DALLAS — "Wait ’til you see upstairs," said Burt Tansky as he welcomed a guest to Neiman Marcus’ 95th anniversary gala. "It’s the greatest store in America."
A bit biased, perhaps, but Neiman’s chairman and chief executive had reason to brag on this night. All six floors of the flagship were decked out for the retailer’s birthday party, with lavish holiday decor, whimsical displays and an abundance of food, models and musicians. Even the PETA protesters walking the streets outside, griping about a Santa Claus dressed in red mink and white ermine, didn’t dampen the mood. Are there any other stores with a Christmas tree festooned with Manolo Blahnik shoes?
Ken Downing, Neiman’s vice president and chief party impresario, ducked under a rolled paper lampshade as he escorted C.Z. Guest and Harry Slatkin into an elevator colorfully wallpapered with the number 95.
"This is 95 degrees in the shade, in case you were wondering," Downing said.
He led the candle purveyors to see the sixth-floor women’s restroom decorated with dried roses, floral-framed mirrors, a leopard-print rug and plenty of Guest’s powerfully fragrant"Garden Roses" candles.
"This is fantastic — have you ever in your life?" gasped Guest, who was nonplussed when Downing shepherded Slatkin and a male photographer into the powder room along with her.
"He is so naughty. There were two women in there, and they were horrified," Guest said.
Downstairs on the main floor, about 50 people lined up for a photo with the fur-clad Santa, who told many to "feel my suit." What he didn’t mention was that his wife had sewn him a special cold suit to wear underneath so he didn’t overheat.
The milling crowd gazed upward, taking in the ornate silver and white chandeliers, oversized clear crystals dangling from silver organza ribbons and mannequin-like models in furs and Roberto Cavalli dresses standing frozen atop display fixtures. Over in fine jewelry, big black-and-white photos of jewel-laden local pooches blanketed the walls.
"There’s my dog, Cruiser, in a $185,000 Frank Mueller watch that got damaged every time he hit the floor," chirped Angie Barrett, a local socialite.Pamela Dennis admired the photos and said she had been scouting SoHo to open a combination photography gallery- clothing shop for the eveningwear line she expects to launch in February.
"I plan to start small, with 25 pieces," she said. "I’ve had two years of being out [of the business] because I had a non-compete clause."
Musicians and exhibitions reflecting the gala’s "comfort & joy" theme as well as the retailer’s history was arrayed on each floor. On two, which has long housed Neiman’s prestige women’s collections and furs, was a 70-year retrospective of the little black dress, featuring styles by Chanel, Norman Norell, Pauline Trigere, Hanae Mori and Calvin Klein.
On the men’s floor, a frightfully lifelike animatronic depiction of Derrill Osborn, the flamboyant former Neiman’s men’s executive, narrated a witty show of"arboraceous curiosities." For example, the grove of pun trees featured the Manolo Blahnik "shoe tree," a "paste tree" of fake jewels, a "lemon tree" hung with photos of such automotive disasters as the Chevy Vega, and the "palm tree" of gloves.
A display of clear plastic clocks on the sixth floor humorously chartered a historical event for each of the past 95 years. The rim of the 1943 clock marking the completion of the Pentagon was filled with red tape, while the 1961 clock celebrating the first American manned space flight was ringed with powdered Tang.
Last month’s gala drew about 1,000 people who bought tickets to support the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Dallas chapter. The following Monday, Patti Crews was back in the store to gaze at the tiaras on the paste tree after seeing them at the black-tie benefit.
"It was so overwhelming, you couldn’t take it all in, so we came back down," she said.
That sort of attitude, with some shopping thrown in, is exactly what Neiman’s is hoping for.
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