Saturday, 9 May 2009

Quimper and the Neiman Marcus Fortnight

Stanley Marcus, marketing genius that he was, came up with an idea to boost retail sales during the lull between the fall fashion season and Christmas. The idea came to him during a visit to Stockholm, Sweden, as he viewed a store front promoting a French-themed sales promotion. In the 1950's, it was a unique marketing concept since most Americans did not travel abroad; therefore, Marcus decided he would bring the World to Dallas!

A year before the first ever "Fortnight", Mr. Marcus sent 20 NM buyers to France to search for merchandise representative of that Country. Everything from food to fashion was selected and ordered for the special two week event.

Marcus began lobbying local businesses and museums to partner with him, to immerse the city in French culture. He arranged for French tapestries to be exhibited at Memorial Auditorium; French paintings to be on display at the Dallas Museum of Fine Art (now known as the Dallas Museum of Art - "DMA"); French films to be shown in area theatres; French entertainment to be booked at local clubs and he encouraged civic clubs to invite French speakers for meetings. It was a massive and masterful coup to orchestrate and promote a city-wide event!

The year 1957 arrived and the work continued. Nine months before the Fortnight, Marcus hosted a lunch, inviting civic leaders to lobby for their support. 1957 also happened to be the 50th anniversary of Neiman Marcus. The event was to be the biggest birthday party any retailer had ever attempted to throw. Neiman's paid for advertising supplements in Vogue and the Dallas Times Herald to announce the first ever NM Fortnight.

The store was completely transformed with Franco-inspired decor and filled with the merchandise selected by the 20 buyers the previous year. Everyone was ready for opening day!

The six-story birthday cake's interior included a first floor staged as the Place de la Concorde, the second floor's walls were hung with $10,000 worth of donated draperies from French textile makers and interspersed with three dimensional copies of Gauguins, Mondrians, Legers made with life-sized dummies and the fourth floor was set up as Christain Dior's boutique in Paris.

As the Fortnight began, an Air France Constellation, Dallas' first International flight, arrived at Love Field. A high school band played La Marseillaise as the Dallas Mayor greeted the Mayor of Dijon and French dignitaries along with business and fashion industry leaders. Later, representatives from Christofle, Baccarat and other business leaders arrived in Dallas for the festivities. It was reported that French artist, Bernard Buffet, was an instant Dallas hit as he donned a 10 gallon Stetson hat.

The Official festivities opened in the Zodiac Room. The NM restaurant was transformed into Maxim's with its' walls covered with photo murals. Ambassador Herve Alphand gave a speech as guests dined on $25. a plate lobster and champagne dinner.

During the Fortnight, Stanley Marcus was awarded the Chevalier Award from the French Legion of Honor. The order was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.

Marcus succeeded in getting support from area businesses and clubs. The city was in a French freny! Included in the city-wide activities, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art displayed 32 Toulouse-Lautrecs during a special exhibit and the Kiwanis Club and Y.M.C.A. hosted lunches for the dignitaries.

The Fortnight was a huge success. Time Magazine covered the event in its' October 28, 1957, issue. The 2 week party was referred to as "Dallas in Wonderland." It was reported that the event cost approximately $400,000. The French government and fashion industry contributed around $80,000 toward that amount. Marcus' gamble paid off. Neiman's sales went up 25% in the first few days of the Fortnight and sales throughout the Fortnight hit
approximately $2,000,000!

Before the French Fortnight was over, British interests had contacted Marcus, asking him to hold a British Fortnight the following year, which he did. Other Countries recognized with Fortnights included: Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Japan, Ireland, Brazil, Spain, Greece, Germany, Ruritania and ending with Australia in 1986.

Some of the very most unique exhibits displayed during a Fortnight include the 1980 Spanish Fortnight, in which a bull was brought into the china department, a live crocodile was present at the entry into the Lacoste shop during a French Fortnight, an elephant was created from fuschia orchids in 1969 for the East Meets West Fortnight and in 1967, the main floor of the store was turned into an English Manor Hall.

For photos and Fortnight artwork, click on or cut & paste: html

Many people ask why Texas has so many Quimper collectors. I believe that we can safely attribute some or most of this phenomenon directly to Stanley Marcus. During the years 1957 - 1986, NM hosted French Fortnights, 4 times. During at least one of these events, Marcus and sold Quimper that was marked "made especially for Neiman Marcus." (see example.) I believe the china department carried the faience as a regular item for many years. I know of some Dallas brides who selected Quimper for their "everyday" pattern, a few years ago.

This wraps up the NM portion of the blog. I hope you will take time to visit "the store" during the Q Annual Meeting and consider having lunch in the Zodiac Room. You will love their famous popovers!


  1. is that Quimper for Neiman Marcus pottery worth anything now because I just went to an estate sale in Kerrville, Texas (Fitch estate sales) and they had a whole set of it for $400, but today (July 25, 2009) it is half price at $200.

  2. Just had to drop a note to let you know how much I enjoyed this article. Who knew? And now I do, thank you!