“In 1957 we invited [Chanel] to Dallas to receive the Neiman-Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion. … Mademoiselle Chanel was eager to visit a ranch, so we gave a Western-style party at my brother Eddie’s Blackmark Farm, with a ranch-style dinner and roping and bronco riding exhibitions. It turned out she didn’t like the taste of the barbecued meat and the highly seasoned beans, so she dumped her plate surreptitiously under the table. Unfortunately, the contents hit the satin slippers of Elizabeth Arden, who was seated next to her.”
—Stanley Marcus in his memoir Minding the Store about his life and times with the luxury department store his father co-founded in 1907
Oh to have been a fly on the wall (or a dog under the table) on that particular evening! Questions (and images) flock to one’s mind: What exactly was Mademoiselle Chanel thinking? Did this dumping of food under tables hark back to her orphanage and convent days? Could this presumably cultured woman come up with no other response (perhaps a little white half-lie about difficulties with spicy foods) than to dump her plate onto someone’s shoes? What did Elizabeth Arden say when the barbecue bit her boots? How did she get through the rest of the evening with sauce on her slippers? Is she the one who outed Chanel to Stanley Marcus?
I’d like to read more about Chanel, and I’ll be alert for any reference to The Barbecue Incident.
Wondering about Mr. Marcus?
Stanley Marcus was a major force not just in retailing but also in the arts. He assembled major collections of rare books, paintings, and sculpture and helped build the collection of the Dallas Art Museum, which he served as a trustee for over 60 years. Under his guidance, the Neiman Marcus stores began exhibiting works of fine art by both emerging and well-known artists. When the company ventured into the suburbs from downtown Dallas in 1953, Marcus kicked off the “store collection” by commissioning “Mariposa, ” a large mobile by Alexander Calder. The first Calder hung permanently anywhere in Dallas is now on exhibit in the Beverly Hills store.
Also an important influence in politics (both Texas and national), Marcus had the courage and the conviction to speak his mind as a Jewish liberal in a city distinguished for many years by its rabid conservatism. He stood his ground even when that outspokenness meant the loss of business to his beloved store. Patrons would close their charge accounts when Marcus took what they considered outrageously inappropriate positions, such as when he supported that papist maniac John F. Kennedy for the presidency.
Marcus’s liberal leanings (as well as his retailing acumen) revealed themselves also in his insistence that his stores always stock merchandise affordable by those of considerably more modest incomes than those possessed by the “oil money” families, who even in the 1930s could afford to casually acquire jewels and furs costing many thousands. Marcus died in 2002 at the age of 96.
Categories: Fashion Quote of the Week