From Stetsons to Fedoras: the rise of Dallas’ creative class

By Ashley Nicola Wali

The new Dallas (image via National Geographic)

The new Dallas (image via National Geographic)

Dallas was once the land of starched button-downs, neat crew cuts and hair gel galore. But in the shadows of the omnipresent skyscrapers, a completely different side of Dallas is coming to life. This Dallas is brimming with vibrant tattoos, chic ensembles and quick wit. And while it may seem contradictory, Dallas’ new creative class is putting our oh-so-conservative city on the map for ceaseless innovation.

Something good is brewing in Dallas. Take a closer look and you’ll find that many of the city’s success stories lie in its budding creative class. It’s tough to say when the creative era officially began in Dallas, but Rob Brinkley, editor-in-chief of FD Luxe, and Jennifer Dunn, agency director of Sisterbrother Management, have played undeniable roles in its rise.

Editor Rob Brinkley with designer Tom Ford (image via FD Luxe)

Editor Rob Brinkley with designer Tom Ford (image via FD Luxe)

Rob Brinkley

Rob Brinkley isn’t just an exceptionally prominent magazine editor, he’s also one of the nicest guys around. Brinkley drives a distinctive vintage Rolls Royce, likes to roll up his sleeves just above the elbows and writes with unparalleled imagination.

As the leader of FD Luxe, Brinkley has helped transform the creative culture of Dallas. The tall, dapper Kentucky native’s efficacy in constructing iconic stories can be ascribed to a cool blend of sharp instincts and unbridled passion. There is a lucidity and emotional honesty to a Brinkley story that somehow captivates the reader: They are smooth and intriguing, but also intimate, which is part of the reason why people come alive between the lines.

Brinkley counts himself as one of the lucky ones who love every single aspect of their job. He lists reinventing FD Luxe as his biggest accomplishment. Brinkley sees the fashion and lifestyle glossy, which is the monthly luxury magazine of The Dallas Morning News, as “a place where creatives can be celebrated.” FD routinely features stories where everything isn’t so divine. Staff write unsung stories — about creatives who have slipped and the anomalies of the fashion world. “That’s an elephant in the room that a lot of style magazines won’t dare poke, and I’m proud that we do at FD,” says Brinkley.

He advises aspiring creatives to immerse themselves in whatever they want to do, in whatever way they can. He explains: “The more you’re exposed to whatever it is you love, the better informed you’ll be, . . . the more that passion finds its way into something you really, really love doing. That is so important.” Having interned at FD last summer, I can attest to Brinkley’s advice.

Brinkley points out that creativity is everywhere — “in the way you converse, the way you write, the way you put an outfit together, the way your house or apartment is decorated.” Brinkley notes, “Creativity is anything you do that feels off the norm . . . true creativity is that moment when you take off on your own path.” He logs architects and artists among his creative heroes, as well as fashion designers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Charles James, Madame Gres and Tom Ford.

Brinkley considers the City of Lights as the most creative and visited it on his birthday for years. “Beautiful, chic, gritty, vast, intimate — it’s got it all. Dallas is cleaner and more optimistic – but just as chic, it its own Texas way,” Brinkley quips.

He believes Dallas has grown tremendously in terms of creativity, particularly in art and architecture. “In just a few years’ time, we’ve had the Nasher, the Wyly, the Winspear and the Perot — buildings by creative, modern thinkers. The art scene is on fire, too, with Dallas artists getting more international attention.”

He cites exposure as the best way to foster creativity in Dallas, as well as attending everything you can in the arts. He says, “Making sure everyone has a chance at expressing themselves, from young school kids all the way up to senior citizens. It’s extremely important to make it easy for everyone to express what’s in them.”

Jennifer Dunn (image via

Jennifer Dunn (image via

Jennifer Dunn

I first met Jennifer Dunn in a spartan studio in a derelict part of town.  Better known as Studio 1816, it is a minimalist’s dream-come-true. In walked Dunn, with her vibrant tattoos and rocker chic threads. She had the cool vibe of an artist and the spirit of Janis Joplin. And that’s when it hit me — Dallas has changed.

As agency director of Sisterbrother Management, she represents the most unique photographers and stylists in Dallas and New York. Dunn is a tastemaker — a purveyor of creativity in a city typecast by its buttoned-up culture. But Dunn is more than optimistic about Dallas’ creative population. “There is an active and evolving community of progressive artists, and they are patronized by other Dallasites,” says Dunn. While she lists New York and Marfa as centers of creative inspiration, she notes that Dallas is the sweet spot in the middle— “there is an easy balance here.”

Dunn has become known as something of a creative innovator, boldly combining creativity and commerce to build new avenues for artists. She defines creativity as “elemental” and says, “It’s our natural urge to take all of the tools we have at our disposal and combine them to make new tools.” She notes her best friends, her children and the artists she works with as her inspirations.

Dunn says her role at Sisterbrother Management provides her biggest sense of professional fulfillment. “I do work quite hard, but I do it for and with artists, friends, family I admire so greatly that it hardly feels like work.”

While Dallas’ creative growth is commendable, there is room for improvement. She warns, “I’ve witnessed a disappointing history since my high school years at Booker T. of ‘brilliant mind migration’ to the coastal cities. If we have any hope of changing that, we have to mobilize and create an audience. And all that wealth we’re so famous for, how about buying some art? Artists have to eat and wearing that ‘starving artist’ badge of honor is tiresome.”

So what advice does Dunn have for aspiring creatives?

“Do it,” she insists. “Take one tiny step toward your goal every day.  After working a double shift waiting tables, come home and Google an artist or a process or a movement you’ve been curious about. That counts.”

in Articles

Leave a Reply