D Design Book
December 11, 2009
The New Mexico
Dallas showrooms get a boost from south of the border
Every few weeks, there’s a highly anticipated Mexican invasion in the Dallas Design District. Call it a happy coincidence, but it seems that several different groups of very wealthy Mexicans arrive at the very same time with their designers in tow. They buy for their primary residences, second and third home, and even their children’s houses. These are happy times for the showrooms — these customers order everything on could ever need for a new (and very large) house. Best of all: there’s usually no budget. Figures of $200,00, $300,000, even $400,000 are not unusual, and the kind of money more than makes a showroom’s month.
Many of the most consistent buyers come from Monterrey, specifically Garza Garcí, the wealthiest suburb in Mexico. It’s Monterrey’s Highland Park — and it could easily be our twin city. Our weather conditions are almost identical — when it’s stifling hot here, it’s 100 degrees there. In February, when it’s cold and rainy, they, too, are clad in fur coats, The women there are glamorous, blond, and perfectly maintained in their diamonds, Donna Daran, and Chanel. Of course, the younger generation is a little more casual: think Gucci, Prada, and D&G. Sound familiar?
The Garza Sada, Milmo, and Brittingham families live like monarchs with multiple servants, private planes, and unlimited shopping budgets, They also have effortless style and gracious manners that are part of who they truly are rather than acquired habits. “Our Mexican clients are all about manners — they’re never rude or demanding — just very gracious, and they comport themselves like aristocracy,” Beau Black of David Sutherland Showroom say.” And they’re glamorous. One night David and Ann Sutherland took some client to dinner. Other diners started whispering, wondering who they were with — movie stars or aristocracy.”
As for style preferences, just like in Dallas, the recent direction is modern. According to Traci Finch of the George Cameron Nash Showroom, “We used to sell heavily carved, classic furniture. Now the Mexicans are ordering clean, straighter lines. The look is soft contemporary. On almost every job, we well a Tonneau table or a set of Barbuda dining chairs from Holly Hunt. The younger clients don’t’ seen as interested in fabrics; the look is still very neutral, with little or no pattern. No floral.”
And because of the heft of these purchases, these deals become a top priority for showrooms. “Business with Mexicans is built on total trust,” says Ashley Leftwich of David Sutherland Showroom. “ When I have a client from Monterrey, I don’t take calls or see other clients. We will work as late as necessary, and I will prepare quotes as quickly as they want — taking them to the hotel if requested.”
Clients typically deal with a single salesperson to communicate with other showrooms about their orders. Back when I was in the showroom business, I procured a barbecue order from Gerry Pascal of Pascal Arquitectos with instructions like these: “Send the fabric to Leslie.” That meant find out from Leslie Bell at the Baker Showroom where the fabric was to go and have it shipped there. That trust extends to financial areas as well. It was no unusual for Adolfo Sauvignon, one of Monterrey’s most influential designers (and always a welcome sight at Dallas Showrooms), to dense me a wire transfer for $50,000. The instructions would be something like “Make deposits on my orders and send the rest to Richard [Bettinger at David Sutherland Showroom] and Gene [Swenson at Culp Associates].”
I’m happy to report that the same trust and civility is still in place. And the lipstick brigade still exists, reports Finch. When Manuel Roditi, a.k.a. “The Babe,” is in town, saleswomen from competing showrooms will call each other with this message: “Put you lipstick on, The Babe’s in town.”
Back in the go-go 1980s, the extravagant ordering that took place in the showrooms was truly amazing. Arq. Jorge Loyzaga, still one of the top architects in Mexico, cam into the John Edward Hughes showroom to order Sherle Wagner with an obviously wealth client. He had just finished the project and the homeowner wanted to do all five bathrooms in different semiprecious stones — the countertop, all the fixtures, even the floors in malachite, lapis, rose quartz, amethyst, and tiger eye. She arrived at the showroom each day in different colored dyed mink coat. I don’t remember now if the mink matched the particular bathroom we were working on that day, but it seems possible.
In those days, clients arrived in Dallas with briefcases full of money. The peso was worth almost nothing due to a massive recession, and those with money were taking it all out of the country in any form they could. Now, of course, credit cards and U.S. bank accounts are the norm, but in the rough and tumble days, furniture was smuggled across the border so as to avoid paying duty, and business was done all in cash. I once received a call at home on a Friday evening — my husband thought it was friend faking a Mexican accent — from a frantic Cordelia Cortes, one of our biggest clients from Monterrey, who had left her purse with $40,000 at the showroom.
The suitcase full of money are no longer necessary — credit cards are the preferred mode of payment in order to acquire the mileage points. Nor is the design taste as flamboyant, but then, neither is ours. Dyed mink? Not today. But the Mexican orders still average about $50,000 at most high end showrooms. That will get you a Holly Hunt dining table and chairs, or Sutherland teak and Perennials for the patio. And this tiny handful of clients, about a dozen in all, constitutes 10 to 20 percent of some showrooms’ annual sales.
Though times have changed, Mexican clients continue to bring back a long-absent civility to the business. And it’s nice to deal with people who — despite their wealth — consider home and family of the utmost importance. Before any shopping happens, the client still greets his designer with the customary two kisses on the cheek. He always asks about your family and remembers that your daughter is graduating from high school, and, in turn, invites your to his special events. Track Finch just returned from Adolfo Savignon’s daughter’s wedding in Monterrrey, where she also saw other clients. “When we go to Mexico and call on clients, before a single fabric sample is shown, we visit and hear all about each other’s lives and families,” she says. “They were eager to invite us into their homes an show us their favorite projects.
In this time of market globalization, many of the top manufacturers of high-end good have opened shop in Mexico. So why come to Dallas? “Mexicans want to buy here because it is more exclusive than buying there. They don’t want to see what they have in local stores,’ says James Williamson of ID Collection. “The end-users are well traveled, cultured, and know style and design. They want the best.” But they also love Dallas. “They have fun,” he’s says. “Shopping, dining, and staying at the best hotels. And believe me, Neiman’s and Saks are very happy.”
Gonzalo Bueno and Mauricio Lobeira opened 10 + 3 in Dallas about six years ago. “We have done some major projects here, but the bulk of our work come from our Mexican clients,” Bueno says. “Our clients can buy anywhere in the world, and although we frequently buy accessories in Europe, we can find the best of everything in Dallas.”