100 Years Of Luxury

It definitely looks a lot like Christmas at Neiman Marcus. Oodles of luxury gifts: cashmere, leather, jewelry, designer fashions - all the things that this store has come to symbolize.

It's all about aura, says Ginger Reeder, and she should know: Reeder picks out all those over-the-top Christmas exclusives for which Neiman's catalog is famous.

"I think a great deal of it is about its aura. I mean, there's something about the mystique of the store," she told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver.

This year the store is selling a diamond-studded cell phone for $73,000, an $80,000 ultra-light aircraft decorated with the signature Neiman Marcus butterfly, or how about a Triton 1000 Submarine for a cool $1.44 million? Of course, that's peanuts compared to the $20 million submarine featured a few years back.

"The goal of the gifts when we choose them is to make people say, 'Who in the world would buy something like this?' And then inevitably we're surprised when somebody does so. A $20 million submarine that could sleep 11 people," Reeder said. "That's over the top."

No one actually bought that. But someone did buy one of the "His and Hers" camels offered in 1967.

"And there's a wonderful story that a woman was sitting with her daughter, watching as the camel arrived at Dallas' Love Field, just in time for the evening news of course, and she turned to her daughter and said, 'Who is the darned fool who's getting that thing?'" Reeder said. "And the next morning it was under her outdoor Christmas tree, so she found out!"

But as much as people at Neiman Marcus love Christmas, this year, there's another reason to celebrate: the store's 100th anniversary. It was in 1907 that Herbert Marcus, his sister Carrie and her husband A.L. Neiman put up $25,000 to found a ladies specialty story in downtown Dallas.

"Their dream was to open a store that had the finest in ready-to-wear fashions from Europe, and some from the United States, but with service that was unequaled by anyplace else," Reeder said.

By 1928 A.L. Neiman and Carrie had divorced. He sold out his share to the Marcus family, though by then the Neiman name was too well-known to be dropped. Soon, Herbert Marcus's sons joined the business.

Herbert's oldest son Stanley - known as "Mr. Stanley" around the store - really put Neiman Marcus on the fashion map. He became president in 1950 and stayed active in the store, even after his "official retirement" in 1975. He died about six years ago, still dapper at age 96.

"There was no better promoter of the name Neiman Marcus than Stanley Marcus," Reeder said.

It was Mr. Stanley who came up with the idea of those extravagant Christmas gifts, and who commissioned famous artists like Saul Steinberg and Robert Indiana to design Christmas catalogue covers. The in-store celebrations he staged drew celebrities like Sophia Loren, Princess Grace and Princess Margaret. But Stanley Marcus didn't just love to be in pictures, he loved taking them.

Marcus's granddaughter Allison, a professional photographer herself, and his daughter Jerrie have just published a book of Marcus's photographs called "Reflections of a Man."

The book features famous faces, like designer Pauline Trigere, but also family members, like his wife Billie.

Not included in the book, but dear to the family, are the Christmas card shots of daughter Jerri Marcus Smith and her siblings that Stanley Marcus took each year.

Smith says that when she first went to Smith College in the East, her friends hadn't heard much about Neiman Marcus.

"It wasn't a household word, not until I, as a little freshman, started getting (and so embarrassed about it), weekly huge boxes full of clothes that my mother thought I should be dressed in properly at Smith. They heard about Neiman Marcus then."

She says it was really her father who made Neiman Marcus known internationally.

"As a father he was tough," Smith said. "You tried not to make too many mistakes around him."

One thing Marcus rarely made a mistake about was spotting great merchandise.

"You know, above all, Stanley was the most extraordinary merchant," designer Oscar De La Renta said. "That was number one thing in his mind always, you know."

De La Renta was one of the designers Marcus singled out early on and today his designs are still featured in the store.

"If you are a designer, and you are an accomplished designer, and a successful designer, there is no question that you have to be in Neiman Marcus," he said.

Many people say that they are intimidated when they walk in to a Neiman Marcus story. Reeder acknowledges that the company is in the business of selling luxury.

"I mean people do not come to Neiman Marcus to get something that they need, 'I need a pair of shoes 'cause I don't have any shoes,'" She said. "It's things that you want, things that you aspire to or that you've dreamed about, make you feel good in some way."

In that spirit, Neimans is selling special 100th anniversary pajamas, decorated with store labels. There's even a pop-up book for $100, with all kinds of little surprises.

The Marcus family actually sold the business in 1969. Today it is owned by a group of private investors. There are now 39 stores doing $4 billion in annual sales. But Reeder says she still thinks about her old friend Stanley Marcus a lot, especially when she picks those outrageous Christmas gifts:

"I hear him every year when we're making the selection," Reeder said. "I look at something and I think 'Is this the very best of its class? Is this the very best thing?'"
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