WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — “The Saint Laurent resort has arrived! Isn’t it just too divine? Isn’t it beautiful? Absolutely gorgeous? Isn’t this the most exciting color you ever saw in your life?”
Mary Jane Denzer is in high gear, her gravely voice gushing over Yves Saint Laurent’s cotton candy-color resort collection.
“I don’t wear yellow,” says a client.
“We have it in pink,” assures Denzer.
Within minutes, the client, who merely stopped by to pick up a dress that had been altered, adds two new YSL blouses to her wardrobe.
Mary Jane Denzer put White Plains on the haute couture map when she opened her eponymous shop on Post Road here in 1980.
In September, Denzer moved from the 2,800-square-foot Post Road store two blocks south to a 7,000-square-foot shop on the corner of Maple and Mamaroneck Avenues.
While other high-end retailers such as Amen Wardy and Martha’s were forced to close in recent years, Mary Jane Denzer has been thriving.
Denzer says she expects her volume to increase from $3.5 million in the Post Road location to $5 million in the new store in 1995.
The crisp awnings, marble foyer and monochromatic decor of the new store exude understated elegance. “Honk for valet” reads the sign at the front door.
The store is broken down into several areas. Couture collections, which include Valentino and Saint Laurent, the store’s major resource, are displayed up front. Denzer says she will sell about $500,000 worth of Saint Laurent this year.
The salon is devoted to opulent long evening gowns by Mary McFadden, Badgley Mischka and James Galanos, among others. In the cocktail area, there are many short — mainly black — dresses by designers such as Christian Lacroix, Chloé, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, Hervé Leger, Paul Louis Orrier and Emanuel Ungaro.
“Last year, everything was the suit,” Denzer says. “You couldn’t live without the suit. Now you can’t live without dresses. We sold a tremendous amount of pantsuits, especially for evening last year. This year we won’t have any evening pants.”
Jewelry by Swarovski, Jose & Maria Barrera and Stephen Dweck is displayed in the center of the store in circular glass cases. There is also an Italian sportswear area devoted to Armani Collezioni, Antonio Fusco and Luciano Barbera.
MJD, a new department geared to younger customers, is run by Denzer’s 24-year-old daughter, Holly Denzer. MJD carries Complice, Genny Way, Myrene de Premonville, Victor Alfaro, Bradley Bayou and Cento X Cento. The department is expected to contribute about $300,000 in sales to the store’s overall volume.
“We have to build a new couture base,” Holly says. “The principle is to educate the younger customer. The clothes are chosen with a couture eye at a more modest price.”
Prices in the department range from $350 for a jacket to $1,500 for an evening gown, less than half the price of the regular store, where a couture jacket costs between $1,800 to $2,200.
“People compare me to Martha all the time,” Denzer says, referring to that other doyenne of couture, Martha Phillips. “I’m very flattered, actually. I think she was one of the few people in the world who had a great understanding of couture.”
Phillips and her daughter Lynn Manulis were the mother-daughter team that ran the Martha shops until December 1992, when the company filed for Chapter 11.
Denzer, who says she’s a frustrated designer, is known for giving designers her input and even helping them redesign certain styles.
Throughout the store, vignettes in fall colors reflect the soup-to-nuts approach the store advocates. Outfits are accessorized down to the last detail, with scarves, pins, belts and handbags carefully arranged on mannequins. The effort is well worth the time. Most customers buy the complete look, Denzer says.
Denzer caught the fashion bug early, starting as a model at Saks Fifth Avenue’s New York flagship.
She rose to assistant buyer, then took 15 years off to raise her family. In 1973, Saks in White Plains asked her to develop a permanent boutique with her own imprimatur, which she called “A Changing Scene.”
“Basically, I pulled together items from all over the store and merchandised them my own way,” she says. “That’s when I realized how important it was to merchandise that way.”
By the time Denzer opened her own store in 1980, she had built a following throughout the tri-state area and beyond. “Mary Jane has the unique ability of putting an outfit together and keying into what works well for me in terms of color and fit,” says Matta Freund Harrison, who has been a customer for five years. “She knows what I like. It’s like having a personal shopper with good taste.”
Harrison adds, “They’re very focused on each person. Mary Jane keeps everybody’s wardrobe in her head.”
One thing Denzer will never do, however, is sell a client an outfit she deems inappropriate.
“I’d rather lose a sale than make somebody dress in poor taste,” Denzer says. “If a customer insists on buying something ill-suited, we do our best to redirect them.”