Herbert Marcus, Sr., his sister Carrie Neiman, and her husband A. L. Neiman, opened a fine apparel store in Dallas in 1907. When the Neimans divorced in 1926, the family bought his interest. The store became famous for its fine apparel and related merchandise. After Herbert’s death in 1950 and Carrie’s in 1952, Neiman Marcus was headed by the sons of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Marcus, Sr. Under the leadership of Stanley Marcus, his brothers, Herbert, Jr., Edward, and Lawrence, they continued the tradition of offering the best to their customers. Neiman Marcus became known around the world for fine merchandise, inventive promotions, the annual Fall Fortnight which spot-lighted various countries, and the Christmas Catalog. The full story is told in Stanley Marcus’ book Minding the Store. As a long-time employee, I am sharing stories I experienced at Neiman Marcus.
In the fall of 1948, my mother read a Neiman Marcus ad for a Christmas gift-wrapper. Since I did all the gift-wrapping for the family, she thought I might enjoy a couple of months of get-ting paid for my efforts. Little did I know this temporary job would last forty-five years and I would never wrap a single gift. Instead, I started as a stock person in the Younger Set World and in two months was promoted to an office job. I shall never forget receiving a $10.00 Christmas bonus with a letter signed by Herbert Marcus, Sr. I could not believe someone was giving me money, and at that time $10.00 was a big sum to me.
It was tradition in the Younger Set World that each staff member drew a name and purchased a gift for fifty cents to one dollar and wrote a poem to be read by the person opening the gift at the Christmas party. Mrs. Said Goldberg, a buyer, drew my name. She purchased a celluloid doll and had the sewing lady dress it in a Neiman Marcus stock uniform. Being short, all uniforms issued me were too long. Said’s note read, “How long shall a hemline be? Mae and I cannot agree. I’m for Faith, she is for Dior and insists on wearing her skirts sweeping the floor.”
On January 1, 1949, I started in the office, working on the “Cut-Make & Trim” operation. This was a big business during World War II and the years following, as everything had a price ceiling. To get more profit, Neiman Marcus purchased fabric from Europe, sent it to vendors to make up into designs selected by the buyer. I contacted the vendor for yardage needed per garment and the cost of making each; with this information I added the government’s allotted markup to arrive at the retail price.
Soon I went to the Women’s Shop on second floor, where Couture Designer Clothes were carried. Mrs. Carrie Neiman greeted many customers and sat on the coffee table in front of the person, telling her what was happening in the fashion world. She suggested specific dresses for the saleslady to bring out. Mrs. Neiman knew the customers, and usually they purchased what she suggested.
Most visitors to Neiman Marcus came to the Women’s Shop. I was on the selling floor one day when the elevator opened and out walked President Truman’s daughter, Margaret, surrounded by Secret Service agents — what a sight!
We always tried to do the right thing, but some-times we missed. When Dwight Eisenhower was to be inaugurated President of the United States, Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower was helped by our New York office in selecting her inaugural gown. I was sent the invoice so the vendor could be paid and received a note advising me to charge the gown to the Eisenhowers at the White House. It was not long before I was writing a credit for the same amount. The Marcus family wanted the gown to be a gift.
My friend, Betty Stockton, and I worked together for many years in the Couture Dress Office. We often came in early to unpack and list each garment, hat, handbag, shoes, gloves and jewelry that a designer sent for a fashion show. One day in 1960 Betty asked me to bring in my camera so we could take pictures of each other in the designer’s samples. Betty looked great as she was tall and thin, but being short, I did not fare so well. However, in 1970 Neiman Marcus had the Ruritania Fortnight, an imaginary country. The display department put a “queen’s throne” among the flowers in the Women’s Shop. Again I was asked to bring my camera as many of the sales ladies wanted their pictures sitting on the throne. After I took everyone’s picture, one lady said, “Mae, now it is your turn. Go put on the red and gold formal in stock and I will take your picture.” After a little coaching, I put on the gown, and that is one of my favorite pictures.
The day President John F. Kennedy came to Dallas in 1963, both Betty Stockton and I brought our movie cameras. She planned to take pictures from the street and I would shoot from the second floor window. So many people crowded the window to see the President; I was crushed by the group and missed getting his picture but did get one of Vice-President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird. I went back to my office, but a strange feeling came over me and I could not settle down to work. I left for lunch and there heard on the radio that President Kennedy had been shot. The Store closed immediately; Betty and I drove to the School Book Depository and parked on a back street. We walked down the street alongside the Book Depository, where both sides were lined with policemen with drawn shotguns. We had our cameras in hand but were too frightened to take pictures. It was amazing we were allowed to walk so close to where the shooting took place. Soon the police did move everyone back to clear the area.
In 1964, Neiman Marcus had a devastating fire just before Christmas. I was dressing for work when my brother heard the story on the radio. He said no one was to come in to work unless called. Soon the phone rang, and once at the Store we gathered around Lawrence Marcus in the Women’s Shop to get our assignments. I was asked to check each fitting room, the Cashier’s Room and the basement where merchandise from our department was being held to go into one of Neiman Marcus’ famous gift-wraps, the Treasure Chest. I was told to call the customers and advise them that their selections did not leave the Store before the fire and we were very sorry to disappoint them for Christmas. The only telephone working was in the Cashier’s Room, which was standing in water left by the firemen. In those days, we needed permission for each long distance call. Here I was standing on two telephone books stacked on top of each other to be above the water when the telephone operator asked, “Do you have permission to make this call?”
Little did I know when I used to walk through the Gift Galleries, admiring the antique silver, that one day I would be the Silver Buyer. I had not been there long when a package arrived from Baccarat Crystal in France containing a beautiful crystal and gold liqueur set. A few days later Liberace visited Neiman Marcus, saw the liqueur set and purchased it.
I received a telephone call from a local business-man who was unable to locate his wife’s silver pattern. He said she loved soup and served it often, but with only one soup spoon he was wearing out using a teaspoon and trying to keep up with her. He sent a picture of her pattern, which I identified as an Old Newbury Crafter’s handmade pattern. Soon he received his soup spoons and was so happy he sent me a box of candy.
In 1977 the U.S.S. Texas, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser, was delivered to the U. S. Navy. Bentley Potts, the Oriental antique buyer and a former Navy man, and I selected the sterling tableware to be used on the cruiser. Each of the twenty-two pieces was monogrammed U.S.S. Texas. The large tea tray and the punch bowl had the Seal of Texas.
When the Tex Schramm group started the Cowboy Ring of Honor, they selected a bowl from the Silver Department. Each inductee was given a bowl with his name engraved on it along with those who were presently in the Ring of Honor. In 1993, when Jerry Jones added Coach Tom Landry to the Ring of Honor, I ordered the bowl. Later, I saw the front-page newspaper picture of Coach Landry with his Ring of Honor bowl.
These are only a few of the stories that filled my life during my forty-five years as an employee of Neiman Marcus, a very special business started in the City of Dallas in 1907.