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.”

Markey said she zeroes in on small collections like Le Gatte embellished denim jeans, jackets from Florence or Mandalay’s detailed dresses from Los Angeles, but she does buy a handful of mainstream lines that perform well, including Diane Von Furstenberg, Theory and Poleci.

“The market is really driven by young contemporary sportswear right now,” said Phillip Markey. “There is some very good stuff coming out of America now and we are trying our best to be as pro-American as we can. I really think it’s an L.A.-New York moment, but we need to supplement it with a couple of small, not-well-known European lines.”

Among the eye-catching styles in Sara Lasier’s new shop was a red suede belted coat with Mongolian lamb trim by Lilli Lo Rose, patchwork blouses in organza and brocade by Save the Queen, and striped shirts with ruched sides by Ynnub.

Two-thirds of the floor space is devoted to women’s merchandise, including merchandise from French Connection, Diesel and Energie.

The Markeys would like the shop to do $1 million in first-year sales. The Houston stores are performing “OK,” but like all retail they took an unexpected hit this fall. Still, Phillip Markey is checking out Dallas suburbs and Fort Worth for potential locations.

Sara Lasier in Dallas stocks lots of denim, including styles by Juicy Couture, Paper, Cloth & Denim and Hippie Jeans. The Houston Lasier stores don’t offer much denim because the Markeys have two stores there called SoHo that specialize in hip jeans labels, such as Seven and Frankie B. With inspiration from their daughter, who is 18, the Markeys opened the first SoHo shop two years ago in Houston, and subsequently extended the concept to Florida with SoHo Beach and SoHo Home in Santa Rosa Beach.

Retail is a family business for the Markeys. Their sons, Brett and Todd, manage the Dallas and Houston stores, respectively, while daughter Lindsey is studying fashion design and merchandising at Colorado State University.

“We are very influenced by our two sons, the 25-year-old market,” said Phillip Markey. “The bottom line is you have to buy things that fit their budget. I’m going after the one who understands fashion and wants something a little different. At one time, we thought that a person like my wife and her friends in their late 40s would only stay with Prada and Burberry, but we have found that they want a nice pair of jeans and a fun blouse as much as the 20-year-old. It just has to be done with a little bit of taste.”

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