THE WINNERS

Byline: Rusty Williamson / Holly Haber

Company: Barbara Lesser
Category: Dresses
“Our customer is any woman that appreciates simplicity and style all wrapped up in one,” said designer Barbara Lesser. “She’s busy and does not have time to fuss over a wardrobe.”
Her collection of simple, clean, spare dresses has earned her this year’s Dallas Fashion Award for the category.
For spring, Lesser continues her focus on hand-dyed fabrics, including lots of ombres. Texture is important, and so are the sexy touches like bare necklines, gently draped hemlines, cap and short sleeves and lots of back detail.
“I make clothes that I can relate to,” explained Lesser. “A simple approach allows each woman’s individual style to shine through and also show off a great body.”
Lesser said her business is growing this year about 10 percent.

Company: Dollhouse
Category: Junior Contemporary
Futuristic fabrics, forward designs and a streetwise attitude have helped build New York-based Dollhouse into a retail powerhouse.
A division of Jou Jou, Dollhouse just proved its popularity by winning the Dallas Fashion Award for junior contemporary.
Sixties, Seventies and thrift-shop inspiration show up in Dollhouse’s downtown styles, which are designed by Nicole Murray, who formerly designed men’s sweaters at Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.
Except for the high-heeled stiletto sandal or the retro party-girl face that are Dollhouse logos, decoration is often held to a minimum, as Murray prefers to let fabrics and silhouettes do much of the talking.
Typical Dollhouse looks include bra tops, vinyl jumpers, pedal-pushers and short, shiny suits.
And if Dollhouse’s fast, forward looks aren’t reason enough to buy, consider its aim to keep wholesale prices relatively low, usually starting at around $10.
“We want to offer really hot fashion,” Murray said, “but without burning a hole in the customer’s pocket.”

Company: Central Falls
Category: Sportswear
“Sportswear with high style for real life,” is how Dallas resource Central Falls describes its updated classic silhouettes, named best sportswear collection in this year’s Dallas Fashion Awards competition.
“The Central Falls philosophy is that today’s woman no longer has to choose between style and functionality,” said Beaver Raymond, vice president. “Since we began our business in 1989, we have proven with every collection that trendy and classic styling are no long mutually exclusive.”
Central Falls is no stranger to the winner’s circle. It won a DFA Femme trophy a few years ago for its denim styles.
Raymond said the thrill of winning is especially sweet since it’s from the stores: “They’re what we’re all about.”
Central Falls sells to about 1,400 specialty stores across the U.S., and sales this year are up 20 percent. Raymond said the sales surge is coming from established stores ordering more merchandise and new stores now carrying the line.
For spring, Central Falls will show a spectrum of novelty prints along with classic monotones, brights and pastels, all rendered on its signature easy sportswear, said Raymond.

Company: Laundry by Shelli Segal.
Category: Contemporary
Laundry has grown rapidly since 1991, when Shelli Segal joined the company. Her contemporary, wearable fashions appeal to a spectrum of women and are expected to rack up $85 million this year — plus a second consecutive Dallas Fashion Award. Explained Segal, “The only thing that will make me get money out of my purse is something that looks so new to me that I don’t have already. That is what I strive to design — something where your eye says that’s right and that’s new and I gotta have it.”
Laundry, now 10 years old, started as a sportswear collection, but now also offers knitwear, day and evening dresses and a petite collection.
“We’ve made huge strides in the sportswear, mainly because of our knitwear,” Segal noted. “It started small, and now it’s a big part of the sportswear line.”
For spring, “things are easing up a bit,” she said. “A lot of fabrics now have a little bit more drape than what we’ve been using.”
Laundry’s spring collection will reflect an army surplus influence with olive, banana and celadon hues. But don’t expect epaulets or military buttons.
“We do it in a way that doesn’t scream ‘I’m wearing a costume,”‘ Segal said. “We tweak it. We’ll add patch pockets and maybe a mesh top trimmed with lace.”
Dallas is Laundry’s biggest market for specialty-store sales, and the award has personal significance for Segal.
“Dallas is my hometown, so it’s really great,” said Segal, who lived in Big D until she was six and moved to Manhattan.

Company: Ron Leal
Category: Designer Women’s Wear
Ron Leal is in the midst of a global fabric-sourcing mission, but his itinerary includes Dallas during October market.
Not only will Leal be showing his collection, he’ll also be picking up a silver trophy — a Dallas Fashion Award for designer women’s wear.
Leal won the award for his collection of easy and sophisticated sportswear, separates and dresses, which he calls “maximum minimalism.”
“By stripping away unnecessary details, I simplify the design and allow it to be worn in a variety of different ways,” noted Leal, citing, for example, a fingertip-length wool and viscose jacket that tops jeans, a white shirt and skinny trousers or a matching bustier dress.
“I’m very proud of this award,” said Leal, who is based in Vancouver, B.C. “I’ve put 12 years into the Dallas mart, and I’ve been there for almost every market.”
Sales this year are planned at $5 million and are expected to rise 15 percent in 1998, according to Leal.

Company: Baby Guess
Category: Children’s Wear
At Baby Guess, the emphasis is on comfortable clothes for active kids. That’s been a golden formula for Pour Le Bebe, the Los Angeles licensee for Baby Guess clothing, which expects to do $110 million in sales this year.
“I think children have to feel comfortable about the clothes they are wearing,” reflected Michel Benasra, the Frenchman who founded Pour Le Bebe in 1984 and is head designer. “I don’t think it’s possible in baby fashion to just take an adult design and shrink it down. It must fit the children.”
Baby Guess, winner of the Dallas Fashion Award for children’s wear, dresses boys and girls from newborn to age 7 in a lot of soft fabrics, like washed denim and cotton jersey knits. Styles are simple but cute: A boy’s cream overall might be splashed with a print of cowboys and Indians.
“We try not to be too trendy,” Benasra noted. “We are kind of basic in feeling. It’s cool, casual and not pretentious. We want the children to play and have fun — we don’t want to make them uptight.”
For spring, Baby Guess will offer colorful overdyed garments in orange, green and yellow, a soft twill floral print, lots of plaids mixing green, yellow and red and a striped nautical group in navy and white. T-shirts wholesale from $5 to $9; overalls are about $11.
Besides selling to department and specialty stores, Pour Le Bebe owns about 30 Baby Guess stores and has just opened a 6,000-square-foot unit at the Forum in Las Vegas. That store offers kids’ clothes plus linens from the Guess Home Collection license that Benasra holds. Benasra also introduced six months ago a Baby Guess Home collection of crib sets and accessories.
“I love children,” said Benasra, who has two teenage daughters, “and believe me, it is a great pleasure for me to dress them.”

Company: Victor Costa for Nahdree
Category: After Five
Talk about comebacks in this town and one can’t help but mention Victor Costa.
The once-high-flying copycat champ and three-time Dallas Fashion Award winner was the king of Dallas fashion — until a series of financial and personal setbacks forced him to close his business and liquidate a few years ago.
A month after closing his business, though, Costa resurfaced as designer for Nahdree, a New York-based ready-to-wear and social occasion label.
The match proved an instant hit, and Costa has been flying high again ever since. Volume this year will be about $12 million to $13 million, according to industry sources. Next year, sales are planned to hit at least $15 million. Accounts include Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom.
This year, Costa tacks on his fourth Dallas Fashion Award: Victor Costa for Nahdree nabbed this year’s After-Five laurel.
“Simply put, I was ecstatic when I heard that we won,” said Costa. “It’s an honor and wonderful to be the winner.”
Costa noted that he’s extremely pleased about the return to glitz — albeit subtler than in the Eighties — that’s defining much of social occasion these days: “Out of minimalism and into the new millennium of opulence and glamour.”

Company: Barse & Co.
Category: Jewelry
Barse & Co., Dallas, expects its sterling and semiprecious stone jewelry to ring up more than $20 million in sales this year, compared with $15 million in 1996. The 10-year-old company has built its business with low prices afforded by its ability to buy rough gemstones in bulk and cut and mount them at its own factories in Bangkok.
“We’re known for stones and the fact that we use genuine stones, whether it’s semiprecious colored stones like amethyst or denim lapis,” noted Michael Gobril, who started the business with his wife, Melanie. “We offer fashion at a very reasonable price.”
Wholesale prices begin at $2 for ball earrings and climb to $150 for heavy sterling twisted cable jewelry, but the bulk of the tickets are $15 to $25. The company offers a staggering 4,000 styles. Recent bestsellers have been faux tortoise and sterling combinations.
“We follow the fashion,” Gobril pointed out. “Whatever is in fashion, we are very quick to respond to it.”
For spring, Barse will emphasize highly polished blue cabochon turquoise stones in sterling settings — “very clean, not Southwest at all,” noted Melanie Gobril, head designer. The company also is working with green labradorite and gaspeite stones and will offer sterling pieces carved with a herringbone motif.
Last summer Barse introduced a leather belt line with zinc buckles to a couple department stores and will offer it to the entire market in January.
The Dallas Fashion Award isn’t the only trophy Barse will pick up this month; it also will take home a DIVA award from the Atlanta Apparel Mart.

Company: Brighton
Category: Accessories
This year marks the fourth trip to the winner’s circle for Brighton at the Dallas Fashion Awards. The leather goods company has a fervent following among specialty stores, and it’s easy to see why: Besides its constant flow of new products, the company services its accounts with elaborate seminars and lots of enthusiasm.
Brighton, a division of Leegin Creative Leather Products in City of Industry, Calif., has just added briefcases, agendas, watches, jewelry and clocks to its repertoire of belts, handbags, wallets, shoes, picture frames and key fobs.
All that adds up to big business. The company is shooting for $110 million in sales this year over $96 million in 1996.
“A great contributor to our success is everything goes together,” notes Jerry Kohl, president, founder and owner. “The watch matches the handbag which matches the shoes and bags. It’s all cute little things. Have you ever seen our clocks? You’ll love our clocks.”
Brighton flies its designers around the world to scout ideas for buckles and ornaments. A trip to Florence, for instance, resulted in a holiday collection inspired by the intricate embellishments of the city’s architecture.
A 90-member sales force, a newsletter, sales contests and special events keep Brighton close to its accounts. Little unexpected treats, like cookie deliveries by sales reps, charm retailers. At a seminar last August at the International Apparel Mart in Dallas, 2,000 retailers witnessed how products are made in a mini factory set up by Brighton.
Claimed Kohl, “Making a difference in the marketplace is what we do here at Brighton.”

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