Saturday, 2 May 2009

"The Store, " "Mr. Stanley" and his Books by Susan Cox

Have you ever heard of Stanley Marcus? A Dallas and fashion icon, or "Mr. Stanley" as NM employees called him, along with a brief history of NM, will be the topics covered in this first blog.

Neiman Marcus was opened in 1907 and was founded by Marcus' father, Herbert, and his aunt, Carrie Marcus Neiman. Presented with the opportunity of buying the Coca-Cola franchise or opening a retail store, the brother and sister opted for the store. Stanley Marcus would muse that the beginnings of the successful store were based on a bad business decision!

Fire destroyed the first store in 1913 and it was relocated to its' present location at Main Street and Ervay and is still the businesses flagship store. During the next twenty years, Neiman's created a Christmas gift booklet, that would eventually become the World famous Christmas Catalog, opened a sportswear department for women and imported French-made men's ties and English shirtings, rarely found west of New York. In 1934, NM ran national ads in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and was the first retail establishment outside of New York City to do so.

In 1950, Mr. Marcus was promoted to President of NM and he opened a second store in Preston Center, the following year. Marcus commissioned Alexander Calder to make a mobile, which hung in that neighborhood store. It is with this purchase that Marcus became an art collector. This store was moved to larger headquarters in 1965, when the new Northpark Center opened.

Other marketing ideas created by Marcus, include the "His & Hers gift" ideas included in the Christmas catalog and the creation of the Fortnight. Beechcraft airplanes were the first featured His & Hers gifts. It may be because of the first NM Fortnight, that there are so many Quimper collectors in Dallas. I will write about the "French connection" in another blog.

In 1964, the flagship store had a 4 alarm fire, destroying the store's inventory including a former neighbor's wedding gown, the week of her wedding! She has a great tale to tell about how the store found her another wedding gown, had it shipped to Dallas and made the necessary alterations, all within a few days!

Neiman's was eventually sold in 1969, to Broadway-Hale and planning for national expansion began. Mr. Marcus would serve as C.E.O. of Neiman's from 1973-1975 and in 1975, he was named chairman emeritus.

On a personal note, my Aunt Maurice, worked in couture at Neiman's, or "The Store", as she called it, for over 25 years. The tales she would tell were so interesting. Clothes would be personally selected from designers' collections by a salesperson and be sent, on approval, to a regular customer. Money was not exchanged until after selections were made. Among Maurice's more well-known clientele was Governor John Connally's wife, Nellie. Her co-worker Katherine, "dressed" Grace Kelley. I recall after Grace's marriage to Prince Rainier, Grace contacted Katherine to enlist her help for the selection, purchase and shipment of a complete Mexican dinner for an event she was hosting in Monaco! Oh, how times have changed!

During Mr. Stanley's lifetime, he acquired a taste and great appreciation for quality, whether it was in clothing, food, art or books. In 1979, he titled his second book, Quest for the Best. Books and art were a passion of his and as a collector, he collected many things including miniature books.

In 2003, his private collection of books was donated to the DeGolyer Library, at S.M.U., and at that time, his collection totalled 8000 books, including 1,100 miniature books. Focusing on collecting the best, either antique or contemporary, Mr. Marcus favored bi-lingual dictionaries, almanacs, poets and children's books and works by famous authors.

Throughout time, many famous people have been collectors of miniature books including Queen Mary of England and Franklin Roosevelt. Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln also owned and were known to travel with small books. Abraham Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" was first printed in miniature.

For Marcus' 70th birthday, his wife Billie, wanted to surprise him with a miniature copy of his first book, Minding the Store. Finding it almost impossible to accomplish without a knowledgeable person, she finally turned to Marcus for guidance. As a result, Marcus began a publishing house that he named Somesuch Press and he produced 500 copies of Minding the Store.

Marcus had long wished to be a fine press publisher and to issue books of distinguished design in miniature form. Over time, Somesuch Press issued 36 books, including one considered to be a most outstanding effort, Portraits of the Queen, The Stamp Collages of Jack Milroy.

Pictures of two of Stanley Marcus' books are featured in this blog, Minding the Store and A Journal Of A Trip Down East. Also pictured, is a copy of Miniature Literature, the miniature catalog produced by the Bridwell Library for a special 1995 exhibition of Marcus' miniature book collection.
Next time, I will write about the building of Mr. Marcus' home on Nonesuch Road, including Frank Lloyd Wright's involvement, famous visitors to the home and the turmoil surrounding its' proposed demolition last year.

1 comment:

  1. Susan, as an ex fashion person, I found this story especially interesting. Loved hearing that bit about Grace Kelly! Fun!