Stanley Marcus

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The Independent Online

Stanley Marcus, businessman: born Dallas, Texas 20 April 1905; secretary and treasurer, Neiman Marcus 1926-28, merchandising manager, Sports Shop 1928-29, merchandising manager, Apparel Divisions 1929-35, executive vice-president, Neiman Marcus 1935-50, president 1950-72, chairman of the board 1972-75, chairman, executive committee 1975-77, chairman emeritus 1977-2002; married 1932 Mary Cantrell (died 1978; one son, two daughters), 1979 Linda Cumber Robinson; died Dallas 22 January 2002.

Stanley Marcus had a straightforward philosophy when it came to choosing products for his Texas-based chain of high-end department stores, Neiman Marcus. Get the highest quality that is available and the customers will want it. "I do believe the best is discernible to the observant eye," he once remarked.

The man who became an icon of luxury retailing also had another principle in life from which he never wavered. If you have an opportunity to make a sale, especially to someone notable, take it. Thus, when he met General Dwight Eisenhower at his Paris residence in 1946, Marcus suggested that if one day Eisenhower ever became US President he should buy his wife's inaugural gowns from Neiman Marcus. The General, of course, did become President in 1953 and Neiman Marcus did dress Mrs Eisenhower for the balls.

Possibly, however, Marcus was slightly more discreet on the occasion that Earl Mountbatten of Burma spotted him and his wife at a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace and introduced them to the Queen. Marcus was, however, ticked off that same afternoon by Princess Alexandra, who was peeved on account of not having received the most recent Neiman Marcus catalogue.

In 1926, when he was just 21 and equipped with a business Master's degree from Harvard, Stanley Marcus became the secretary and treasurer of Neiman Marcus, the retailing company that had been founded in 1907 with one downtown Dallas location by Stanley's father, Herbert Marcus, his sister, Carrie, and her husband, Al Neiman. Stanley Marcus became president of the company upon his father's death in 1950 and retired in 1975, one year after writing a best-selling autobiography, Mind the Store: a memoir.

He had many tales to tell. Of how, for instance, Neiman Marcus became the first department store to offer gift-wrapping for customers back in the Twenties and how he created the first weekly fashion show to be staged in a shop. Much later, in 1960, he established a Neiman Marcus tradition of special his- and-hers Christmas gifts that were not for the faint of wallet. He tempted the most well-heeled of the nation with his-and-hers hot air balloons, submarines and Beechcraft light aeroplanes.

Neiman Marcus expanded far beyond Dallas and now has 32 large stores across the United States. While it never opened its doors in foreign countries, its famous catalogues found their way into the right homes on every continent. His commitment to top quality – he brought shahtoosh scarves to his stores, made from the neck hairs of Himalayan goats – also found voice in an earlier book, Quest for the Best (1976).

David Usborne

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