By and  on October 16, 2007

DALLAS — "We're all here," Yves Carcelle of Louis Vuitton said Thursday night, waving to a fellow European luxury goods executive as he stood at the 20-yard line of the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Carcelle was one of 800 guests mingling on the football field's thick green grass to kick off Neiman Marcus' big, Texas-style, two-day celebration of its centenary.

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And, like most of the guests, he faced a style quandary: to do the Western thing whole hog or play it safe. In his case, the Vuitton head, who had flown in from Paris that morning with his wife, Rebecca, opted for all-black à la Johnny Cash, but sans cowboy boots and hat. "No, not me," he said, showing off his black suede boots.

It was a sentiment echoed by William McComb. "I am so not Western," the Liz Claiborne chief executive officer said, then added, "OK, at least I'm in jeans — Lucky Brand." Otherwise, he was clad in a black silk moire jacket by Juicy Couture — which drew praise from at least one other cowboy in attendance — and a white T-shirt.

Valentino's Graziano de Boni also mixed it up, combining jeans and an embroidered black shirt with a neckerchief and tan boots — "Not cowboy, but Valentino," he said, showing them off. "And the shirt is Valentino, too, and I thought it would be interesting because it's see-through. Very cowboy," he joked.

Most guests went de Boni's route, resulting in a dress style that Neiman's fashion director, Ken Downing, dubbed "Tex Mix" — but only after he insisted he didn't really care what the women were wearing; he was more focused on what he was going to don. In the end, he exhibited the style de mode, mixing vintage red-and-white cowboy boots with a white jacket and cotton pants. But the cowboy boots weren't just any cowboy boots. "They're vintage Tom Ford; he made them for me after I fell in love with them on the runway," Downing said.Roger Farah, president and chief operating officer of Polo Ralph Lauren, also mixed it up, displaying what he called cowboy boots — although they tied — with jeans and a lumberjack-style shirt. Didn't he want to go more Western? "This is as Western as I get," Farah said, "given how big I am."

Ron Shamask showed up in red-and-white-striped J. Crew pants and a borrowed Western shirt, and said when he comes to Dallas, it's all about trunk shows, meeting clients and staying in stores. "I never go out, but this is amazing. We're all cowboy wannabes. I've seen a bull, and we're standing on grass, for God's sake."

As the cocktail hour wore on, guests wandered between pig races, dressing goats in tutus and wigs (yes, it's true) and posing for pictures with a longhorn steer. A few brave souls signed waivers and rode the mechanical bull. As Andrew Rosen was climbing aboard, Carmen Marc Valvo cried, "Take off your glasses! Everyone says it's slippery. This is crazy. There's no seat." After Rosen took a tumble, Valvo took his turn and hung on for 25 bucks of the bull before being flung. "I'll take it. That was fun. Now let's go look at the pigs," he said.

Many others would do the same after the buffet dinner of almost every meat imaginable, potato salad, corn bread, beans, corn on the cob and pecan pie. "There is a counter to the right serving Lipitor — and one for Viagra," joked Neiman's chairman and ceo, Burt Tansky, as he greeted the crowd with Karen Katz, head of Neiman's Stores. "Oh, that was a Freudian slip," Tansky added, while Katz interjected, "You know what they say: Everything's bigger in Texas."

Over at one of the several bar stops, Josie Natori clearly felt out of her element. "This is just my style — very me," she said.

"Come on, Josie. How about I pour you a beer and we pretend it's Champagne?" injected Neiman's Steve Kornajcik.

As Chris Isaak played through his repertoire — thanking Neiman's for inviting him and his band because "we really didn't have anyplace else to go. Well, I mean, we do have other places to go, but it's great to be playing Neiman Marcus. We could have been playing Sears Roebuck" — guests continued to discuss business, the balmy weather and their own clothing. British jeweler Stephen Webster, who's been on a tour of Neiman's throughout the U.S., landed in Dallas that morning and, like many, headed directly to a Western gear store to grab his cowboy hat, boots and cowboy shirt. "It seemed like the right idea," he said, before adding: "Although I don't know when I'll wear it again."Manolo Blahnik did the same the night before to get his getup, which he paired with his own bespoke Anderson & Shepherd double-breasted jacket. "My feet are killing me," he moaned, pointing to his cowboy boots after doing some cha-chas on the sidelines. Why didn't he just design his own? "No time, so I bought these at some shop in town, along with everything else. I've always admired John Wayne."

But proving more than anything that the night was all about fashion, Blahnik had his own twist on the Western theme: "It's all vintage, honey — vintage. I insisted."

"Finally, a party where we're all not dressed like penguins," said Piazza Sempione's Enrico Morra.

The next night, they all were, en masse — 2,000 guests at the flagship celebration that not only drew the designer crowd, but Dallas society and Hilary Swank to support The Dallas Center for Performing Arts. "This is the hottest ticket in town," said Tansky. "We had to turn plenty of people away."

Inside, the store was all gussied up with 24 designer gowns created specially for the event as a nod to the future and theatrically spotlit on revolving platforms above the crowd. There was also a 10-foot-tall glass "fashion diva" mannequin lined with decades of ads; green home furnishings; futuristic and interactive artwork including a walk-in-and-around video cube honoring the Chanel camellia, and a retrospective on "The Jetsons" and the Space Age concepts the animated series introduced.

Neiman's even broke through a wall of shoe displays to some vacant storage space to create Club 100, although the second-floor children's department that was transformed into a disco drew the most inspired dancing well past the witching hour.

"It's all beautiful people, and nobody is trying to outdo anybody else," said Lawrence Marcus, son of Neiman's co-founder Herbert Marcus. "They're all dressed in Neiman Marcus style, and one of the things that we always stood for was a certain look in clothes.

The entire centennial celebration was three years in the making.

"It's like a graduation for me," said Stephen Dweck. "I grew up with them. You both want luxury, and each encourages the other. You see a $39,000 tie, you want to make an $89,000 necklace."Karen Katz came wearing Blahnik's $1,050 crystal shoes created just for the occasion, and Zac Posen gave a nod to Neiman's Texas roots by donning a pair of boots with a Western style. "These are not real cowboy boots — they're YSL — but I do wear cowboy boots," he insisted.

Other designers who attended Friday night's festivities included Christian Louboutin, Ippolita, Lana Marks, Carolina Herrera, Gilles Mendel, Ralph Rucci, Nanette Lepore, Taryn Rose, James Ferragamo, Vittorio Missoni, Carlos Falchi, Mark Badgley and James Mischka, Nicole Miller, Nancy Gonzalez and a large number of high-ranking executives from European and American fashion houses and the world of real estate.

Katz said the event was Neiman's biggest, surpassing in attendance Neiman's 90th anniversary celebration, which was staged as a rodeo.

"I grew up in Shreveport, but it was always a big thing to come to Neiman Marcus in Dallas. We always came here, ever since I was nine — and even then I was this long, tall and skinny thing," said CeCe Cord.

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