Skip to comments.Hey, Dallas: Look who's upscale now
Posted on 08/14/2005 6:08:10 AM PDT by Shawndell Green
Houston is coming into its own as a center for style and fashion
If 25 years ago, you picked up a national magazine and looked at ads for luxury retailers, chances are they'd be touting stores in cities like London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Dallas.
Dallas but not Houston.
Today, Houston is more likely to be included among the list of chichi towns.
Theories on how Dallas got the luxury jump on Houston are numerous:
Dallas is the headquarters of retail powerhouse Neiman Marcus. Dallas is the site of a major wholesale apparel mart. Dallas has more conspicuous consumption. The TV show Dallas gave its namesake Hollywood cachet.
While Dallas has traditionally held an upscale retail advantage over Houston, industry analysts say the dynamic is changing, partly because of the status of the Houston Galleria and Houston's growing reputation as an international city.
Similarly, a perception that Houston is less sophisticated than Dallas may also be fading.
"Historically, Dallas has had a higher fashion profile, but it's probably changing and Houston is coming up," said Holly Haber, Dallas bureau chief of Women's Wear Daily. She noted that a recent spread in W magazine featured Houston socialites.
"Houston has had such a spate of designer stores opening," she said.
In the Houston Galleria, Louis Vuitton expanded and became a "global store," with the full collection of Vuitton's offerings. In Dallas, Vuitton has no global store, she said.
Catching up with Dallas can't happen overnight, though. For decades, Dallas has been a regional center for fashion.
The Dallas Market Center, a wholesale merchandising mart that's larger than the Pentagon, does more than $7.5 billion in apparel and accessories, gift, and home decor transactions annually.
The apparel mart is a viable part of the Dallas economy, Haber said. Another arm of the apparel industry, manufacturing, was once active in Dallas, but its role has greatly diminished, she said, although Fossil and Haggar still manufacture there.
Another reason Dallas is style-minded: "Neiman Marcus was born and bred here and gained an international reputation as a retail icon. It put Dallas on the map," Haber said.
Dallas became more fashion-conscious than Houston because it had to, according to Bill Beckhart, senior vice president of the Better Business Bureau, Dallas.
"Dallas has no natural resource reason for being. It's not a port town, for example," he said. "Dallas is a marketing city, and we have a lot of marketing and advertising people who know that presentation and appearance are very important."
Dallas considers both Houston and Fort Worth to be its rivals, Beckhart observed. Dallas has differentiated itself as the fashion and style center of the Southwest, while Fort Worth became the "gateway to the West," and Houston became the oil capital.
Houston, he said, cultivated the "roustabout image, the rough and tumble part of the oil industry." In comparison, "the oil people in Dallas are more low-key."
Picking Dallas first Among the designer stores that came to Dallas before Houston are Calvin Klein, Prada, Escada, St. John and Chanel.
Dallas also benefits from having a concentration of high-net-worth consumers in one area, said Dennis Telzrow, a research analyst at Stephens, a banking and investment firm. Dallas houses many of its rich in Highland Park, he said, while Houston's wealthy are more spread out. High-end retailers feel more confident opening in an area that is surrounded by vast numbers of affluent consumers.
However, real estate agent John Daugherty noted that inside the Loop, Houston has a collection of high-end neighborhoods, including River Oaks, the Museum District, West University and Southgate.
Houston may be geographically more expansive than Dallas, but in terms of luxury retail, it's more centralized, said Greg Vlahos, vice president of leasing at Simon Property Group, owners of the Houston Galleria.
The central location he happened to be referring to is the Galleria, particularly, he said, since 2003, when the mall reconfigured itself to create a luxury retail corridor.
The Houston Galleria features Versace, Fendi, Gucci, Christian Dior, Jimmy Choo, Luca Luca, Bulgari, Kate Spade and many more upscale retailers.
Recently, two high-end retailers decided to open in Houston before Dallas Carolina Herrera and Salvatore Ferragamo and each chose the Galleria.
The Houston Galleria has "huge pull," even for consumers who are far from it, said David Szymanski, director of the Center for Retail Studies at Texas A&M University.
An international outlook Working in Houston's favor is that it is more of an international city than Dallas, said Jeff Munger, director of research at the Lionstone Group, a local real estate investment firm.
Just as important, Houston's Galleria has established itself as "the international gateway for high-end shoppers from Mexico, Central and South America," Munger said. "If I'm a designer in Milan or Paris or even New York, I might be just as inclined, if not more so, to have a location in Houston as I would Dallas" to reach Latin American customers.
Simon's Vlahos agreed that Houston's ethnic diversity is "a great plus" from a high-end retail perspective.
Houston and Dallas are similar in terms of income, cost of living and disposable income, Munger noted.
Beth Moore, CEO of Ad Hoc the Placement Co., a legal staffing firm and member of the Chronicle's Best Dressed Hall of Fame, said Houston's luxury retail scene has rapidly improved.
As recently as three to five years ago, "I felt like I was getting a bigger picture if I went out of the city to shop," she said.
Now she can meet all her fashion needs in Houston, she said, particularly at the Galleria, Tootsie's and Highland Village.
At the lifestyle center Market Street in The Woodlands, meanwhile, Tommy Bahama recently opened a combination tropical café and clothing boutique.
It's the company's first "compound" in Texas and the first to open in a non-resort city.
Overcoming stereotypes Houston could be overcoming some long-held stereotypes.
In the past, it was perceived as the home of "big hair and cowboy boots," but no longer, Szymanski said. "High-end retailers are saying: 'Here's a market opportunity we haven't mined in the past,' particularly as oil continues to boom."
However, Wulfe & Co. urban broker Monte Large believes many high-end retailers still think that "Dallas is the place to go" in the region.
He tried to lure to Houston an international contemporary lighting chain called Artemide that has locations in 13 U.S. cities, including Dallas, but "they don't see Houston as sophisticated. They'd be perfect for Houston."
And Nobu, a trendy sushi restaurant with locations in places such as Milan and London, recently made Dallas its eighth city and its first in Texas.
Dallas is considered more hip, because it's often compared with Los Angeles, but in terms of culture and sophistication, it and Houston are equals, according to Benji Homsey, senior project manager of the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas.
ZaZa will open its second location in Houston at the site of the Warwick Hotel.
The three-year-old ZaZa in Dallas has an eclectic, urban decor. Some of its rooms have themes, including Rock Star, Crouching Tiger, Erotica, Zen and Shagadelic.
"The international aspect of Houston, its size, and the business opportunities are very attractive to us," he said.
Restaurateurs take notice Upscale restaurateurs also are noticing Houston.
Before opening the Strip House steakhouse in downtown Houston last fall, "we did a lot of investigating on Houston and spending patterns," said Penny Glazier, who heads the Glazier Group restaurant chain.
"Houstonians know good food and wine and are sophisticated people," she said. "They eat out more than anyone else."
Phil Suarez, who with chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten owns restaurants in New York, Hong Kong, London and other cosmopolitan cities, opened the restaurant Bank Jean-Georges inside the Hotel Icon in downtown Houston last year because he "liked the idea of the new downtown, the new dynamics of Houston, the new train."
Does Dallas recognize that its rival down south may be coming into its own as a fashion-minded, cosmopolitan city?
"The attitude in Dallas is that we beat Houston so bad it's not close," said David Levine, a principal with Dallas-based HSM Urban Partners.
"I don't feel that way," he said. "A lot of Dallasites don't even know what's going on in Houston."
If I ever find myself living in a "chichi town," I'll move!
San Francisco is now the NINTH most liberal city in the country, not the first or second. Harhar. Money always trumps everything else. That and now San Francisco is 1/3 Chinese and they aren't liberal.
Detroit is numbah one liberal city. Berkeley is numbah two. No shock there, except that they really should be nunbah one.
LOL - that one got me too
A "Hey look, we can go around with our noses in the air acting all snooty and stuff now" PING.
Yep, you be cool.
Waikiki's Kalakauwa (sp?) Avenue has more and more chichi stores.
I stroll in there to look-see at Tiffany's. The only people I can talk with are the help. Everyone else is Japanese.
We're getting a new Super Wal-mart!
Detroit is Starnesville come to life
You be humid. (And you smell like a refinery.)
Will they be interviewing Humblegunner about his high-heeled tennis shoes?
Can a career at Victoria Secret be far behind? LOL
Ah, Houston, where you can die of heat exhaustion when it is 80 degrees.
On the plus side, the humidity keeps skin looking younger longer.
"Today, Houston is more likely to be included among the list of chichi towns."
I do believe the silicone implant was invented in Houston, so this idea that Houston is just now being known as a chichi town is a surprise.
I thought that would be YEW-ston that had the eau d'refinery.
Now THAT is cool.
Smells like money.
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