Mary Jane Denzer, 83, who owned a namesake luxury women’s boutique in White Plains, N.Y., for 35 years, died Wednesday night at home.
The cause of death was pancreatic cancer, according to her daughter, Holly Alexander.
Born in Manhattan and raised in Woodmere, L.I., Denzer attended Wheaton College. Passionate about the fashion world, she started out as a model at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship and rose to assistant buyer. She 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 told WWD in 1994. “That’s when I realized how important it was to merchandise that way.”
She later moved to Bergdorf Goodman, which was then located in White Plains, and ran their third floor and was a personal shopper. A customer approached her in 1978 and asked if she would be her partner in a freestanding boutique, and they went into business together, opening Denzer Moran, which lasted one year.
“My mother realized she wanted to have her own show,” Alexander said. She opened Mary Jane Denzer in 1980 on East Post Road in White Plains – having developed a following in the tri-state area – and moved the store in 1994 to Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. In 1994, Denzer gave WWD a tour of her new location. “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?” she said, her gravelly voice gushing over Yves Saint Laurent’s cotton candy-color resort collection.
In August 2014, Denzer relocated the store to Renaissance Square, adjacent to The Ritz-Carlton in White Plains, a 5,000-square-foot destination for luxury apparel. Two months later, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but remained active in the business until last month, Alexander said.
Denzer’s store carries such designers as Valentino, Oscar de la Renta, Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra, Jenny Packham, Neil Bieff, Zac Posen and Giambattista Valli.
Considering herself a frustrated designer, Denzer was known for giving designers her input and even helping them redesign certain styles.
“It was always interesting working with her,” said Bieff, a good friend for 30 years, on Thursday. “She had her own ideas and knew her customers. All the designers made some changes so she could sell it. She was interested in the newest and the latest, but she wanted to sell it.
“She really loved life and she thought you should be dressed for it. That’s who she was. As strong as she felt about her work, it was the same with her family and her friends. If she was there for you, she was there 100 percent,” added Bieff.
Denzer told WWD that one thing she would never do is sell a client an outfit she deemed inappropriate. “I’d rather lose a sale than make somebody dress in poor taste. If a customer insists on buying something ill-suited, we do our best to redirect them,” said Denzer in 1994.
“There was nothing she loved more than making women look and feel beautiful,” Alexander said. “That was her raison d’être. She loved anything that was new and she was a real trailblazer when it came to style and aesthetic. She was not afraid to push the envelope.”
A resident of White Plains, N.Y., Denzer would travel to Europe two to three times a year on buying trips and to seek out new designers. Her store was known for its numerous trunk shows, as well as valet parking and in-house alterations. Each year she would choose a charity and aggressively fund raise for it. Her philanthropic interests included Channel 13, National Hemophilia Foundation, Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the American Heart Association and White Plains Hospital.
Her daughter said none of Denzer’s children are active in the business, and it’s currently for sale. “We’d love to sell it, and there are offers we are considering,” she said.
Besides Alexander, Denzer is survived by three other children — Cathryn Ramin, Peter Jakobson and Tom Jakobson; three stepchildren, Alan Denzer Jr., Richard Denzer and Diane Bennett, and eight grandchildren. Her second husband, Alan Denzer Sr., died in 2006.
Funeral services are private and a celebration of her life will be held in January. Donations in her honor may be sent to White Plains Hospital.