The History of Luxury – Neiman Marcus and Carrie Marcus Neiman

DALLAS – By Michelle Leigh Smith – Beyond the square footage, Neiman Marcus remains a place that stirs memories of fashion, luxury and the Neiman woman who shaped the style of the era.

Those Neiman Marcus Memories

Gilda Bayegan remembers the fragrance fountain in the 129,000-SF Flagship store at Main and Ervay in Dallas from her childhood days.  “You could dab a little Guerlain behind your ears and felt revitalized for the rest of the day,” she laughs.

Martha Vita, Founder of The Marks Project, bought her wedding suit there over 50 years ago.  “I still have it – it’s tailored in white linen in the most beautiful cut imaginable.”

Carrie Neiman: Vision, Imagination & Grit

The sole woman responsible for the ethereal style was one of three founders who opened Neiman Marcus in 1907. Carrie Neiman had the vision, imagination and grit to create the ultimate fashion playground. She was celebrated both with a proclamation from Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on Carrie Marcus Neiman Day and with a champagne kick-off of her new exhibit, An Eye for Elegance: Carrie Marcus Neiman and the Women who Shaped Neiman Marcus.” Her biography, by her niece, Jerrie Marcus Smith and Stanley Marcus’ granddaughter, Allison Smith, just hit the bookstores.

Neiman served as the store’s first buyer, traveling to New York, Paris and London to find the most special ready to wear in the world.  She wrote to Texas all the way from Claridge’s, in London. “Hartnell Hardy Amies is most excited about an order that he has for young Princess Elizabeth. Those numbers are not to be shown to anyone – she bought eight pieces.”

She found that even for Neiman’s, a few selections would be unobtainable. Hartnell would later design Elizabeth’s wedding and coronation gown, privacy was penultimate.

Not to be deterred, Neiman continued her merry chase and found exquisite suits and gowns which sold out pretty darn quick back in Dallas.  Neiman is acknowledged for attracting cultural and economic growth for Big D along with the rest of the Lone Star State.  “We owe Texas a great deal,” says Richard Marcus, the only remaining Marcus brother. “They believed in the idea and always supported us. We profited greatly.”

Did the Duke & Duchess of Windsor Swipe Towels in Texas?

She shared the confidences of her customers and her decisions became legendary. “Her knowledge, in its way, shaped Dallas society well beyond the clothing that the city’s most elegant residents brought home,” says Smith in her book. “Because of Carrie, NM was considered Dallas’ arbiter of fashion and taste, and that included many areas in addition to fashion. When a Dallas doyenne was preparing an important guest, she might call NM to ask for pointers. What would make an elegant dinner and how should she serve it? In 1949 Carrie read that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor planned to visit the Mexican ranch of two of the store’s clients, wealthy Dallas oilman Clint Murchison and his wife Virginia. Carrie phoned Virginia with just the right suggestions for the Murchisons’ ranch house for the royal visit. “It would be nice if you had some linen hand towels with the duke and Duchess’ monogram and their crest,” Carrie offered. Virginia was thrilled with the idea and equally thrilled when the beautiful linens arrived at the ranch only three days later. Several decades later, Virginia was still grateful to Carrie for her stroke of genius—and still shocked that the duke and duchess took all 12 towels home with them.

Before clienteling tools and integrated retail, Neiman used her intuition and imagination to make life extraordinary through every day touchpoints.

Neiman died in 1953, just shy of her 70thbirthday. The old-world elegance that she wore so easily stayed with her in her later years.  “Simply put, her kind has not been seen since,” says Allison Smith, co-author of the book and a photographer who has worked for the Dallas Morning News, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian.

Russell L. Martin, SMU’s Assistant Dean and Director of DeGolyer Library and Special Collections, recently introduced the new exhibit. “One of my favorite books in the Stanley Marcus collection is a copy of the poet Ogden Nash’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Like just about all of Mr. Stanley’s books, this one contains a wonderful inscription by that master of light verse, entitled, “Song of the Texan.”

Born and bred in the town of Dallas

Where every Texan’s home is his palace.

When I die just confirm my carcass,

And close my account at Neiman Marcus.

“Carrie Marcus Neiman was a true trailblazer,” says Mimi Sterling, CEO of The Family Place. “Being a Jewish woman in Dallas in 1907 and co-founding Neiman Marcus with her brother and husband, Carrie broke down barriers and paved a path for generations of women leaders across the globe. Always elegant, inspiring, and visionary, Carrie’s essence is captured in the SMU DeGolyer Library exhibition “An Eye for Elegance” through thoughtful curation of photos, fashions, and factoids. It’s a must see!”

SMU’s DeGolyer Library premiered the new exhibit in Fondren Library’s Hillcrest Foundation Exhibit Hall called “An Eye for Elegance: Carrie Marcus Neiman and the Women Who Shaped Neiman Marcus” that explores the life and legacy of Carrie Marcus Neiman, a remarkable woman, who with her brother, Herbert Marcus, Sr., and her husband, Al Neiman, founded the iconic luxury department store Neiman Marcus in 1907. The DeGolyer Library exhibit coincides with a new biography about Carrie’s life, A Girl Named Carrie, by Jerrie Marcus Smith.

Richard Marcus, CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck and Alvisi Orsini. Photo credit: Jeanette Korab

Opening night was attended by Neiman’s new CEO Geoffroy van Raemdonck, from Belgium and his husband, Alvise Orsini. Owned by the Neiman Marcus Group, which oversees Bergdorf Goodman, Horchow and Last Call, there are 37 stores in the US, with seven in Texas, the largest of which is at NorthPark, with 218,000 SF. The San Francisco Neiman’s is larger, with 252,000 SF.  In Houston, NM’s Galleria store is a retailing landmark.

An Eye for Elegance

“I had the privilege of attending the exhibit, An Eye for Elegance: Carrie Marcus Neiman and the Women Who Shaped Neiman Marcus,” says VanRaemdonck. “Carrie was an unprecedented trailblazer who followed her passion and convictions to become a co-founder and leader of Neiman Marcus. Today, her vision and legacy remain in Neiman Marcus Group’s DNA as a women majority organization, from our associates to our Board of Directors.”

Herbert Marcus III, Dallas County District Court Judge Staci Williams, Curator Anne Peterson, Annette Becker from the Texas Fashion Collection at North Texas State University, models and Chef Kevin Garvin, who’d written Neiman’s cookbook that was showcased under glass with drawings of Neiman’s first restaurant, the Zodiac Room, and later, the Mermaid Room.

Model Sandra Tilley, raises schnauzers and recalled a remarkable NM moment.  She put an ad in the Dallas Morning News to sell a puppy and a man responded, arriving at her home in a brand-new Black Cadillac.  “He paid her for the puppy, asked me to take care of the shots and keep the little dog until Christmas Eve because it was to be a gift for his wife. A couple of days later, I received another call, this time from Stanley Marcus, asking for the measurements of the dog. He wanted to make a mink jacket for the puppy.  She measured the dog, gave Mr. Marcus the made-to-order measurements, and the dog arrived on Christmas Eve, wearing her own mink coat!”

Stories like that as well as their fantasy gift catalogs which Neiman’s has published since 1959 add to the fabled mystique. For $150,000 you could snag an Arch motorcycle designed by actor Keanu Reeves and his business partner Gard Hollinger. And if money was really no object, then spending $400,000 for a 12-day dream trip to India might be more your speed.  In 1960, the first His and Her gift was offered – airplanes: a Beechcraft G18 for $149K and a Bonanza for $27K.

His and Hers Airplanes

“We got a request from a West Texas rancher saying that he could not use both planes, but he would like to buy one for the ‘little woman’ who had been hankering for a plane of her own for a long time.” In 1971, the catalog featured His and Her authentic mummy cases. That made front page news around the world. They were shipped directly to the then-new store in Bal Harbour, to celebrate the opening of the first store location outside of Texas. They were purchased by the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Diego. In 2002, the holiday catalog offered a black Thunderbird, for $41,995. “When Mr. Marcus went to meet with Ford regarding this retro styled Thunderbird, they told him they wanted to do a limited edition of 200 – the largest we had ever offered. He thought they were crazy, but they knew what they were doing. They sold out of the cars in two hours and 15 minutes — a new record for Neiman’s.

Drawing on family archives and the Stanley Marcus Papers at SMU, the exhibit is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, through Jan. 28, and spotlights Carrie and her many achievements. Through photographs, letters, postcards, telegrams, clippings, magazines, catalogs, sheet music, jewelry, and dresses (on loan from the Texas Fashion Collection at the UNT), Carrie’s career comes to life.

From her birth and girlhood in Louisville, Kentucky, to her move to Dallas, her marriage (and divorce), and her commitment as a working woman to the success of “The Store,” Carrie Marcus Neiman emerges from the shadows of history. Carrie was indispensable in shaping the Neiman Marcus “look,” her innate good taste in fashion and demand for the finest in fabrics and details helping to create a nationally known store that rivaled those in New York and abroad.

The exhibit will also direct attention to other talented women from the earliest days of Neiman Marcus, including buyer Moira Cullen, first fashion promotions director Kay Kerr, interior designer Eleanor Le Maire, and food director Helen Corbitt, all of whom shaped the fashions and tastes of their clients and society.

There is a 100-edition catalog of the exhibition and it will be for sale on www.carriemarcusneiman.com

This exhibition is made possible in part by support from Neiman Marcus, the Eugene McDermott Foundation, Friends of SMU Libraries, SMU Women’s Studies and Professor Bonnie Wheeler.


Dec. 14, 2021 Realty News Report Copyright 2021

 For more about Texas real estate, check out the book Houston 2020: America’s Boom Town – An Extreme Close Up  by Ralph Bivins. Available on Amazon  http://tiny.cc/4a2g6y  

Houston 2020 Ebook version  https://tinyurl.com/4xm7z8b5      

The Marcus family at Eye for Excellence exhibit.  Photo credit: Jeanette Korab

File: The History of Luxury

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