It’s more for the designers. I don’t think it affects retail in a direct way.

What does influence you?

I don’t look to competition. I don’t care what other retailers are doing. I’ve always just wanted to do my thing — follow a very pure aesthetic, a very pure point of view, and just do it. I follow artists. I follow designers. I read a lot.

With big risk, comes big reward. How do you plan on manifesting your (and Headington Companies’) retail mission?

Part of that is New York. New York is a big one and it’s going to be really beautiful — 16,000 square feet. New York will do wonders for the brand because of the accessibility — something like 30 million people will come through our doors every year. We just hired Vice media’s content division, Virtue, to create content for us. It’s going to amp up our marketing and advertising. I’m far more interested in connecting with our audience through the right cultural and art initiatives. We’re sponsoring the Whitney — the 2019 Whitney Art Party. That’s very much our customer and a nice way to connect with our New Yorkers, especially with the Whitney’s proximity to Hudson Yards.

So, the future of retail looks bright?

I’ve never given up on it. I believe in brick-and-mortar because it’s experiential. We all want to go into a shop and touch and feel and try things on and interact with human beings. We are launching a beautiful e-commerce site, but more as part of the conversation — not to replace our business. I in no way want our e-com site to replace our brick-and-mortar. That’s not the crux of our company.

That human-to-human interaction is vital, especially in our digital age.

You can’t replace it! Everyone likes to be doom and gloom about retail. I don’t buy it. The pendulum swings back and forth. I’ve been through it a few times already. It’s OK. It just forces retailers to up their game. For us, that means a really strong edit. Our customer needs to trust us. They need to trust that when they come here they’re going to find something great, have a high level of service, and a beautiful experience — from being able to eat here to having lovely influences and feeling inspired.

Do you ever get nervous?

Not really. This is my passion. I’m getting to do what I’ve been doing for 10 years, just at a bigger level. I feel ready for it. It’s going to be a nice moment.

When you came on board, there were a lot of changes.

I knew it would take a minute and that a few things were going to need to change with the new vision of the company. I basically flagged three months to do strategic reorganization, from the back-of-house corporate side to the customer-facing store experience. With Headington acquiring Tenoversix, I had to look at [Forty Five Ten and Tenoversix] and figure out what made sense.

How can these run side by side? How can they live in big markets together and feel very different? How can I reorganize this to make sense? So, it was a few months of reorganization — it was not necessarily fun, but it had to happen. It was about slimming down the teams, bringing on some new strong people, and getting our culture right. When you walk into a store, you want to feel treated well, you want to feel welcomed and excited. A big part of that was making sure that ethos was going from front-of-house to back-of-house.

You also changed some things in the store.

We have 37,000 square feet, here. That’s a lot of retail. I moved our corporate offices to the third floor. I deprogrammed the Forty Five Ten home division, because looking at Forty Five Ten, it’s known for fashion. It’s not known for home. I want to focus on what Forty Five Ten does best — luxury designer fashion and taking risks on the right bold emerging talent.

Tenoversix will be on the first floor, Main Street side, in an effort to create a more approachable, fun energy right when you walk in. Home design, lighting, books, magazines, and all of that will be expressed through Tenoversix. We’re doing a new café that’s replacing the Copper Bar. A new concept, again, that’s going to be livelier — a little more fun.

We’re adding children’s back in. And that’s kind of the same experiential shift. I wanted children’s so moms could shop here on the weekends and feel welcome. I added changing tables to the bathrooms — just little things so that people can come, have brunch, bring their kids, do a little shopping.

Dallas is a big city that operates like a small town. Forty Five Ten has a longtime, core Forty Five Ten bunch — the loyal client who is maybe averse to change. How do you evolve Forty Five Ten’s DNA without losing its heritage?

Nothing super drastic is happening, but there are a lot of little shifts in culture and point of view. As much as I want to expand and attract new customers, I also care a lot about the core customer. It’s about knowing who loves what and not getting rid of those lines. The designer roster is changing, maybe, 10 percent — little moves.

What about personal growth?

This is my dream job. This is it for me. This is exactly what I love doing. I love everything that goes on behind the scenes. I love the photography for the photo shoots; I love the store design; the creative direction; the buying of merchandise for the store; the fashion. I love the entire process.

At the end of the day, you can build a beautiful store, but you still have a bottom line.

You have to know how to run it! That’s the thing. I’m against frivolity. I work in, maybe, a frivolous industry — but I’m against frivolity. I’m conservative in how I approach everything, here. I like to be smart about it. I want to make money — I want to make money for Headington Companies. I want this to be a success.

We’re not saving lives…

… But we are creating an escape for people. My hardest working friends, who do much more important work than I do, they’re like, ‘I go in your store, and I feel really happy and good.’ We have to have that yin and yang in life.

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, what do you absolutely have to buy for fall?

It’s insane. From Tenoversix, it’s pieces from Eckhaus Latta, Sandy Liang, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Nomia. Then with Forty Five Ten, there’s Rosetta Getty, some Céline, some Dries Van Noten, Balenciaga. I actually do all my shopping in market while I’m on appointments, so it gets really disorganized. You’re in the moment, and you’re with the designer, and you’re like, ‘Yes! I want one of those.’ Then my assistant accumulates the list, and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, how many things did I buy?’ It’s ok. It’s all important. It’s what I do. It’s research. It’s part of my job. It’s all good.

So, lots of closet space at the new house?

Yes. The closet is a whole thing.

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