By  on September 25, 2009

WASHINGTON — Ernest Marx, owner of the upscale Saks Jandel boutique in Chevy Chase, Md., died Sept. 11 of cancer at his home in Potomac, Md. He was 88.

Marx was known for bringing couture to the power brokers and social elite in Washington and established a reputation as a retail innovator.

Born in Munich on Nov. 30, 1920, Marx was the son of a department store owner. He left Germany in 1938 after the Nazi reign of terror on Jewish businesses during Kristallnacht.

Marx served in the U.S. Army during World War II and later married Baltimore native Sally Swartz, taking a position in the family fur business, called Saks, that was established in 1888 by cousins of the founders of Saks Fifth Avenue. By 1958, Marx had taken over the fur business with his brother-in-law, bought another local fur company, Jandel, and combined the names to set it apart from the emerging Saks Fifth Avenue.

Saks Jandel has flourished for decades, due in part to the personal relationships Marx forged with fashion icons such as Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino Garavani and Karl Lagerfeld, according to his son, Peter Marx, who took over the store as president in 2000.

“He was a tough negotiator, but a very fair person to do business with,” said Peter Marx. “Designers and vendors alike knew that they could count on his loyalty as long as they delivered the quality and creativity he so admired and certainly demanded.”

During his 50-year tenure with the store, Marx secured exclusives with a “who’s who” of the world’s top fashion designers and houses, including Gucci, Valentino, Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Lagerfeld, Emanuel Ungaro, Fendi, Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Christian Lacroix.

His reputation for providing privacy, security and personal attention drew Washington’s fashion elite to the store. First Ladies Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton were clients, as was Elizabeth Taylor, who shopped there when she was the wife of former Sen. John Warner. Philanthropist Deeda Blair also was one of the store’s patrons, often partnering events with Saks Jandel to raise money for charities.

In addition to his son, Marx is survived by his wife, Sally Swartz Marx; two daughters, Kathy Riechel and Pat Washburn, and eight grandchildren.

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