The Retail Visionary: Brian Bolke

Brian Bolke—co-founder of Forty Five Ten (a Dallas-born boutique with outposts in New York, Aspen, Miami, and Napa) and mastermind behind The Conservatory, an immersive and carefully curated shopping experience at NYC’s new Shops at Hudson Yards (more on that later)—has always felt at home in stores. His father’s work took his family from city to city as a child, but Bolke never failed to find refuge in retail. “I was constantly in new places and new schools. My mother was also in the same situation,” he explained. “I would go shopping with her and it was always a magical experience because people didn’t care if we were new in town. Stores were a neutral zone where everyone was nice and welcoming. It was a little bit of fantasy.”

 That friendly and inviting feeling stuck with Bolke throughout his career. While he dreamed of designing cars, he didn’t love engineering. He turned to architectural and interior design instead, which ultimately led him to store planning and design after college. “Stores by nature are much more temporary than other kinds of design work and the ability change and evolve appealed to me,” said Bolke. After working for legendary shopping mecca Neiman Marcus and building the distinctive temple of luxury that is Forty Five Ten, the retail veteran remains firmly tapped into today’s cultural zeitgeist and trusts his well-honed instincts. “You have to be open to what’s happening in the world to know the next big thing when you see it,” he said.

 And the next big thing is bound to be Bolke’s latest project: The Conservatory, a completely new concept poised to change the way people buy and brands sell. This revolutionary space allows customers to see, smell, touch, taste, and try on carefully selected items in a luxury boutique setting with the convenience and pressure-free feeling of online shopping. “Even though it’s got a big, high-tech platform underneath it and the entire store operates on Wi-Fi and iPads, to the eye and to the touch, it feels quite warm,” he explained. “We’re not focused on branding or brands, but the stories behind them. There’s something empty about concentrating solely on a label. At The Conservatory, we’re interested in why a brand is special and questioning what makes something luxury or what makes something sustainable. We’re delving deeper.”

With over 50 prestigious brands to choose from ranging from Baccarat to Birkenstock, and exclusive items from iconic labels like Narciso Rodriguez, there’s a lot to discover—including the first pop-up shop from Materiae featuring the best in beauty. Customers can also peruse culinary gifts from chef Thomas Keller’s Finesse The Store; recharge after a shopping marathon at La Sieste Bastide (a private room filled with the sounds, scenes, and scents of Provence); enjoy a spot of tea selected by none other than Waris Ahluwalia at the Teak Tearoom; and pick up fresh flowers from Lewis Miller for UrbanStems on the way out.

“I wanted to do something that brought back why people loved shopping and going to stores,” said Bolke. “When you take out the friction and the pressure, you can really focus on that welcoming feeling.” Whether you’re a wide-eyed tourist or a thoroughly jaded New Yorker, consider The Conservatory your new hospitable escape from the mean streets of the big city.


Here, Bolke reveals some of the items that routinely end up on his shopping list and the inspiring A-lister who greets him every morning.

 His golden rule: “You always have to be nice to people and do things with integrity and honesty. You never know where someone is going to end up. I’ve worked in the retail business for about 35 years and there are literally hundreds of examples where I’ve been nice to someone at a junior moment in their career and before you know it, they aren’t so junior. People remember things like that…I think karma is really important. You have to put good energy towards things to expect it back.”

 His ride-or-die beauty product: “When you have the right serum, it changes everything. I use Dr. Loretta’s Anti-Aging Repair Serum and apply any leftover residue to the backs of my hands. I’ve noticed a massive difference.”

 His two-step skincare routine: “My beauty mantra is definitely to keep it simple. It’s a lot easier being a guy, but if you have to use more than three things, I think it’s a problem. I use my Dr. Loretta serum before I go to bed. In the morning, I mix liquid bronzer with an intense moisturizer. It changes all the time, but I like Zelens Marine Complex Deep Restorative Cream and NIOD Photography Fluid.

 His hair hero:Kiehl's Creative Cream Wax. It’s really hard to find—I had to buy nine tubes of it last time.”

 His ultimate indulgence: “I think it’s important to take real time for yourself. At least once a year, I like to spend four or five days on a spa trip. I completely decompress and do everything you could possibly do! I love the feeling when I leave. The last place I went to and loved was Two Bunch Palms in Palm Desert.”

 His drugstore discovery: “The most important thing in my world is Neosporin. I put it everywhere.”

 His go-to pros: “I get a really good facial every three months. Alexis Badami in Dallas is my favorite. I’ve also gone to the same hairstylist, Peg Cribari, for over 20 years. People think I don’t have complex hair because it’s so short, but it’s actually super complicated. Every single time I try someone else, I run back!”

His favorite escape: “I go to Mykonos every year for two weeks. The nice thing about being there is that you don’t have to think because you’re so happy. I’m not a big sun person, but I do allow myself to get some vitamin D while I’m on the island.”

 His biggest beauty mistake: “I did have some real A Flock of Seagulls hair going on in 1980. Abusing peroxide is probably my number one beauty mistake. I only used it in the front—it was a really good look.”

 His beauty icons: “I'm super obsessed with J.Lo because I think she’s real in her own way. No matter her age, she always owns it. What I also love about her is that she looks the way she looks and you know she works really hard at it. She doesn’t pretend like any of it is easy. My male beauty icon is Tom Ford circa 2004 because I think that is when he was the most confident.”

 His everyday inspiration: “Elizabeth Taylor. I’ve always been somewhat obsessed by her and one of my favorite possessions is an original photograph shot by Herb Ritts when Elizabeth had brain cancer. It’s in my kitchen and I look at it every day. I think it’s one of the most beautiful pictures of her, but it’s also one of the most unglamorous. It captures the idea that beauty really is a feeling. The fact that she would take that photo and feel beautiful simply because she was alive is huge to me.”


Written by Amber Kallor
March 21, 2019