The Photography of Stanley Marcus

Retailer Stanley Marcus gave Dallas, Texas-based Neiman Marcus its upscale reputation, but his true passion was photography, an art he practised for more than three decades, illustrated in our photo journey.

Aug 3, 2009
  • Spectators at a bullfight in Juarez, Mexico, September 15, 1957
  • Christian Dior in his apartment in Paris, April 1954. He had received the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion in 1947.
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Spectators at a bullfight in Juarez, Mexico, September 15, 1957
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Christian Dior in his apartment in Paris, April 1954. He had received the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion in 1947.

Passionate about books, travel and art, the young Stanley Marcus dreamed of being a photographer but was told in no uncertain terms that he had to join the family business.

“In those days, kids did what their daddies told them to!” says daughter Jerrie Marcus Smith. Although his entry in a New York Times photography competition in the late 1930s won first place, Stanley Marcus dutifully turned his artistic eye to the business of his father, Herbert. With a showman’s flair and salesman’s instincts, he transformed a respectable retail outfit into the fashion empire Neiman Marcus.

Affectionately known as the “Merchant Prince,” Stanley Marcus is often credited with bringing style to the former cow town of Dallas, Texas. A splendid new volume, Reflection of a Man: The Photographs of Stanley Marcus—curated by his daughter Jerrie Marcus Smith and granddaughter Allison V. Smith—reveals the visual poet in the great style-maker.

Going to choice locations where he could indulge in his favourite hobby, Marcus used “every camera known to man,” according to Smith, and created a trove of exquisite compositions. In a characteristic act—part encouragement, part dare—he gave his slides to his photojournalist granddaughter, Allison, in 1997. The book designers culled some 6,000 images taken from 1937 to 1969.

“The quality of the Kodachrome film used during this period was incredible,” says Allison. “It presents much richer colours and tones than we can capture today, even with our high technology.”

The book’s images illuminate a life lived with extraordinary verve and visual delight. Heartfelt essays by designer Oscar de la Renta, Jerrie Marcus Smith, University of Texas’ Roy Flukinger and fabric designer Jack Lenor Larsen provide titbits of information that help situate the characters and events appearing in the pictures.

At its most moving, the volume allows us to vicariously experience the artist’s world view through small details of grand locations, familial intimacy, splashes of colour and surprises of shape.

Serious and playful shots portray several winners of the Neiman Marcus design award. Pauline Trigère appraises the lips of Jimmy Galanos as they are about to kiss. Emilio Pucci, smartly coordinated with a Florentine structure behind him, photographs the attentive photographer.

Known for his high-flight marketing schemes, including the fantastical His and Her gifts of the Neiman Marcus catalogue, Marcus also appreciated simple beauty. He trained his cameras on ordinary people. Most of his subjects seem content to be noticed. In one of the book’s most dynamic images, a toreador in gold sweeps a blood-red cape over a hunkering bull. Perhaps most captivating is a 1938 portrait of a child with serious brown eyes standing in a doorway in Mexico.

Jerrie Marcus Smith says that working on the book with her daughter was “one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had.” Perhaps Stanley, as his grandchildren knew him, had a plan for those slides all along.


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