Lawrence Eliot “Lawrie” Marcus, the fourth son of Neiman Marcus cofounder Herbert Marcus and a former executive vice president of the retailer, died Friday at UT Southwestern-St. Paul University Hospital of kidney and heart disease. He was 96.
“I am saddened by the passing of Lawrence Marcus,” said Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Group. “He was an idea man and a master of marketing who often called me to talk about the latest trends in retailing. I will miss his thoughtful reflections on the store.…He was a connoisseur of luxury and elegance. In fact, I spied him not long ago in the store perusing a book on the history of the Fendi baguette bag.”
Marcus joined the family business in 1942 after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business at Harvard, but within six months he was commissioned to serve in the U.S. Army in North Africa during World War II. Marcus had a reputation as “quite a pistol” and once shot down a strafing German airplane with a gun on a tank destroyer, according to the book “Neiman-Marcus, Texas: The Story of the Proud Dallas Store” by Frank X. Tolbert.
He also escaped from enemy lines by sauntering slowly through them and walking for two days without water in the desert to reach his company, which had presumed him dead, according to the Dallas Morning News. Marcus was decorated with two Purple Hearts and two French Croix de guerre.
Discharged in 1944, Marcus returned to Neiman’s to be tutored for six months in New York by the exacting buyer Moira Cullen, who is credited with establishing the retailer’s style with company cofounder Carrie Marcus Neiman.
Though Lawrence was perpetually in the shadow of his brother Stanley’s leadership and marketing theatrics, he made important and innovative contributions to the retailer.
Lawrence Marcus elevated the women’s designer business to high profit levels through his ingenuity and eye for talent. He was Emilio Pucci’s first customer, and helped launch the careers of James Galanos and Bill Blass.
When fabrics were scarce during and shortly after World War II, he resourcefully bought upholstery for automobiles — whose production had practically stopped — as well as piece goods from the men’s market and had them stitched into tailored suits and dresses. Marcus also pioneered the use of silk dupioni for ready-to-wear in the late Forties and early Fifties by importing it from Italy.
In 1966, he moved to Houston to energize the languishing downtown store and supervise construction of the Houston Galleria unit that replaced it in 1970, paying meticulous attention to furnishings and artwork.
In his book “Minding the Store,” Stanley Marcus credited his brother’s fine taste, merchandising ability and active role in Houston’s civic and social scenes with making the store “an overwhelming success.”
Lawrence Marcus returned to Dallas in 1978 to manage the downtown flagship and serve as executive vice president, retiring several years later.
He was known for his sense of humor, once dispatching a mink-lined athletic supporter as a holiday gift to a G.I. in Korea who had requested it jokingly at the end of a long order.
“Lawrence had a dry wit and a mischievous streak that he expressed most recently in his choice of raucous socks paired back to tasteful glen plaids and tweeds,” Katz noted.
Marcus embraced his father’s philosophy of stocking top quality regardless of price, as well as his populist insistence on offering tasteful, less pricy goods to dress a broader demographic.
“We kept that anachronistic posture for many years, and what does it mean?” Marcus once asked. “That with all our arrogance that we devoted to high-price merchandise, we had humility. It was symbolic. It was not the most profitable thing, but it was our way of proving our humility and gratefulness to customers for coming in to shop.”
Such grace was a hallmark of Marcus’ persona. A refined gentleman, Marcus collected Asian and contemporary art, was an avid photographer and wrote a ballet to a Tchaikovsky piece he heard at the Dallas Symphony.
Marcus is survived by his wife, Shelby; two children from his first marriage to Nancy Filgo, Cary Marcus of Clear Lake, Tex., and Judy Marcus of Dallas; a stepson, James Stroope of Houston; two stepdaughters, Lisa Browning of Dallas and Tinna Stroope of Troy, Mich.; one grandchild, and two great-grandchildren.
Services were not set at press time.