DALLAS – Stanley Marcus, whose name has been synonymous with high-dollar retailing and extravagant gifts for nearly a century, died Tuesday. He was 96.
The chairman emeritus of Neiman Marcus was hospitalized Sunday and died with family members at his side, a spokeswoman for Stanley Marcus Consultancy said.
Marcus long had been hailed as the last bastion of the day of the Merchant Prince. His philosophy was simple: "I do believe the best is discernible to the observant eye."
Walter Loeb, publisher of the Loeb Retail Letter, said Marcus created a standard "for quality and dignity" that still exists for Neiman Marcus shoppers who expect the highest level of service and couture.
"He had such an eye for fashion. In many ways, Neiman Marcus was the estimation point for the elite in Dallas," Loeb said. "Today we've lost an icon and patriarch in the business."
Marcus' father, aunt and uncle founded Neiman Marcus in 1907 in downtown Dallas. Marcus graduated from Harvard University in 1925 and received his master's degree in business administration from Harvard's business school a year later.
In 1926, at age 21, Marcus took over as the company's secretary, treasurer and director. He went on to become executive vice president, president, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and chairman of the executive committee. Marcus retired from the company in 1975 with the title chairman emeritus.
Early Neiman Marcus customers included cowboys, Indians and women from rural outposts in Texas where land had yielded oil.
Over the years, the store became a pioneer in the high-end market. In the 1920s, it was the first to offer personalized gift wrapping for customers and created the first weekly retail fashion show in the country. In 1960, it also started a Christmas tradition of exotic his and her gifts, which continues today.
Neiman Marcus became the first retail apparel store outside New York to advertise in national fashion magazines. Vogue magazine in 1953 described the store as "Texas with a French accent."
For decades, Neiman Marcus went unchallenged in the high-end fashion market in Texas. Some of that dominance eroded with the arrival in the 1990s of Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue.
"He did more than anyone to establish Dallas as a fashion center," said Henry S. Miller Jr., a Dallas real estate titan and Marcus' cousin. "That's meant a lot to the city economically and to the city's reputation."
The catalog first began in 1915, but it wasn't until decades later that the silly and sublime gifts were created as a publicity coup.
The company's "his and her" category debuted in 1960s with a pair of Beechcraft airplanes. Over the years, the store allowed the imagination and the cash register to run wild with pairs of such items as submarines, camels, Egyptian mummy cases and ermine bathrobes.
"There is a fine line between making a good sale and a bad sale," Marcus once said, "for if you sell a person an article beyond his financial capacity, you've made a bad sale; if you sell him something not as good as he should have, you've also made a bad sale."
A second Dallas store opened in the NorthPark Center in 1965, and the Houston Galleria store opened in 1969. Today, Neiman Marcus has 32 stores nationwide, from Honolulu to Beverly Hills, Calif., to Boston.
During the company's sprawl, Marcus served as a consultant, miniature book publisher, lecturer, and founder-trustee of the Stanley and Linda Marcus Foundation, which benefits endeavors of art and culture.
In 1974, he wrote the best seller "Minding the Store: A Memoir."
When he retired in 1975, his son, Richard C. Marcus, took over as chairman and chief executive officer. Stanley Marcus went on to become a retail consultant.
Among his dozens of awards for his mastery of fashion and advertising, he received the New York Fashion Designers Annual Award in 1958; the gold medal from the National Retail Merchants Association in 1961; an honorary doctorate of arts and letters from what is now the University of North Texas in 1983; and induction into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1984.
Marcus is survived by his wife of 22 years, Linda Cumber Robinson Marcus; three children; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His first wife, Mary Cantrell, preceded him in death in March 1978. They were married for 46 years.
Funeral arrangements were pending at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home in Dallas.
The family asks mourners to send contributions to the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas or a charity of their choice.