DALLAS — “Do not enter unless…you are prepared to change the apparel industry forever,” reads a handwritten sign taped at the entrance to the design conference room at Dallas Market Center headquarters.

This is the “war room,” where executives are working long days to construct an edgy new venue and a strong image and identity for the fashion industry in Dallas. Built on five floors of the existing 15-story World Trade Center, Fashion Center Dallas has a lofty goal: to revitalize the wholesale industry here when it replaces the aging International Apparel Mart, as reported. Both buildings are part of the DMC complex, but the WTC also houses gift, lighting and home furnishings showrooms.

“We have an opportunity to reinvent the apparel business in Dallas and create a new environment that is more reflective of what is going on in retail stores today,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the DMC. “In the new facility, we can merchandise product similarly to the way it is merchandised in the stores.”

The price tag is about $21 million for the massive move of about 600 tenants from the Mart to renovated space in the WTC in time for March market. The family of real estate magnate Trammel Crow, which owns and operates the DMC, is backing the project.

Plans for stylish interiors are taking shape as 250 construction workers toil daily to erect walls and utility lines in the formerly vacant spaces.

“We’re building away,” said David Voss, executive vice president of operations. “We want something very strong and understated. As cool as we want to make this, we have to realize that we are a platform for something else, a platform to showcase fashion.”

Key to the project was the discovery of 140 feet of skylights on the top floor at both the front and rear of the building. The long, dramatic windows had been hidden for years, but will now transmit light to bridge and contemporary showrooms on the 15th floor. The DMC intends to cut through the floor so the light also will stream to the 14th floor.

“Where else can you go 15 floors up and find this?” asked Patty Echols, vice president of design and construction for the DMC, as she stood in the bright sunlight under one of the huge skylights. “It’s beautiful.”One unusual aspect will be splayed panels in the hallways that form irregular angles on the sides with a floating flat panel on top that does not cross the entire hall, revealing the white ceiling and ductwork above.

“The angles contrast with the soft, flowing lines of the clothes,” Echols said. “And you feel energy from them after you walk through it.”

Used as breaks between 25-foot glass showroom walls, the 10-foot-long panels will have vertical insets that house a small plasma screen or architectural element, such as wood, tile or metal. The DMC plans to broadcast live and taped fashion shows, as well as information about market events and schedules on the screens. The panel insets will be repainted every market to reflect color trends.

Showrooms will be arranged in a double racetrack pattern around the massive 225,000-square-foot floors, which spread around the building’s signature central atrium. Lobbies with seating and displays have been planned at regular intervals

to avoid overly long corridors. Floors will be polished concrete.

The overall palette will be neutral shades of light taupe, gray and milky beige with shots of color in the panels and displays. Most of the furniture will be cubical in shape in fabrics that can be changed twice a year.

“We don’t want to be stagnant,” Voss said.

To get ideas for the center, Voss, Echols and two DMC design and marketing executives traveled to 10 major cities and shot thousands of digital photos, visiting showrooms and stores in New York, Paris, Shanghai and Hong Kong, among others.

“We realized we wanted intersecting planes and things that were floating,” Echols said.

The team gave their ideas to three architectural firms that in turn submitted proposals, and the resulting design incorporates parts of all the plans. “We digested everything and melded it,” Voss said.

Unusual chandeliers in the lobbies will feature a zigzag mix of aluminum sticks with lights at each end.

The DMC also is meeting with tenants to design individual showrooms with layout, paint color and carpet. In a new twist, the showroom name and number will be projected onto the floor from above.The move itself is a major undertaking. Beginning after January market, trucks will be hauling merchandise and fixtures to the new space around the clock every day for about five weeks. The DMC has even purchased a tractor and seven trailers because it could not get a 24-hour-a-day commitment from a trucking company for the move.

“The move is a very complex entity,” Voss said. “It has to do with the individual needs of the representatives, depending if they are on the road after market and other factors.”

Meanwhile, more retailers have turned to the DMC as a way to view products without going to Asia due to travel restrictions and fear of the SARS virus. Wal-Mart, for instance, brought its buyers to the DMC in May to meet with hundreds of suppliers of hard goods and clothing.

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