I think we all hope, pray, and believe that Neiman Marcus will survive in some shape or form. For me and many others, Neiman Marcus was, or rather is, much more than a store.
It had a profound influence in educating and shaping my taste from an early age. And the longer I reflect, the more I realize how intertwined this Dallas institution has been in my life from an early age.
My charming sister was in a junior fashion show. My first credit card was a Neiman Marcus card at 20. Naturally, I got in over my head. Not to worry the in-house credit department was very forgiving. Heaven help you now if you run a balance. Credit is now under the purview of the very business-like Capital One.
Dallas’ Redeeming Institution
When the city still bore the shameful stain of the Kennedy assassination, as a child growing up in Dallas, I could feel pride that the mother church of Neiman Marcus was in Dallas — evidence that Dallas wasn’t an uncultured backwater. And Neiman’s brought us the world it seemed.
Coco Chanel, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly (twice), and Sophia Loren all made pilgrimages to our hometown temple of taste.
Almost all of this was due to the energetic vision of Stanley Marcus — Mr. Stanley as he was reverentially called — whose book, Minding the Store, was an early childhood read of mine and cemented him in my pantheon of personal heroes. A Stanley sighting in the store was always a thrill but not a rarity.
Growing up in a cheerless suburb, Neiman Marcus was my first glimpse of a wider world. The toy store contained treasures from West Germany, such as my beautiful painted zither, a gift on my ninth birthday, or marionettes from England, one or two each Christmas (I cut neighbors’ grass to bankroll more). It was so very different from the shabby plastic fare on offer at other toy stores.
Legendary Events Brought The World to Dallas’ Door
Then there were the legendary Fortnights, which were, in effect, my first voyages to dream destinations like France or Japan. Each fall, the impresario Stanley would command, and an A-list celebrity would open a two week fair in the downtown store, redecorated to conjure up the theme country. The redecorated Zodiac Room atop would serve cuisine to match.
Later Neiman’s would partially finance my first trips to Europe in my 20s through their in-house travel agency. Yes, not long ago you could put a Eurail Pass on your Neiman Marcus card.
I was frequently parked at the Little Mermaid Bar as a boy while my mother got her hair done. The ham sandwiches tasted like no other. It was the first time I tasted fancy French seed mustard. Ah, and the cakes… Neiman’s had its own bakery on Haskell at Central Expressway. I still visit the Little Mermaid Bar and order a Duke of Windsor sandwich (off the menu but still made) when I’m feeling sulky.
A Shopping Experience
The shopping experience then? After buying you handed your money or card to the clerk who disappeared behind a curtain and returned with your receipt and change — no vulgar registers in view.
They used to say that a gentleman was never seen carrying a paper bag (though Neiman’s bags were famously triumphs of graphic art). Neiman Marcus could aid you in upholding that standard by sending your purchases out on their signature UPS brown trucks which ran twice weekly. Nosey neighbors kept track of the comings and goings of the Neiman Marcus delivery trucks.
In Christmastime, the stores were lavishly decked out and you had to have something under the tree from Neiman’s if only to adorn the tree with their extravagant gift wrap which was the most beautiful of any store.
My mother would buy my Oxford cloth striped shirts and corduroy pants during Last Call, in the boys’ department. That still is more or less my fall uniform to this day. Neiman’s was and remains for me what Tiffany’s was to Holly Golightly — a place you could go when you were blue to dream a little and feel that nothing bad could happen to you there.
For Mother’s Day, the writer would like to dedicate this piece to his mother Dr. Jane Prokesh, his first style guru.