HOUSTON — When Forty Five Ten president and cofounder Brian Bolke first explored opening his signature store in the River Oaks District here, his heart was set on one spot in the luxury shopping center. The only problem? The highly visible corner location was already rented to another retailer.
So Bolke waited, continued growing his Dallas locations and was ready to make a move when the space finally became open.
Bolke unveiled his first Forty Five Ten location outside of Dallas last week, welcoming Houston’s fashion flock to the new 3,300-square-foot store. The move down Interstate 45 was a decade in the making for Bolke and the Forty Five Ten concept. Location, economy and timing were all at play. He calls River Oaks District dynamic and likes the idea of being surrounded by other luxe neighbors, including Hermès and Tom Ford.
“I looked at this very carefully. We wanted something that we felt was not only interesting for someone who lived here in Houston, but interesting for people from other places,” he said.
Although Houston was on Bolke’s radar for 10 years, the idea of making a move picked up steam in 2012.
“I think Houston was very under-retailed at the time and now the pendulum has swung the other way,” Bolke said. “When a city has potentially too much of everything, it opened a different avenue for us and allowed us to focus on more emerging brands and more niche product. I think it made us stand apart.”
Throughout this year, Houston’s luxury shopping landscape has expanded to include a $250 million overhaul of the Houston Galleria, anchored by a state-of-the-art Saks Fifth Avenue; the opening near the Houston Galleria of The Webster, and the development of River Oaks District, which includes retailers Christian Dior, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana and Harry Winston, along with an array of restaurants, an iPic Movie Theatre, Equinox and Bella Rinova Spa.
From Bolke’s perspective, the explosion of other high-end shopping complements rather than competes with Forty Five Ten.
“Look at the new Saks. It’s an amazing store that has everything, but we are a completely different animal. It’s awesome for Houston that it has added so much great retail,” Bolke said. “It raises the bar for everyone.”
He took that same elevated view when designing the store, employing 20 foot-ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows. The store is separated into five distinct spaces, with an emphasis on fragrance, a Bolke favorite. The Rare Beauty cosmetics concept and ready-to-wear and accessories assortment for women hold court on one side of the store, while the shoe and handbag salon and menswear sit on the other. Jewelry, gifts and home accessories round out the store’s selection. A red-lacquered shelf holds an Assouline book assortment.
The store’s interiors blend organic with high-concept, masculine with feminine. Slightly rustic wood floors are met with metallic-tinged wallpaper, while black mesh curtains provide light.
“We really went for transparency and light here. A lot of stores are too shut off and a shopping center like this lends itself to browsing,” Bolke said. “We made a decision to lead with fragrance. You can visit a fragrance every day, someone comments on it and it makes you feel good.”
Fragrance is a category he believes in for the Houston location and he stocked his store with exclusive, niche labels including A Beautiful Mind, Andree Putman, Escentric Molecules, Naomi Goodsir and Santa Eulalia.
Shoe sales are already strong, with Houstonians eschewing anything basic and instead falling for the most unusual shoes on display. Forty Five Ten shoe exclusives include Alejandro Ingelmo, Dorateymur, Sanayi 313 and Toga Pulla. The men’s shoe selection includes Common Projects sneakers, another Bolke favorite, as well as Lanvin, Hender Scheme ad Maison Margiela.
Bolke gave women’s fashion director Taylor Tomasi Hill and men’s fashion director Nick Wooster a wide berth when stocking the Houston store, wanting the merchandise to feel less like a collection and more like a wardrobe. Shoppers will find a host of women’s design exclusives including Gabriela Hearst, Adeam, ReDone Denim and Vivetta.
Houston tumbled into an oil-and-gas related downturn in 2015 (economists predict the local economy will perk back up in 2017) but Bolke isn’t concerned.
“Texas’ economic resiliency is extraordinary,” he said. “You just have to be sharp and take nothing for granted. The safer we’ve tried to be, the less successful we’ve been, so we take chances. It would certainly be boring to not put your best out there.”
Now that he has Houston open, Bolke was heading back to Dallas for the celebrations Thursday and Friday of Forty Five Ten’s new flagship there. The 37,000-square-foot store, not far from the Neiman Marcus flagship in downtown Dallas, comprises 20,000 square feet of selling space on three floors and also has a ground-level Champagne bar, a rooftop terrace restaurant and a full basement.