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In His Own Words

"The taste of the general public isn’t as good as that of the sophisticated minority, but it isn’t as bad as most manufacturers and retailers believe it to be.<br><br>"The public will buy bad taste in merchandise if it has no choice, but...

“The taste of the general public isn’t as good as that of the sophisticated minority, but it isn’t as bad as most manufacturers and retailers believe it to be.

“The public will buy bad taste in merchandise if it has no choice, but it will usually respond to any product in good taste if that product is presented at the right time with authority. Public taste can be led astray by bad example; it can be elevated by consistent education and by the presence of a recognized set of standards.”

— “Fashion Is My Business,” an article published in 1948 in “The Atlantic”

“Everyone who has a nose is a potential customer this time of year…To think up gift ideas for people is a marvelous mental exercise.”

— WWD, Dec. 15, 1964

“I still try to teach every member of Neiman Marcus’ staff to say ‘no’ to a sale when ‘no’ is required.…Any fool can say, ‘Yes, that’s perfect for you!’ It takes a salesperson with knowledge and courage and judgment to say, ‘No, this doesn’t seem to be quite the right thing for you. Why not think it over? Wait until tomorrow. Wait a week, and then a decide.’ No store earns a good reputation by flattering a customer into buying something he or she knows very well is wrong. ”

— GQ, March 1966

“It would be an exaggeration for anyone to claim that they had ever had a conversation with Chanel, for she conducted a one-woman filibuster. Supreme egoist she was, but with justification.”

— “Minding the Store,” 1974

“We’ve never liked the word ‘clerk’ at Neiman Marcus, since it suggests an ‘order-taker,’ for which we have no room in our business. In sales meetings I have frequently said that vending machines can take orders for an exact piece of merchandise much better than a salesperson; vending machines don’t chew gum or have bad breath, but they can’t sell a person a more becoming shade, a better fit, or something so new that it has to be presented with an explanation.”

— “Minding the Store,” 1974

“There are some who exaggerate the importance of taste, who make it a shrine at which they worship. That, of course, is pure nonsense. A person with bad or indifferent taste can live a perfectly happy and normal life, have a loving family, and be financially successful. Good taste, like education, simply opens new opportunities for the enjoyment of life.”

— “Quest for the Best,” 1979

“Reputations, like plaster walls, require constant maintenance.”

— “Quest for the Best,” 1979

“Good fashions do not occur by revolutions, contrary to popular opinion, nor can they be decreed by designers or retailers. Rather, they come about as a result of slow evolution. This is protective, not only to existing wardrobes, but it prevents the panic that sets in when older clothes are invalidated overnight.”

— The Dallas Morning News, 1987

“I think we are going through a period of the coarsening of America. It’s hard to tell whether it’s due to leadership or whether the markets are demanding it. Whenever an older person makes a comment like this, they are immediately called a puritan, and I’ve never thought of myself as being puritanical. But I find the utilization of sex as a means of selling merchandise is unsavory.

“You have a feeling that designers are straining to see how much of the human body can be exposed, and how much of the sex act can be shown. Next it will be complete exposure and complete revelation.…The fact that designers think this gives them a position in the fashion world is what concerns me. It is so contrived. It is sexually motivated instead of fashion motivated.”

— WWD, 1991

“In retrospect, I think I lived in the golden age of retailing — by pure luck, not through anything I did — when retailing was a personalized business and even in large operations, managers were owners.…It was a period when merchants were trying to make their mark and build their communities.

“It also was much easier to develop merchandise that fitted your concept and personality. You didn’t have established lines that were cut in concrete. Today, buyers are buying what satisfies the manufacturer, and that makes it much more difficult to have a unique product. I don’t think they even strive for uniqueness anymore.”

— WWD, 1995

“In the 21st century, I think the department store will have to be redefined and reinvented. It serves a very important place in the distribution economy, but it’s out of date. They’re overcrowded with fixtures and merchandise, offer no service to speak of, no ambience or anything exciting. They don’t even have the charm of a warehouse.”

— WWD, 1995

“Fashion is ugly. Designers are all mixed up and suddenly conceive of themselves as great artists and they’re making an ego statement. They’re hoping to write a book or sign a movie contract, and they’ve lost a sense of purpose of making clothes that are attractive. They’re so eager to get their name in the paper and in Vogue that they make extreme things, many of which never get into production, but get into photographs.”

— WWD, 1995

“Home shopping is just a step above the old snake-oil business where they promised the moon. It’s scandalous they’ve been able to get away with what they’ve done.”

— WWD, 1995

“The Christmas gifts started because I’m a great

opportunist.

“Every Christmas, I’d get a phone call from Ed Murrow at CBS or his young assistant, what’s his name, Walter Cronkite. They would do a Christmas roundup story, see what’s happening in retail. One year, I told them a man from Amarillo bought five mink coats for his five daughters, a sable for his wife and a leopard for his girlfriend. They loved it.

“So the next Christmas, they called and said, ‘Can you top that?’ Well, that year we had a Man’s Night party at the store and one customer was particularly loaded. I walked him around the block twice, and he sobered up considerably. Then he pointed to one of the displays and said: ‘I’ll take that one, everything in that window. Build a showcase in my playroom and fill it with that window.’

“I called him the next day and said, ‘Do you remember what you bought?’ The bill was $42,000, but he was relieved. He said, ‘Gosh, I thought I was hit for 100 grand.’”

— The New York Times, 1995

“I expect to read a headline one day that says: ‘Woman found dead in shopping center. She was bored to death.’”

— The Dallas Morning News, 1998

“Seventy-five years ago, fashion originated in the salons of dressmakers, who had apprentices who handed them pins and chalk and learned their trade. They passed down a tradition of balance, to accentuate the best parts of a woman or a man. The Diors and Balenciagas and Chanels have been replaced by a variety of designers whose background in design never gave them the opportunity to learn the grammar of the business.

“Karl Lagerfeld is an exception. But the majority of these designers have no formal understanding of the principles of good design. If buildings were made by people who didn’t know about structure, they would fall down and crumble, and the same is true with clothing.

“Their defense would be they are interpreting the times. But I dare say there are more women who have been so discouraged by their inability to find clothes that do anything for them that they have put fashion on the back burner.

“Also, there is such a youth craze that everything is made for a 15-year-old body.”

— WWD, 2001