Brian Bolke’s Numbers Game

Forty Five Ten’s new downtown Dallas outpost is a department store for the modern age.

The exterior of Forty Five Ten, designed by Droese Raney Architecture.

As the old-guard department stores struggle to keep up with changing times, Brian Bolke’s just-opened Forty Five Ten proves that the traditional model is still viable, albeit with a few tweaks.

Now in its 17th year, Bolke’s brand has grown from a humble boutique to an American fashion success story, with notable admirers such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Akris designer Albert Kriemler singing its praises. The addition of an expansive, 37,000-square-foot storefront, the third location in the city, confirms its appeal. In the era of e-commerce, most brands are downsizing brick-and-mortar operations, not expanding them. The secret to Bolke’s success? Changing, while standing still.

It starts with the building. From the outside, “most people don’t even realize it’s a new construction, which is the biggest compliment we can get,” Bolke says. It’s true that the exterior of brick, bronze, and steel-framed windows has a timeless air, but the interiors feel contemporary, though not in the domineering mode of concrete and metal. Instead, the pared-down mix of Arabescato marble, walnut, and copper relies on changeable furniture to make a statement—a feat accomplished with Knoll pieces designed by heavyweights including Eero Saarinen, David Adjaye, and Rem Koolhaas. Seasonal installations, pop-ups, and trunk shows are a matter of course for the brand and that guided the design of the space. “We wanted Bolke to be able to change the experience often,” says the architect, David Droese, of Droese Raney Architecture. The design enables Bolke’s two-sided approach to the store. In the same breath as touting the ageless qualities of the facade, Bolke boasts that each time a customer enters, they’ll find something new.

A look at the store's jewelry section.

Among those discoveries will be Mirador, a modern American restaurant on the roof, and Copper Bar, a street-level spot for champagne and pastries. As Bolke notes, “People are the happiest socializing when they’re drinking.” And if you’re in the door for a cocktail, you might as well stop by the racks.

Bolke’s experiments are novel in an industry defined by standardization. Not long ago, department stores were built like European fortresses: ornate, gilded, and intended to last for generations. A neighboring retail institution, Neiman Marcus’s Renaissance Revival-style flagship, was—and is—just that, like many such relics across the country. Although Forty Five Ten took design cues from the jewelry-box-like stores of the ’50s and ’60s, it escapes the stodgy vibe by introducing just enough modern mutation. The Sacai and Comme de Garçons garments in stock don’t protest against a backdrop of old-world glamour, but more steadfast labels aren’t out of place, either. A selection of artwork by Catherine Opie, Juergen Teller, and Tracey Emin, among others, adds a living gallery component not often seen inside a retail emporium. As traditional department stores struggle to adapt to the age of online shopping, Forty Five Ten stands on firm ground. Behind that success lies an unspoken mantra: Stay light on your toes, and time might just leave you untouched.

The womenswear department at Forty Five Ten.

(All Photos: Nathan Schroeder.)

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