Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — It’s shaping up to be a very good year for Lilly Dodson, the women’s designer specialty store here.

First off, there’s the First Lady connection. Long a darling among wealthy women in search of luxe clothing, Lilly Dodson is a favorite stop of future First Lady Laura Bush. Bush has nearly all her wardrobe designed and sewn by Michael Faircloth, whose custom clothing is sold exclusively at the store.

The store also has its own new year’s agenda. Lilly Dodson is poised to extend its merchandising vision to a broader level. With the financial muscle of a silent minority partner, the business has expanded to include a store in Austin, Tex., and a designer outlet in Dallas.

The new Lilly Dodson bowed in November in Austin, the state capital and a hotbed of high-tech money. The 5,000-square-foot unit is in Davenport Village, the same strip mall as the Susan Dell boutique.

“We’ve wanted to enter the Austin market for a long time, and now we’re there and beating plan after less than two months,” said owner Bill Dodson.

The store exudes a plush residential ambience, with blond hardwood floors, an expansive fireplace and a floor plan that plays up designer and gold-range merchandise.

According to market sources, the Austin unit of Lilly Dodson is planning first-year sales of $3 million, although Bill Dodson wouldn’t confirm the figure.

“We’re refining our merchandise mix as we learn more about Austin,” Dodson said. “Women there are a tad more casual than Dallas women. They love Christian Lacroix, but aren’t as apt to wear it on a daily basis as they would Vivienne Tam or Boss by Hugo Boss. We’re also doing well with Thierry Mugler, Herve Leger and Roger Sakoun.”

Much like the Dallas store, the Austin door aggressively courts the monied crowd.

It has sent gifts to potential clients in the neighborhood and plans to hold style events at local country clubs. In addition, the store is running plenty of advertising in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper in a bid to lure female shoppers as well as men who might purchase gifts for them.

It’s a tactic that’s effective at the Dodson flagship in Dallas.

For holiday, Lilly Dodson here is running quarter-page ads in the Dallas Morning News, featuring pricy chinchilla coats that are housed at the store’s new fur salon.

Within the last week, the fur salon has had several $75,000 or higher sales days, with full-length or poncho-style Russian sable selling best.

Lilly Dodson’s success with furs this holiday has inspired a new full-line fur salon that will open at the Dallas store next fall.

“We’re having gains of 20 percent this year,” said Bill Dodson, adding that five percent of that came from the new fur business.

As part of its expansion course, Lilly Dodson also is targeting women who crave designer merchandise, but can’t pay full price. A month after the Austin store debut, the Lilly Dodson Designer Outlet opened in Dallas at the Corners Shopping Center. The 2,500-square-foot store features designer surplus stock and past-season styles from mostly high-profile European resources.

“At a designer specialty store such as Lilly Dodson, you attract only the top 5 percent of women consumers,” said Dodson. “Most women can’t afford it. But now we can reach many more women with designer tastes and limited resources.”

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