Fashion / Shopping

Three Days Behind the 2020 Scenes at Forty Five Ten

Up Close With the Dallas Luxury Institution as It Retools and Revitalizes for the New Retail World

BY // 12.17.20
photography Misael Rodriguez

On an early fall day in Dallas, I park my car in the valet area (sans valet) of Forty Five Ten’s downtown flagship, arriving at the same time as some of the now smaller and nimble store team: Kyle Branch, Mia Holderman, Dianna Miller, and Robin Wilkes, along with company president Anne Wallach and fashion director Jordan Jones.

I’m here to learn the next chapter for our hometown hero, retail juggernaut Forty Five Ten. We all know the Dallas rumor mill can go into overdrive, and one of those rumors whispered of late has been: “Are they closing?” It was time to pull back the proverbial curtain and see what was transpiring. A day in the life, if you will.

A quick primer for those who don’t know the history of Forty Five Ten … Launched in 2000 by fashion entrepreneurs Brian Bolke, Bill Mackin, and Shelly Musselman, the store was named for its address on McKinney Avenue and quickly became the Mecca for Dallas women who craved unique and special fashion choices. There was the usual suspect list of designers, but Bolke, Mackin and Musselman painstakingly took the time to whittle down those collections to just a few select pieces.

In 2014, Headington Companies acquired the company, with plans to construct a flagship to be built as part of a downtown renaissance. In November 2016, Forty Five Ten officially moved into a glamorous four-story building between Main and Elm, just across from another of Headington’s large investments, the Joule Hotel. Bolke departed in 2017, and for a short time the organization was led by fashion director Taylor Tomasi Hill, a Bolke protégé brought in for the new, much larger store. Then, early in 2018, Headington acquired Tenoversix, Kristen Cole’s boutique that she had launched in Los Angeles and which had opened in the lobby of the Joule. Shortly after Bolke’s and Hill’s departures, Cole was named Forty Five Ten’s president and chief creative officer. The following was a period of rapid growth, with stores opening in Miami, Aspen, Napa, and Hudson Yards in New York City.

Fast forward to today’s COVID world.

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A rack of little black designer dresses. (Photo by Misael Rodriguez)

On March 20, Forty Five Ten shuttered to wait out this new and frightening pandemic. In early May, in-person shopping resumed, strictly by-appointment, but there were no artfully laid-out vignettes within the store. I remember vividly showing up in early May for my 10 am appointment, texting Dianna Miller that I had just parked in the nearly empty valet lot. I asked where I might find the sales racks or discounted rooms. Miller’s quick response: “You don’t get it. The whole store is on sale.”

They’d realized that they needed to quickly clear out the huge inventory of Spring 2020 merchandise that had languished while everyone was sheltering in place — an entire season of women’s and menswear. Also, by this point, they had made the decision to close the Aspen and Napa stores (Miami had closed in January 2020), whose merchandise was slowly being sent back to the Dallas mother ship for liquidation. (As we went to press, we learned that Forty Five Ten would soon announce the closure of the NYC Hudson Yards store.)

With “Canceled” scribbled across every event in my Smythson datebook, my shopping trips to Forty Five Ten quickly became my only social outlet, where I saw many of my former-party friends, masked up, and pulling racks of discounted clothes to the dressing rooms. Luxury SUVs departed the parking lot weighed down with boxes and shopping bags. One of those women, Sheryl Maas, describes the atmosphere: “Being in the design world, I love an estate sale. This kind of feels like the biggest clothing estate sale on the planet. But primarily I’m going there to support the community. This is a hometown company and a local team. They are listening to us and asking, ‘What should be our next chapter?’ Which makes us all feel more vested.”

The duo at the helm of this new retail world, Anne Wallach and Jordan Jones, make a great team. Jones, just 27 years old, will soon be hitting her five-year anniversary with Forty Five Ten, where she worked her way up from an intern to positions with the titles of assistant to the creative director, creative assistant in charge of production, and most recently, junior creative director. Yes, it has been a fast track towards her newest role, but that seems to be the frenetic speed at which 2020 moves.

122 _MG_0699.jpg JORDAN JONES (Photo by Misael Rodriguez)
FortyFiveTen fashion director Jordan Jones (Photo by Misael Rodriguez)

Jones is from that Jones family —the dynasty behind our beloved Cowboys. She’s the granddaughter of Gene and Jerry Jones, and her parents are Karen and Stephen Jones. She credits her paternal great-grandmother, Arminta Jones, as her fashion icon. “She was fabulous in every way, and her wardrobe was nothing less. She loved sparkle and was never without a hat,” Jones says. “Whenever we are at the ranch — her old home in Missouri, which was once an exotic animal preserve — I always visit her hat collection.”

At under 30, Jones might seem young, but fashion has a history of elevating talent to creative roles at an early age — like wunderkinds Marc Jacobs, who was leading Perry Ellis at age 25, and Esteban Cortázar, who had his first runway show during New York Fashion Week while he was still in high school.

In many ways, Jones is your quintessential millennial. I am completely unaware of some of the names of musicians she mentions — case in point, Pusha T — as we walk and talk in the newly laid-out Forty Five Ten. Her weekend routine might involve heading out with girlfriends for sushi at Tei-An, then a cocktail at Midnight Rambler. One of those confidantes, Mattie Berry, says that Jones “always had the closet that we wanted to borrow from. Even if you didn’t know something was cool at the time, you realized it was after seeing it on her. Jordan would show up wearing an animal-print cardigan or a new graphic tee when those were all the rage, and you might not realize it, but soon you’d be looking for something similar. In a time when most teenagers were searching for body-con dresses, she was the one wearing an oversized blazer.”

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Company president Anne Wallach in the window at Forty Five Ten (Photo by Misael Rodriguez)

Anne Wallach, 38, is the counterpoint to Jones. She has the calm demeanor and effortless elegance we all wish we had. Wallach has been working in the luxury arena for close to 15 years, with her latest stints at Mansur Gavriel, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci in NYC. She’s also a hometown girl who graduated from Hockaday, and whose family still resides in Dallas. That, along with the offer to come to Dallas to take the position as vice president of operations for Forty Five Ten in 2018, is what lured her home.

The days I spent shadowing the team were filled with Zoom calls with designers as they made their purchases for Spring 2021. They strategized the store’s layout, which currently holds newly arrived full price merchandise from Thom Browne and Saint Laurent, among others, on the first floor and the remaining portions of the sale on the second. Wilkes says that she treats customers coming into the store the same way she would at her home. She and her fellow stylists are doing everything possible to ensure that retail therapy is delivered with warmth. From one day to the next, vignettes are staged in an intriguing, juxtaposed way. A fresh assortment of works from Tim Headington’s vast collection of art, has been hung, including pieces from Richard Misrach, Tony Tasset, and Rosana Castrillo Diaz. Perhaps most poignant is Tracey Emin’s neon work I Fell in Love Here, 2014, which sums up many client’s feelings about the store.

By the beginning of 2021, everything should be somewhat back to normal at Forty Five Ten, with current-season merchandise on the first and second floors and Headington corporate offices consolidated and relocated to the third floor, which formerly housed menswear (which will no longer be in the mix). More than anything else, Wallach wants everyone to know that the store is working to return to their roots as the Dallas go-to for fashion. “Clients who have come to the store in sneakers, and, yes, saw us in sneakers, too, know that we perhaps are a little more intimate in our approach,” Wallach says. “We’ve worked hard over the past few months with a smaller team, and our clients have seen this resilience. I think they’re rooting for us, and that means everything.”

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Kyle Branch, Mia Holderman, Jordan Jones, and Anne Wallach (Photo by Misael Rodriguez)

Forty Five Ten previously offered an e-commerce site that, like the store, temporarily ceased operations in March. A new service-oriented site will soon launch so customers around the country who were used to shopping in a store convenient to them, might still find that unicorn of a dress. “I want the site to be a window into the store,” says Wallach. “We’re going back to our roots, which are experimentation and whimsy. It’s curated and edited with a point of view.

To quote the sage LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.” And, this is most definitely not a comeback. It’s a new chapter for a stalwart of the luxury fashion scene that has been a force for close to two decades. What’s that next chapter for Forty Five Ten? After spending a few days with the team, I’m not sure they completely know. That’s the case with retail professionals across the globe right now: There’s no clear path forward. What I do gather is a willingness to be nimble — to pivot rapidly, as 2020 has shown us when challenges arise, and to adapt as needed. What else did I take away from my days at the store. Well, I walked out with a Monse rugby that will make me feel chic and effortlessly cool — two qualities quite synonymous with Forty Five Ten, now and always.

A View from the Top

Dallas Art Fair Celebration with Juergen Teller

Tim Headington, the enigmatic owner of Forty Five Ten, the Joule Hotel, and numerous restaurants, shares his thoughts about the future.

What do you see occurring in downtown Dallas in the years ahead, and why is Forty Five Ten such a cornerstone of your overall strategic plan?

Headington: I’m an optimist at heart, but this year did its best in chipping away at that. From hospitality to retail, oil and gas to residential, restaurant to entertainment, every corner of our portfolio was deeply disrupted. The silver lining for us on the retail side is that we own the building that houses our flagship Forty Five Ten, which means we have the time and space to recast how we operate there. We had to make tough and swift decisions in order to mitigate losses, as demand disappeared so immediately, but we see a great opportunity today in scaling back to one location and focusing on our Dallas customer. People are shopping again. We see pent-up demand trickle in every day, and I’m confident that we’ll be in a more stable place across the board next year.

Forty Five Ten has always played a very important role in Dallas. Personally and professionally, I am so proud to be a part of this homegrown brand and want to see it succeed. Decades ago, we could have invited a big-box retailer to Main Street and probably done all right without having to invest or risk much, but that’s never been how I wanted to contribute to the energy of the city. I appreciate the rare and unique, and I think a destination like Forty Five Ten elevates the Dallas experience — it’s always been a place you remember and want to return to. If we offer what is expected or something solely transactional, then we’ve failed. How we build these experiences and settings will always require us to evolve along the way, and this takes time. It’s a natural part of the creative process and, in many ways, not unlike making movies. The script always changes, even while you’re filming. And, I have to say, over the past few months, our clients have really expressed their desire to see us flourish, and that’s been encouraging.

We have more good news ahead as work is already underway to relocate Sassetta restaurant to the Joule in the former Americano space, early next spring. Jean Liu, a talented and accomplished Dallas designer, has worked closely with us as we reimagine one of my favorite restaurants in a new space. I told you, 2021 is already getting brighter.

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