DALLAS — Blank Canvas, a loft-like store featuring avant-garde designer labels for men and women, landed last week in downtown’s gritty Deep Ellum district.
Featuring brands such as current LVMH Prize finalist Cecilie Bahnsen, the boutique is a maverick upscale addition to the mostly low-brow neighborhood of music clubs, restaurants, artist studios and tattoo parlors.
“I said, ‘I think we should come to a place where they don’t have this stuff,’” said Ladislas Mande, who created the enterprise with Fode Sylla.
“I came to understand the city,” said Sylla, who has curated spaces for Dover Street Market. “Just walking around there was such an energy.”
The 2,500-square-foot boutique was only partially stocked at the unboxing party, but Blank Canvas will carry all the labels that Sylla represents at the Touba London and Touba Paris showrooms he operates with his wife, Yuko Fujita.
Many are emerging British brands, such as Art Comes First, Le Kilt, J JS Lee and Maria Black. More established vendors include Comme des Garçons, Phoebe English, Armando Cabral, Joe Casely-Hayford and Jacqueline Rabun Fine Jewelry. Very few of them are sold elsewhere in Dallas.
“It’s eclectic, but people are ready for something different,” Sylla said. “When I heard [Dallas] people are interested in art, every designer [we represent] has their own handwriting.”
Blank Canvas’ pricey mix is revolutionary for the neighborhood, which is dotted with vintage and streetwear shops. But its forward attitude fits right in. Awash in murals and graffiti, Deep Ellum was an early capital of the blues and currently hosts 30 live music venues presenting rock, jazz and emerging bands. It also houses a handful of galleries, two edgy theater companies, dozens of independent eateries and 30-plus artist studios in a former cotton gin factory.
Fittingly, Blank Canvas also serves as a gallery for black and white photographs of rock stars that were selected by photographer Jill Furmanovsky of Rock Archive.
Both Sylla and Mande are native French speakers from Africa, making them unique among upscale Dallas retailers. Sylla hails from Senegal and lives in London, and Mande was a refugee from Rwanda and Zaire who grew up in Paris and moved to the U.S. last year.
A designer himself, Mande met Sylla last year at the Liberty Fairs Trade Show in Las Vegas. Mande recently moved to Dallas, where his parents also reside.
“We love the space and we want to have maybe two to three different [adjacent] stores,” Sylla pointed out. “We want to influence the neighborhood.”
Nine designers flew in for Blank Canvas’ debut, including Bahnsen, Cabral, Zizi Donohoe, bespoke shoemaker Nao Yokoo and Sam Lambert and Shaka Maidoh of Art Comes First.
“I think it’s amazing,” said Cabral, a former model whose Italian-made shoes are popular with NBA players. “Dallas has a lot of good stores, but what they are trying to bring here is almost like a movement.”
“It’s such a nice atmosphere to show the collection,” Bahnsen observed. “They’re very good about [carrying] stuff that works together and does not compete.”
Lambert and Maidoh were disappointed that their goods failed to arrive in time for the party, but they were upbeat about Deep Ellum.
“We like the murals,” Lambert said.
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