Debbie Kopec, Marcus’s long-time personal secretary, said Marcus died after 3 p.m. Tuesday at Zale-Lipshy Hospital in Dallas. The cause of death was cardiac arrest, according to his son, Richard Marcus.
He had complained of shortness of breath and went to the hospital on Sunday. By Monday he was feeling better and received visitors. He took a turn for the worse, though, Monday evening. He was surrounded by his family at the time of his death, Kopec said.
“Stanley Marcus was a great man,” Burt Tansky, chairman and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Stores and ceo of Neiman Marcus Group, said. “He was a friend and counselor and I’m going to miss him tremendously. It’s a sad day. I’ve known him for a very long time. It was his creativity, vision, style and sense of quality that had such an enormous impact on our company then and now. Stanley Marcus set the groundwork for making Neiman’s the great company that it is today.”
Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s, said, “He stood for elegance and taste, but he also stood for consistency. To me, his mind never got old because of the youthfulness in his soul. His mind stayed young, and he was always thinking beyond where the parade was going. Most people leave and their legacy is a minute and a half. His is a lasting legacy, he was a real giant — the giant of giants. You can’t say that about many people.”
Ever passionate about retailing, Marcus was working full time as a consultant and traveling frequently right up until he died. Such a rigorous schedule was typical of Marcus, whose high-energy regularly left associates panting in his wake. A consummate dresser, he claimed in an early WWD interview to need only five hours of sleep a night, would work 10 hours a day and still have time for such hobbies as photography and collecting everything from paintings to shaving mugs.
“He was one of the great merchant showmen of the 20th century,” Ralph Lauren said. “He made Neiman Marcus an institution in Texas. He was always generous to me with his advice and insights. Mr. Stanley was an original.”
Marvin Traub of Marvin Traub Consulting, and former Bloomingdale’s ceo, said Tuesday, “I’ve known Stanley since I was 16, when he wrote my recommendation for college. He was someone who was dedicated to retailing, was extraordinarily creative in his approach to the business and clearly had a great love for it. He was really one of the giants of our industry and will always be remembered for making retailing something very special.”
Marcus’s son, Richard, said “There were many communities in his life, whether it be his home of Dallas or his Santa Fe summer home. But the thread that went through all of his communities was his curiosity, which he used to the advantage of all of them.”
Marcus played many roles throughout his life, including civic activist, book publisher, author and art collector. But he is best known for his creative leadership of Neiman Marcus, the luxury goods retailer established in 1907 by his father, Herbert Marcus; aunt, Carrie Marcus Neiman, and uncle, Al Neiman.
But while his relatives established the store, it was Stanley Marcus who created its aura of lavish fantasy, which continued to glow throughout his 49-year management tenure at the company. He was known affectionately within Neiman’s as “Mr. Stanley” right up until his death, a nomer assigned by the staff in the Thirties to distinguish him from other family members. “I moved to Dallas in 1984. His impact on not only how people dressed, but how they conducted themselves and appreciated fine arts and crafts were so prevalent in Dallas. You could feel him everywhere,” Ron Frasch, chairman and ceo of Bergdorf Goodman, said.
“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,” Marcus told WWD in an interview in 1995 before his 90th birthday.
Always outspoken, Marcus missed no opportunity to opine about business, social causes or the arts. As for the retail landscape he helped create, he predicted in 1995 with amazing prescience that, “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.”
His solution? “The department store needs to be reborn with a fresh, contemporary design that will enable them to sell goods at about 28 percent markup.”
Throughout his career, Marcus’s genius lay in his natural instinct for sales promotion combined with his determination to stock the best, a willingness to learn every detail about the products and an astute knowledge of human nature. It made him a merchant of magic.
“His greatest contribution to fashion and to Neiman Marcus was his ability to create theater,” Allen Questrom, chairman and chief executive officer at J.C. Penney Co., said, adding Marcus was a long-time friend and that he visited with him New Year’s Eve at the upscale Dallas restaurant Abacus. “He made clothes and fashion come to life. He knew how to romance the whole process. It was always about the product — to romance it and make it believable.”
His most famous innovation was the Neiman Marcus Fortnight, a two-week celebration of the goods, culture and arts of a single nation. Inspired by a small promotion of French products in a Stockholm store, Marcus launched Fortnight in 1957 with an elaborate French fete.
The festival went far beyond today’s idea of store promotions, integrating not just Neiman’s but the entire Dallas community with the French government and fashion industry. French dignitaries spoke at Dallas clubs, exhibits of Toulouse-Lautrec paintings and French textiles were staged at area museums and French performers headlined in Dallas nightclubs. Even the Dallas Times Herald published an issue typeset in the style of a French newspaper.
As for the store, its facade was transformed into a replica of the Faubourg St. Honore and the inside displayed huge photos of the Place de la Concorde, Renault cars, French textiles and plenty of clothes. A fashion show arranged with the Chambre Syndicale featured top French models.
Marcus would later say that one of the most exciting moments of his life was watching the approach of the Air France plane bringing French officials, writers, artists, manufacturers and models to Dallas for the festival.
Fortnight was intended merely to drum up traffic in the slow month of October, but the first was so successful it became an annual event that ran for 30 years until it was discontinued because of cost. The idea also would be picked up and copied by almost every other department store in the world, including Bloomingdale’s in New York and Harrods in London.
Always on the hunt for publicity, Marcus initiated the outrageous gifts that became a hallmark of Neiman’s Christmas catalog. That was in the Fifties, when Marcus offered “His and Her” Beechcraft airplanes — and sold one. With Marcus personally choosing the “His and Her” gifts, Neiman’s Christmas catalog subsequently sold Egyptian mummy cases, Chinese junks and Black Angus steers — with lots of attendant publicity. To this day, Neiman’s gets national press when it announces its special gift for the holiday catalog.
Marcus joined the family business in 1926 as secretary, treasurer and director after completing one year at Harvard Business School. His maverick ideas were evident early on. In 1927 he established the first weekly fashion show staged by a store, held for the luncheon crowd at the nearby Baker Hotel. Like many promotions Marcus dreamed up, it was a success: Women came to Dallas just for the show, and then trundled over to the store to shop.
The same year, Marcus was put in charge of merchandising the better apparel departments — a promotion precipitated by the divorce of his aunt and uncle and his father’s buyout of Al Neiman’s interest in the firm.
Marcus became a student of fashion, learning about handmade buttonholes and other details that marked the best quality clothing. His retail education came largely during the Depression, when, he later wrote, “every customer had to be treated as if she were the last one you would see.”
The discovery of oil in East Texas in 1930 created a flush new clientele for Neiman’s, and Marcus responded by opening fur and fine jewelry departments. He and his family set the standard for style in Dallas and to a certain extent dictated to their customers, who included the well-to-do plus the middle class.
He practiced the theory learned from his father that “No sale is good for Neiman Marcus unless it is good for the customer.” One man, for instance, was talked out of buying a mink coat for his 16 year-old daughter because Marcus thought it was inappropriate. Preaching the same principle, Marcus persuaded an oilman to purchase a bigger diamond for his wife so the stone wouldn’t be smaller than those of her friends.
Marcus catered to customers’ every whim, and service swiftly became a hallmark of the store. He gained such a reputation for going to any length to satisfy customers that one woman even wrote to ask him to find her a husband of a specific age and sexual disposition. (He declined.) He installed a red telephone below the desk of his office, with an identical one on the elevator wall on the first floor of the Dallas flagship. Any customer with a complaint could pick up the phone and immediately be put through to him. “I was surprised it has not been used more frequently,” he once said.
“One story I’ll always remember is when Mr. Stanley was walking down the sales floor and was watching his sales associate sell a sable coat to a gorgeous woman,” Frasch said Tuesday. “Mr. Stanley walked over because the sales associate wasn’t selling it the right way, and Mr. Stanley ended up making the sale. She was young and beautiful and after she left, Mr. Stanley asked the associate ‘Who was that?’ And the associate didn’t know who the woman was who had just walked off with the $100,000 sable coat. Mr. Stanley went up to his office and found out she was nobody’s wife and obviously she was someone’s mistress. He sent a bill to the five men he thought she would be the mistress of and sent them all a bill. The amazing thing was, they all paid.”
Frasch said that to this day, Mr. Stanley’s mind remained as sharp as a whip. He recalled having lunch with him a year ago Christmas, when Frasch had become chairman and ceo of Bergdorf’s.
“After three minutes walking through the store, he had an hour’s worth of suggestions for me. And he was right about everything.”
No detail was too small for Marcus, who often paced the floors of the store making notes about changes he wanted made. He’d then return to his office and issue a volley of memos to the staff. “He had a passion for serving the customer and a great sense of humor,” Traub remembered Tuesday. “It was typical of Stanley that when people flew in from all over the country to see what he had done to Neiman Marcus, he would take them through the store and show them merchandise. If they admired it, whether it was a tie or a fur coat, Stanley would make sure that it was delivered to them and they were charged for it. He never missed a chance to make a sale.”
One of Marcus’s first marketing strategies was to place ads in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in 1934, becoming the first regional fashion emporium to place national ads. The goal was to gain credits in the editorial fashion spreads and to make customers proud that their local store had a national reputation, thus earning their loyalty.
Marcus was an early advocate of blending art with retail. In 1939, he borrowed 20 Gauguin canvases from private collectors to exhibit in the store. The retail hook? He commissioned ballgowns in the colors of Gauguin’s Tahitian series. Every one was sold plus art lovers and school kids came from all over the state to see the exhibit.
Marcus continued to buy art and show it in the store, amassing a collection that is still displayed at Neiman’s.
He was one of the first retailers to promote European and American fashion designers, who did not have the household-name status they do today. In 1938 he established the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion and presented it to four designers, including Germaine Monteil. Subsequent winners represent a Who’s Who of fashion and beauty, including Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Bill Blass and Estee Lauder, all of whom visited Dallas to collect the prize.
In 1943, Marcus spent six months in Washington heading up fabric conservation efforts for the women’s and children’s sections of the War Production Board. In what proved to be what he called “one of the most enlightening experiences of my career,” Marcus assumed ultimate fashion authority, establishing guidelines for skirts, sleeves, pockets, hems and other details.
Throughout his career, Marcus was an avid buyer, traveling frequently to New York, Europe and Asia to shop for the store. His schedule was so rigorous that some buyers found it hard to travel with him because by day’s end they would be exhausted but he would still be heading to more showrooms. Even his daughter, Jerrie, once questioned what she called his “supersonic pace.”
Endowed with a great wit, Marcus once staged a bovine fashion show with decorated cows as a gag for the visiting Coco Chanel. He loved his work and had high expectations of his employees. When he first informed Neiman’s buyers that he was starting sales quotas, one buyer asked, what would she get if she made the quota?
“You get to stay,” responded Marcus.
But Marcus was no Scrooge. In fact, his staff respected him so much that 70 employees once paid for an ad in local newspapers paying tribute to his creative leadership.
Marcus was extremely active in the Dallas community, supporting philanthropic associations and civic causes. Marcus pushed for human rights, becoming one of the first retailers here to welcome black shoppers into his store and to employ black salespeople. One of the most controversial positions he ever took was to finance the lawsuit of three boys who had been expelled from school for wearing long hair. Marcus felt it was a violation of their constitutional rights.
He gave his time and talents to arts organizations and supported liberal political candidates despite the city’s conservative bent. And he wrote a column for many years for the Dallas Morning News, commenting on everything from service standards to Southwestern cuisine.
To expand the company, Marcus merged Neiman’s with Broadway-Hale in 1968. He continued as chairman until 1975, when he was named chairman emeritus and formed a consulting company. Neiman’s is currently majority owned by Harcourt General Inc. of Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Since 1975 Marcus has worked as a retail consultant and public speaker, maintaining a hectic travel schedule. He also co-founded Narrowcasting, a database firm that accumulates information on wealthy Americans. He continued to go to the office even as he approached his 100th birthday, staying there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. His clients ranged from a builder of deluxe parking garages to a hospital. But in recent years he had become scathing about retail, complaining about everything from the boring design stores to the fact that designers were creating “ugly clothes” because they lacked formal education in the principles of design.
“The majority of these designers have no formal understanding of the principles of good design,” he told WWD last August during an interview in his Dallas office. “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.”
And designers respected him immensely. “He’s the one who came and made everything possible,” said Pauline Trigere, who first met Marcus in 1944, two years after she started her ready-to-wear company. She received the Neiman Marcus Award in 1950, and credited the merchant for making a tiny Dallas specialty store into something more than anyone could have imagined back then.
“He had vision and sensibility, which is a strange thing because he learned it all by himself,” Trigere said. “Stanley intuitively discovered the power of people with money in Texas. They didn’t know very much. He had the idea, the nose, the flare to make that store for people who didn’t know that existed the value of beautiful furs+suitcases+stuff!”
Trigere, who built a friendship with Marcus that lasted for five decades, was scheduled to have presented him with a design award from Cooper Hewitt in December in New York, but Marcus was not able to attend. She was surprised to learn of his death, sharing what seems to be a common belief that Marcus could have lived forever.
“He was a great man, a man of elegance, and I don’t think that he knew that himself,” Trigere said. “He traveled so much. I remember after we first met, he went to Africa and he sent me a piece of a turtle, about 10 or 12 inches long. I still have it. All through the years, he always sent me a little turtle and that made me think I was something special, not as a designer, but as a person.”
Bud Konheim, now chief executive of Nicole Miller, met Marcus in the Fifties when he went to work for the family business, selling lines like Young Sophisticates, and came away with the same impression. “I would attribute his long life to his passion,” Konheim said.
If a salesman was on the right wavelength with his product, Konheim said, there was nothing better than selling to Stanley Marcus. Marcus put the store and his dollars behind a brand and often taught the designer and staff a few lessons about business along the way.
“There was a story that went around about a salesman in the men’s wear department,” recalled Robert E. (Bob) Gray, chairman and ceo of St. John Knits, Neiman’s largest vendor. “A customer had come up looking at ties, but the salesman didn’t appear to be interested, so Stanley Marcus got behind the counter and said, ‘Let me show you how it’s done.’ The customer bought eight or nine ties, when he thought he would buy nothing. Stanley Marcus believed in romancing products.”
Marcus’s success at selling fashion and other goods earned him a raft of medals and honors, including the Tobe Award for distinguished service to American retailing, Officer of the French Legion of Honor, Star of Italian Solidarity and national awards from Britain, Austria, Belgium and Denmark. He also wrote three books: Minding the Store, in 1974, Quest for the Best, in 1993 and His and Hers: The Fantasy World of the Neiman-Marcus Catalog.
Funeral arrangements are pending at the Sparkman Hillcrest Funeral Home. A memorial will also be held in the near future, according to Kopec.
He is survived by his wife, Linda, son, Richard Marcus, daughters, Wendy Raymont and Jerrie Smith, 10 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
In a WWD interview last August, Marcus attributed his longevity to “very smart and selective parents with good genes” — his mother lived until she was 97 and his father until he was 72. He also attributed it to exercise, even installing exercise equipment in his office. As for retirement, Marcus said he never considered it. “I decided life was too exciting,” he said last year. “I’ve had fun and I’m still having fun.”