DALLAS — After a four-year hiatus, Michael Ballas is back on the retail scene with an exclusive dress collection for the Gazebo.
The designer had a brief but hot career from 1986 to 1988, when he styled a whimsical sportswear collection that sold to top specialty stores and reached an annual volume of $1.8 million.
Ballas was in his early 20s at the time, and the pressures of the business became overwhelming. “After five seasons, I was in 42 specialty stores, and it was a lot for me at that age,” he said. So he took a break, did a sales stint at the Barneys New York store at NorthPark Center here, and then began doing some custom design for private clients.
Earlier this year, Ballas decided it was time to get back into wholesaling. “I missed it from the time I stopped,” Ballas said. “There is something rewarding about not only creating a product, but seeing people buying that product.”
Shelle Bagot, owner of the Gazebo, came upon Ballas’s latest works by accident when she saw him last fall at a local car wash. He happened to have photographs with him of a few custom styles and some ideas for ready-to-wear, and Bagot was impressed. “We looked at the slides and thought that it was for our customer and it could be exclusive, which means a lot to our customer,” Bagot recalled.
The collection, appropriately dubbed Back to Life, bowed in January at the Gazebo for spring with day and evening dresses and suits retailing from $800 to $1,000. Coordinating jackets for some of the dresses were $900 to $1,000.
“It’s really colorful, which is different for me because I’ve always stuck to black and navy,” Ballas said.
The first styles included a wool boucle suit with a cropped jacket and short A-line skirt in chartreuse, coral and rose. Ballas also did a silk organza bustier dress with a shirred skirt that can be worn with the boucle jacket.
“We had a 75 percent sell-through in three weeks,” said Bagot. “People have loved the color and the shape.”
Ballas thinks the strongest sellers are yet to come — double-breasted coatdresses in a pinstriped black and gold worsted wool that are due to ship this month.
He planned to offer 30 styles for spring and summer.
“This collection takes what I did in the past, which was fun, fitted flirty clothes, and combines that with my retail experience at Barneys and the client base I developed there of women professionals,” Ballas explained. “I do very sexy, feminine clothing that’s a cross between hip young people and professional women who like fashion and want to be a little forward but can’t go to extremes.”
He plans to do the collection for the Gazebo for a year. Business with the Gazebo, plus his 20 regular clients for custom clothing, should add up to more than $500,000 in sales this year.
Ballas plans to begin offering a separate line to the national wholesale market for spring 1996 and is thinking about pursuing selling to a few stores in other cities for fall.
Backed by a private investor, Ballas moved in February to a headquarters and factory on 1512 Edison St. in the interior design district.
For fall, he’s thinking about “dresses, dresses, dresses,” especially fitted dresses with long jackets over them.
“I try to do dresses that are transitional from day to evening,” he said. “In the daytime, they can be worn underneath jackets. But the dress is a piece in itself that is very flattering and stands on its own.” — HOLLY HABER

DALLAS — The lament was frequent: Where were dresses for women who like fashion but not fads or matronly looks? Sales representative Suzanne Collier heard it from buyers and she felt it herself when she looked for lines to carry in her showroom here. So she styled her own.
Called Kardell Dresses, Collier’s concise, 25-piece collection offers day and evening looks wholesaling from about $59 for a jumper to $130 for a princess dress and jacket.
She introduced the line in October and already has 200 accounts and a first-year sales projection of $500,000.
“I’m trying to give a product that people ask me for all the time,” said Collier, whose showroom is in room 3B13 of the International Apparel Mart. “Nobody has a good dress line — it’s either too trendy or too missy.
Collier has no design experience save for studying art and drawing in college. To come up with ideas, she draws on her 20-year career in the apparel business as a buyer, merchandiser and sales rep.
“We try to use novelty fabrics that can’t be too heavy because of the climate here, and it has to have nice color, and it has to have the right length (above the knee) and a place you can wear it to,” she said. “If it doesn’t answer those five criteria, we don’t do it.”
Her fall collection emphasizes surface interest with fabrics like stretch chenille in polyester, rayon and wool, rayon tricotine and polyester organza. The palette ranges from solid, sparkly copper to royal blue, red, chocolate and black. There’s also a brown and cream minicheck in rayon and polyester.
Styles that did well for spring and will appear in new fabrics this season include a princess dress with a jacket that matches the knee length of the dress and an Empire-waist number with a skinny belt. Kardell also offers lots of fit-and-flare styles, including looks in black cotton and Lycra spandex.
Kardell has an office in the old Lorch Co. building at 4949 Beeman Ave. here, and everything is sewn by contractors in Dallas.
Nothing is basic, Collier points out. A look might be jazzed up with fake beaver cuffs, an unusual collar or braided trim.
“This is clean, young and sophisticated,” Collier claims. “Girls are relating to it who have never really worn dresses. It’s a little trendy, but not funky. The problem with being trendy is it’s in Target before you even get it to the stores — and at a quarter of the price.”
Stores that bought the line for spring included MaryBeth and Clifton Fashions in Dallas and Tres Mariposas in El Paso, Tex.
“I’ve gotten the little schoolgirl dress with an A-line skirt and little Peter Pan collar and I sold all four in a week,” said Kay Clifton, owner and buyer of Clifton Fashions, an updated and contemporary store. The dress’s price was $124. “If you put a rhinestone belt with it, it can go to dinner, or put sandals on and go to the beach. Kardell fits and is priced right and it sells.” — H.H.

DALLAS — Well-cut basics in glorious fabrics. That’s what the couture clients of designer Terri Camarillo Biediger have been asking for, so that will be the bedrock of Biediger’s new store, scheduled to open in early May in the Travis Walk quadrangle.
Called Terri Camarillo, the 2,700-square-foot space will house Biediger’s existing made-to-measure business plus serve as a retail outlet for the new separates collection.
In the four years she has been sewing custom fashions, Biediger has attracted about 20 high-society clients who seek her out for unique suits, dresses and gowns made from luxurious fabrics.
“You know how InAs de la Fressange is doing basics? That is what I’m working toward,” Biediger explained. “My clients always want us to do versatile pieces in four-ply silk, so I want to have those hanging in the store in sizes. They will be basic garments in unique fabrics.”
Biediger plans to open with summer shells, pants, jackets, tunics and skirts cut from four-ply silk, rayon crepe, linen and linen gauze from France and Italy. The palette will range from soft neutral hues to bright sherbet pastels.
For fall, she’ll move into wool jersey and some fancy fabrics, including an unusual checkerboard pattern made of blue cut velvet and orange silk chiffon.
Prices for separates will range from $150 to $450. A conservative estimate for first-year sales, she said, is $100,000 to $150,000.
Biediger, who is a vivacious bundle of energy, hopes the store will draw her current customers and their friends, as well as career women.
“The styling of the basics is more for the younger professional, but it will cross over,” she noted.
Jewelry by local designers Sally Davison and Blair Delmonico and handbags by Lorenzi of Italy will add spark to Biediger’s fashions.
Biediger chose Travis Walk for the boutique’s location because it was close to her clients in the Park Cities and had a unique ambience.
“I wanted an area with a little more character,” she said. “And there is a real sense of community with the store owners. Many have offered to help.” — H.H.

DALLAS — Eight celestial bodies of the ballet universe will alight here on April 7 for an unprecedented performance at the Music Hall in Fair Park.
The impressive cast: Kirov Ballet principals Yulia Makhalina and Faroukh Ruzimatov; New York City Ballet’s Darci Kistler, Nikolaj Hubbe, Kyra Nichols and Damian Woetzel; Rex Harrington, top dancer at the National Ballet of Canada, and Evelyn Hart, star of Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
They will dance eight popular pas de deux, including Afternoon of a Faun, The Sleeping Beauty and works from Giselle and Black Swan.
The International Theatrical Arts Society, a leader in bringing world-class performers to Dallas, has organized the event. Tickets cost $17 to $50 and can be booked by calling TITAS at (214) 528-5576.