With the Conservatory on Two, Brian Bolke is reimagining retail in Dallas
Jhe second Conservatory in Highland Park Village opens its doors on Wednesday, February 2 in the form of a wintry greenhouse: profusions of flowers, DJ Lucy Wrubel setting the tone, tuna melts passing by and continuous refills of Cindy’s Margarita – named by Cindy Rachofsky of The Rachofksy Loger.
Boutique owner Brian Bolke describes that opening night to me three weeks before it happened, as we walk through what was then an empty yard sandwiched between Chanel and the private Park House social club, on the second floor of Highland Village du Parc. The towering black casement windows are the only hint that something beautiful is in the works. As a meticulous scenographer, he analyzes the imminent plans: terrazzo floors, ivory walls, black plaster columns, exposed conduits. apothecary and perfumery here, men’s and women’s clothing there, interior design in between.
“It’s the most personal thing I’ve ever done. I will take care of all the details,” he told me. Whether the new space reminds visitors of one of his previous retail ventures – like the original Forty Five Ten on McKinney Avenue – or resembles friends like an extension of the home he shares with husband Faisal Halum , that’s because it should. “These are benchmarks that are important to me,” he says.
Bolke, 53, has been reimagining retail in Dallas for nearly 30 years. Moving here in 1994 to work as a store designer at Neiman Marcus, he soon opened what was known as Texas’ first elevated flower shop, Avant Garden. He later hit the national market by launching the highly unexpected Forty Five Ten with his partners Shelly Musselman and Bill Mackin – a fad that brought brands such as Alaïa, Marni and Céline to the Dallas market and placed Bolke in the international eye. He sold Forty Five Ten to Headington Companies in 2014 and took on the mammoth task of building a 45,000 square foot Forty Five Ten store downtown across from The Joule Hotel, another Headington property.
It wasn’t until leaving Forty Five Ten in 2017 that he was able to reflect and take stock. It was then that he came up with the concept of The Conservatory. During a break between Paris and New York fashion weeks, and no longer working in a store environment, he started shopping online.
“I was constantly having items shipped to me from different stores, and it was never what I thought it would be, so I would send it back,” he says. “And because I was in the business, I knew what it took to get this garment to me. And to just send it back…I mean, talk about carbon footprint waste. He decided to open a store based on sustainability and customer experience.
The first Conservatory (launched in 2019 in New York’s Hudson Yards) functioned more like a showroom: patrons could try out, but they couldn’t take anything with them that day. Instead, Bolke reported to designers what item had sold and where to ship it.
Bolke took measured steps to open The Conservatory in Dallas. A small location opened on the ground floor of Highland Park Village in late 2019, where it shifted the business model to conventional retail, and then a small conservatory of two followed. The new Conservatory on Two eclipses the original spots, with 9,000 square feet designed by architecture and design firm Droese Raney, who also designed downtown Forty Five Ten. It features men’s and women’s fashion, jewelry, apothecary, beauty and interior design, with names including Jonathan Cohen, Eva Fehren and Rosetta Getty.
Chicago designer Alessandra Branca has a pop-up shop with her exuberant Casa Branca home collection (until March 18), and many of her wares are also sold in the Conservatory’s ground-floor miniature branch called Bijoux – mostly a mix of gifts and apothecary.
Vestiges of the original showroom concept still enliven the stores today: maintaining personal and transparent relationships with designers who push for traceability. As Bolke points out, besides conservation, the word “conservatory” also means a place of study. Much like a traditional school, The Conservatory encourages learning, and this new store will provide more space for educational growth.
“For us, it’s not about selling things. Because for that, you just have to buy it on Amazon,” he says. “We sell discovery through curation, storytelling and service.” As long as you leave the store with a new appreciation for something (a cerulean wine glass from Alessandra Branca’s latest collection, a funky dog bowl from Mr. Dog, an embroidered sheer dress from Uruguayan designer Gabriela Hearst), he did his job.
“Yesterday a salesman told me that this amazing lady from Mexico City walked in, fell in love with these amazing emerald Ri Noor earrings that I thought I would never sell, and walked out wearing them,” he says. . “I love it: connecting people to things they would never have seen and that make them happy.”
Bolke credits chance encounters like these to his in-store team. “Service is the most essential part,” he says. “It’s knowing which customer to call and say, ‘Do you remember those earrings you liked? We just got them in blue.
At this new location, he wants to elevate the shopping experience even further and hopes that The Conservatory on Two will become a site of exploration. That’s why he included a restaurant called Teak – a sort of ladies’ lunch spot with a treetop view of the Dallas Country Club. Teak’s menu, open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, includes dishes familiar to regulars at the former Forty Five Ten’s T Room: the Brian Bowl chopped salad, lemon pistachio pies and chicken tortilla. Soupe.
“That concept was a really nice part of luxury retail in the 1940s and 1950s, where you would go to a store like Neiman to hang out for the day,” he says. “You went to eat popovers and make edits, watch toys and work on your wedding registry. This is what we are reinventing here.
The Conservatory of Two opens Wednesday, February 2, 100 Highland Park Village, theconservatorynyc.com.