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Society / Profiles

Dallas’ Velvet Ropes Queen Michelle Nussbaumer Truly Sacrificed for Fashion

Why She’s the Bomb

BY // 06.07.18

Are you on the list?” If you recall younger days spent at au courant nightclubs, runway shows, or fashionable bars (anything run by Amy Sacco in the ’90s), then you’ve been asked that question as you approached the velvet ropes.  “But, of course, darling. Why else would I be here?” was the chicest response I’ve ever heard — uttered in a British accent, by a handsome woman who, with such confidence, knew she needn’t provide her name.

Forgive the snobbery, but it seems Dallas needs its own velvet ropes, with someone approving admittance: a smart door-person — like the brilliant Steve Rubell of Studio 54 — who knew how to create a mix of old-school WASPs, feral punk-rock kids, sleek models, and a few hedge-fund guys to pay the bar tab.

Should our city delegate a gatekeeper, I say this important job should be handed to Michelle Nussbaumer.

My planet has often orbited Michelle’s — she is a sun that shines bright and powerful— but it wasn’t until a chilly day this winter that we got to know each other. Ours was a magical conversation that seemed to last but a few minutes, when really it went on for hours.

We chatted about the new-wave ’80s and the era’s decadent nightclubs, finishing each other’s sentences along the way. I, of course, asked endless questions about a Dallas nightlife phenom, the Starck Club. I now have glamorous fantasies of Michelle strolling into that scene, with Whitney Houston’s “Queen of the Night” or Re-Flex’s “Politics of Dancing” heralding her arrival.

Born in Abilene, Michelle moved with her family to Dallas when she was a young girl. Given her intoxicating personality, it’s no surprise she was a theater major at SMU. At 25, she and the man of her dreams, Bernard Nussbaumer, moved to Rome for his film career.

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Life there glittered with neighbors such as Franco Zeffirelli and Valentino. Michelle’s eyes widened; her appreciation for great design and the kaleidoscope of cultures meshed to brilliant effect. Her decorating career was born. To fuel her love of design and travel, Michelle has circled the globe, collecting treasures from myriad cultures and periods to accomplish truly chic rooms.

One can explore her collected trove at her Dallas Design District showroom, Ceylon et Cie. All is also documented in Michelle’s most recent tome, Wanderlust (Rizzoli) — a beautiful book filled with lush examples of interiors she has created with consummate taste.

Her secondary home base is Gstaad. I’ve long wanted to write a book tentatively titled Rosetta Stone: How To Speak Rich. In it, I would devote a few chapters to exotic locales — habitats of the moneyed class — such as Gstaad.

The skiing hamlet was once the playground of old-school Hollywood celebs, and today attracts names that, in my mind, equate to dollar signs. See: Stavros and Jocasta. Perhaps Gstaad has already given the well-earned title of Velvet Ropes Checker to our Michelle.

Approximate date of this photo.

The early 1980s.

The occasion.

It was a day-long photo shoot with many outfit changes, for a fashion show at Papagayo, a hot Dallas night club on Park Lane and Central. I was one of the models. The show started at 10:30 pm. I guess that tells you the audience for that event.

What you were wearing.

A 1960s blond-mink coat given to me by my mother, a woman with impeccable taste. I felt very Tippi Hedren. Growing up, I always loved the characters in Hitchcock’s films.

What price fashion.

I was enamored with a red Givenchy dress I spied at Lou Lattimore, which I knew I couldn’t afford, but had to have! I was living in a tiny apartment on Prescott (having recently graduated from SMU), and rent was $250. I easily spent five times more than that on the gorgeous frock.

With no funds, my gas was shut off, which meant I had to go without hot water for an entire year. Since I still had electricity, I would boil water in a kettle and add it to the bath, making it only slightly warmer than freezing, but the dress was totally worth it!

Why this is a Bomb.com picture of you.

This may seem odd to say, but it was an age of innocence. I was in my twenties with the world in front of me, filled with endless possibilities.

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