By  on March 29, 2010

DALLAS — Kim Dawson, who founded the first modeling agency here and became a seminal figure in the local fashion industry, died Thursday at a hospice in Dallas. She was 85 and had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade.

Born in Center, Tex., Dawson walked runways in New York and Europe before returning to Texas in the late Forties to do informal modeling in the tea rooms of Neiman Marcus and now-defunct Sanger Harris in Dallas, said her daughter, Lisa Dawson. In 1959, she launched the Kim Dawson Agency by offering to coordinate models for the stores for a small commission.

The business got a major boost when developer Trammel Crow hired Dawson as fashion director of the Dallas Apparel Mart for its opening in 1964 and suggested she house her agency in the building.

Dawson produced runway shows at the Apparel Mart and was instrumental in launching the careers of Angie Harmon, Janine Turner, Bridget Hall and Chandra North, among others. She also cofounded an actors’ studio in Dallas that operates a theater named in her honor.

The Dallas Market Center paid tribute to Dawson by establishing the Kim Dawson Runway Cafe at FashionCenterDallas in 2004.

“Kim Dawson was quite simply Dallas’ first lady of fashion….She was responsible for putting Dallas on the global map for talent and exporting it to runways and magazine spreads around the world,” said Bill Winsor, president and chief executive officer of Dallas Market Center.

In addition to Lisa Dawson, who operates the modeling agency, she is survived by her husband of 57 years, George Dawson, a daughter, Kim Vernon, and a son, Tiger Dawson.

Funeral services have not been set.

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