PaperCity Magazine

May 2019- Dallas

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Page 62 of 95

I t's a Friday night in early February, and Brian Bolke and I are nestled in what seems like the only quiet corner of Park House. It's almost exactly a month before the March opening of his new store, The Conservatory, at New York's much anticipated Hudson Yards. For someone who is in the process of creating a new retail shift, Bolke is surprisingly calm — he shows little sign of anxiety or exhaustion. Rather, he flashes an enviable kind of focus, thoughtfulness, and quiet confidence. This is an evolved version of Bolke I haven't met before. This is not the same young entrepreneur who opened Forty Five Ten on McKinney Avenue in 2000 — nor is it the same man who brought Forty Five Ten to spacious new environs in downtown Dallas in 2016, after brokering a deal to sell the store to Headington Companies in 2014, and becoming the brand's president. In fact, it seems that some of the most formative changes in Bolke's life have taken place fast and furious over the course of the last two years, since Bolke parted ways with Forty Five Ten completely and subsequently embarked on a new path that would lead to where we are sitting today. As we talk about his new concept — and the journey he took before deciding to spearhead the launch of another store — it becomes clear that the once-diehard fashion junkie, who attended all the top fashion shows and went to all the exclusive parties, has grown into a far more serious visionary. Bolke's focus is less on trends and the glitz and glam, and more on retail ingenuity and his vision for the future of the industry as a whole. Our conversation is a tangled web of tangents, springing from the inherent value in knowing the story behind the products we buy to the outdated notion of luxury and how we should redefine the term. We discuss the power of investing in experiences that happen in real time and the importance of true connection and mindfulness. There's even a brief moment where we dissect the meaning of the word "influencer" — a notion we both agree has little to do with one's Instagram following. Nearly two hours later, I walk away from our conversation with the words reinvention and evolution pulsing in my mind. Bolke, through his new store and the vision behind it, is not only pushing boundaries in retail, but he's pushing boundaries for himself. The result is a noted elevation of both the personal and professional kind. Here, a glimpse inside Bolke's fascinating and fashionable psyche. T h e p h r a s e " i n real life" is at the center of what The Conservatory values. We — myself included — have become so disconnected because of our phones. I wanted to focus my energy on the concept of experiencing stores again: discovery in real life, accessing our five senses, actually communicating with real people. Product without people and experience is just stuff. "In real life" refers to a real human touch. Technology plays a key role in The Conservatory's brick-and-mortar appeal. The store transacts solely on a website, and the customer can transact with multiple e-commerce brands seamlessly and transparently. There are things in the store the customer can take with them — one-of- a-kind items, jewelry, sunglasses, apothecary, certain gift items, and some easy things someone needs in a pinch. But the concept is really about being a gallery to touch and try before you buy online. It cuts down on the staggeringly high online return rate, and therefore the carbon footprint. When concepting and opening this store in particular, was there a part of the process that proved to be the biggest learning curve? I was lucky to finish my time with Forty Five Ten and felt no need to return to traditional retail. The Conservatory is a rethinking of what I had always known — with a clean slate and no history. I have always been passionate about connecting people and product. This is simply without the traditional wholesale/retail relationship. What I learned during the last 20 years is that we would tell the customer what they could have, when they would get it, and how they would get it. Today, the customer wants what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Retail must adapt and help the customer make better choices and have a better experience. That is the new value proposition. Were there any similarities between opening Forty Five Ten in 2000 and opening The Conservatory 19 years later? I feel the same sense of doing something totally new, hopefully with 20 years of experience under my belt. It has the same thrill, the same risk. In our conversations, you seem like a different Brian. You appear to have evolved from diehard fashion guru to more of an elevated, serious business visionary. I have nothing really to prove except to myself. That was a big realization. I feel so lucky to have done everything I wanted to do professionally — every fashion show, Kristen Cole photographed at Forty Five Ten 53 (continued on page 54) The Conservatory designed by Droese Raney Architecture The Conservatory at Hudson Yards, NYC

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