By  on December 27, 2001

DALLAS -- For Phillip and Sara Markey, the contemporary market is the way to go.

As a husband-and-wife team who used to run several franchised luxury stores, getting into the burgeoning contemporary market is a natural transition. The latest incarnation of their approach is the Sara Lasier boutique that opened here Dec. 8 at the new West Village complex of lofts, shops and restaurants in the affluent uptown area.

Stocked with such designers as Chan Paul and Michelle Mason, Sara Lasier is decorated in an urban style with polished concrete floors, galvanized steel chairs and rolling fixtures made of steel and blond wood. The 3,000-square-foot store embodies a major shift for the Markeys, who previously operated a string of franchised stores for Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Max Mara.

"The turning point was 18 months to two years ago, when we started to see there would be a change, that designers had peaked and that the designer mode of franchising had changed," Phillip Markey said.

Markey, who owns and operates the Houston-based retail company with his wife, explained that the European design houses wanted more control over the stores and holding the franchises became difficult.

The pair sold their six Versace Couture and Versace Jeans franchises in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston back to the Versace corporation in mid 2001. At the same time, the Markeys chose not to renew their license for their Dolce & Gabbana store at the Galleria in Houston. The Markeys has sold their two Max Mara franchises in Atlanta and Houston back to the corporation in 2000.

As they divested the luxury-brand stores, the couple launched the Sara Lasier concept in May with a 2,000-square-foot store on Kirby Drive in Houston. The following month, they transformed the former Dolce store at the Houston Galleria into a second Lasier store.

The Markeys believe Sara Lasier will appeal to a group of sophisticated, fashion-forward customers who don't want to pay designer prices.

"We found there was a demand for something different, a little bit designer but not couture," Sara Markey said during an interview at the new Dallas store. "We focused on up-and-coming designers and we tried to get exclusivity where we could."

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