Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS — Reem Acra’s fall eveningwear collection was featured in a runway show at a benefit luncheon at the Neiman Marcus store in Dallas’s NorthPark Center, and the women liked what they saw: eight bought dresses from the designer immediately after the show.
“We think she has a unique look,” said Ann Stordahl, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for Neiman’s. “We do very well with [her collection].”
Acra, who was humbled by the applause for her beaded and embellished gowns, took a quick turn around the tan marble runway in the designer area of Neiman’s in front of some 300 in attendance. The event raised funds for The Family Place, a nonprofit organization that provides services to victims of family violence.
Introduced last fall, Neiman’s sells Acra’s evening collection in nine doors, while her five-year-old bridal line is available in four.
“I started with a credit card,” Acra said, noting that her sales volume has doubled ever year. “The business of fashion is very scary. In a minute, you can lose it. But [the business] is very stable and solid.”
Sales were around $9 million last year and could double again in 2001, though Acra is loath to predict that.
“This year in January and February, I doubled, but who knows when there might be a soft month,” said the designer, who works from her combination home and showroom in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Acra has won the attention of retail buyers and wealthy Mideastern women with her sexy, curvaceous styles that range from allover sequined numbers to high-slit gowns with a bit of jeweled trim, handstitched embroidery, feathers or bugle beading. In February, she sold 25 custom gowns to Kuwaiti and Saudi princesses, she said.
“I get trends from the streets and movies, and a lot of architectural shapes and furniture,” explained Acra, dressed in low-key black knitwear and a Techno Marine diamond-bezel watch with a pink strap. “I travel a lot and go to Paris flea markets, and I’m out every weekend at flea markets in my neighborhood” in New York.
Acra was born in Lebanon, but has lived in the U.S. for 18 years and considers herself an American designer. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and Esmode in Paris, and started in business designing private label men’s wear, knitwear and suits for catalogs.
“It gave me an understanding of the basis of production,” she said.
Acra is one of six designers whose eveningwear Neiman’s is shipping to eight stores this season in a new strategy to bring special merchandise to smaller markets for a week or two of selling. The Dallas-based retailer has long staged a traveling gown trunk show, but this package differs in that the clothes have been purchased for stock and customers can buy them on the spot. Styles by Randolph Duke and Badgley Mischka also are featured.
“It’s a great way for customers to come and see it and try it on and buy it and not have to order it,” explained Ginny Hershey, vice president and divisional merchandise manager, who launched the traveling inventory this spring. “I’m going to do it again for fall.”