Byline: Holly Haber

Texans have never exactly been a fashion-shy crowd — although even they took somewhat of a break in the mid-Nineties, making high-end fashion retailing here a bit tough.
But the latest wave of good fortune has brought many of the locals back, and it has given a boost to venerable retailer Tootsies and its owner, Mickey Rosmarin. And a new, expanded location with an emphasis on gold range collections has proven to be a boon to the company.
Tootsies last month more than doubled its store here to 19,000 square feet, investing about $1 million to make room for more contemporary, designer and diffusion collections. While it’s based in Houston and has units in Atlanta and San Antonio, the Tootsies here has a particularly stellar pedigree: The building, on the edge of the affluent Park Cities neighborhood, once housed Neiman Marcus’s first branch, and the last tenant was The Gazebo.
Tootsies opened here in its current location in 1996, occupying the first floor of the four-level building. Rosmarin, who serves as head merchant, has found the present spot to be much more successful than his previous locations in Dallas, where he started in 1991 with two years at the Galleria followed by a three-year stint at NorthPark Center.
The Preston Road unit has had stellar business, particularly with dresses, gowns and contemporary labels.
“Business has been incredible — 20 to 30 percent increases every year,” Rosmarin said during a recent walk-through.
But heightened competition in the contemporary arena from Neiman’s, Lilly Dodson and new stores in town, including Elements and Spicy Couture, persuaded Rosmarin it was time to diversify by playing up a hipper side of bridge, designer labels and the so-called gold range lines priced just below designer.
“Contemporary has been discovered by everyone, so we are going in a new direction,” Rosmarin said. “The bridge market is coming way back. It’s modern, great clothing that appeals to a lot of our customers who wore Laundry or BCBG and have outgrown it. That skintight, young, fast fashion doesn’t work too well past your mid-30s or early 40s. Bridge has interpreted contemporary, so it’s related separates — it’s not about suits.”
Bridge is now housed in a new 600-square-foot room on the first floor. Jenne Maag is Tootsies’ best-selling line in the category, and the store also does well with Ellen Tracy, Lafayette 148 and Votre Nom.
But the biggest emphasis is on designer labels, which occupy the newly renovated 8,500-square-foot second floor. The store is picking up about a dozen designer collections to fill the space, including Ralph Lauren Black Label, Vera Wang, Celine, Alberta Ferretti, Vestimenta, Narciso Rodriguez, David Rodriguez and Moschino. They augment popular lines like Piazza Sempione, Lela Rose and Badgley Mischka.
Since Dallas customers already have access to a lot of designer apparel by way of stores like Neiman’s, Stanley Korshak and others, Rosmarin’s tactic is to carry slightly more casual lines that are not the most expensive in the market.
“Ralph Lauren is a perfect example,” he noted. “We’re doing the Black Label collection, where an outfit is $2,000, not $3,000 or $4,000 like in Purple Label. We’re doing best with sportswear collections, more so in items than ever. We sold 12 of Roberto Cavalli’s crocodile [embossed leather] pants for $1,300. It’s separates sportswear on the designer floor, and it blows out of there.”
Part of the floor is dedicated to the gold range, a category Rosmarin is developing with labels such as Harrari, Peter Cohen and TC Laughlin. Separates under those labels retail for about $300 to $700.
The second level also has an exclusive display of fine jewelry by Dallasite Naomi Pevsner. Earlier this year, the store sold a Pevsner five-carat diamond ring for $50,000.
The decor is classic Tootsies — cream carpeting and walls, black lacquer screens, curvy black sofas and potted palms. When renovations uncovered a high ceiling and columns with simple Doric capitals dating from the Neiman’s days, Rosmarin rethought the layout to maximize their impact.
The new space opened in mid-October, and the store is on track to do $8.5 million in sales this year, a 30 percent gain. Rosmarin is angling for a 15 to 20 percent hike in 2001.
Combined sales from all five Tootsies stores, including the flagship in Houston and a dress shop at the Houston Galleria, will be more than $25 million this year, he noted. The flagship has been posting about a 10 to 15 percent gain and San Antonio and Atlanta are in the 5 percent range. But none has had a run like this store.
“We hit a niche that had gone untapped — not too high and not too low,” Rosmarin said. “We’re under couture and above young contemporary. We can still go to the third floor and the basement, so it may keep growing.”
Much of the success can be attributed to the real estate bromide — location, location, location. Proximity to the affluent Park Cities neighborhood, on busy Preston Road, has been key.
“In the evening, we have bumper-to-bumper traffic out front,” noted Susie Calmes, fashion director for the Dallas store. “We have men who call from their cars and want to know about what’s in the windows for their wives.”
The retooling of Tootsies isn’t limited to the second floor. The first floor grew also, and new departments were installed. A new Via Spiga leased shoe boutique opened on the first floor, and another shoe department on the second floor complements the designer collections. There, Tootsies sells Pancaldi and plans to stock Ralph Lauren, Richard Tyler and Vera Wang shoes as an adjunct to the clothing.
Rosmarin added an apothecary on the first level with bath products by Bambini Soul for children, Osea, Lafco and Get Fresh, plus candles and teas by Red Flower and Lippman Collection nail polish. A broader collection of accessories also is on order, including fur pieces by Eve Reid.
But Rosmarin is a bit uncomfortable selling fur, especially after a shipping and receiving employee made her feelings known by tossing out some fur pieces rather than put them on the sales floor. He made peace with himself and her this fall by donating 5 percent of fur sales to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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