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In typically savvy and elegant fashion, Neiman Marcus blended one heck of a party with salesmanship built around the 90th birthday celebration for Stanley Marcus.

Party plans and preparation began almost a year earlier, explained Joe Feczko, Neiman Marcus senior VP-creative services, who was in charge of the creative portion of the event.

"About nine or 10 months ago, I met with Mr. Stanley and mentioned his coming 90th birthday," Mr. Feczko said. Merely getting together with Mr. Marcus was, in itself, no easy task. Mr. Marcus' schedule is booked solid from breakfast through dinner six months in advance.

Mr. Feczko discussed some of the elaborate celebrations that the Neiman Marcus staff had suggested, but Mr. Marcus did not seem at all enthusiastic.

"Can't we just invite a few friends and family and have one heck of a party?" Mr. Feczko recalls Mr. Marcus asking him.

The design focal point of the party and subsequent in-store promotions turned out to be a caricature of Mr. Marcus by Al Hirschfeld, the noted cartoonist and illustrator.

Mr. Marcus had always fancied being drawn by Mr. Hirschfeld, and the cartoonist, himself 92 years old, had always wanted to draw Mr. Marcus. With Mr. Marcus' schedule completely booked, however, Mr. Hirschfeld had to work from a photo instead of a live sitting.

A page ad featuring the caricature ran in the Dallas Morning News on April 27 and 29. The ad, created in-house, listed special events tied to the birthday celebration, which it called "Stanley Marcus. Our Man of the Nineties." A spread featuring the Hirschfeld drawing also appeared in the April issue of Texas Monthly.

A direct-mail card was sent to 400,000 of the store's best local customers to inform them of related in-store events running through today..

These included meeting Mr. Marcus in person, a Montblanc pen exhibition, an Emanuel Ungaro Parallele trunk show, an Andre Laug trunk show, a chance to meet jewelry designer Barry Kieselstein-Cord in person, a Mary McFadden trunk show, and to view a collection of Mr. Marcus' miniature books.

Party-related in-store promotions also included several chances to have Mr. Marcus autograph copies of his latest book, "The Viewpoints of Stanley Marcus," which was published April 29.

In a pre-party press conference, Mr. Marcus made news by criticizing current fashion trends.

"All responsible retailers interested in satisfying the public have to feel some concern about fashion over the past 15 years," Mr. Marcus said. Citing designers such as Christian Dior, Givenchy and Geoffrey Beene, he said their objective was to make women beautiful-something he cannot say for today's designers, who seem to have other objectives.

"All you have to do is go to church and pull your skirt over your head and you'll achieve notoriety," Mr. Marcus said. "That's what today's designers are doing at the expense of making clothes."

Mr. Marcus said the public has grown tired of the ugly garment trend and that such moves by designers have hurt the retail business. Women who shop the stores and find no clothes to flatter them opt instead not to buy anything new.

"Designers may find the fashion business can shrivel up," Mr. Marcus warned.

"They may find themselves in a position similar to that of the baseball teams," which have watched ticket sales plunge in the wake of the strike.

Mr. Marcus also said he still puts in 50- to 60-hour workweeks, not for the money, but for "the fun and excitement" of being active and creative. His latest endeavor is a joint venture with former socialite Carole Collins Sweet. Called Narrowcasting, the business gathers and maintains a direct-mail database of affluent customers.

For the party, Neiman Marcus issued 1,500 written invitations to family, friends and associates with whom Mr. Marcus and the store have done business over many decades. The guest list included local civic and business leaders as well as fashion industry luminaries from around the world and international jet-setters.

Neiman Marcus also put together an 18-page, color keepsake journal that Mr. Feczko said was mailed to 5,000 of the retailer's best customers and was distributed to guests at the party. With the Hirschfeld caricature on the cover, the booklet contains ads of greeting and best wishes to Mr. Marcus from Ralph Lauren, handbag designer Judith Leiber, Anne Klein, Henry Dunay, Italian men's clothier Brioni, Hickey-Freeman Co., Baccarat, Susan Crane, Texas Monthly and Calvin Klein, among others.

Neiman Marcus commissioned Tony Award-winning costume and set designer Alvin Colt, who staged 25 of the 30 Fortnight promotions. Mr. Colt devised 13 tongue-in-cheek window display portrayals. These included Mr. Marcus, the last of the Merchant Princes, as Elvis, the Sphinx, Superman, the Mona Lisa and the Statue of Liberty. Colt also designed five floors of exhibits and displays chronicling Mr. Marcus' life for guests and customers to view.

"It's like a wedding around here today," Mr. Feczko remarked, just hours before the start of the bash. The three Marcus children, the 10 grandchildren, the two great-grandchildren and other relatives were gathering for the gala, wandering in and out of the store.

"We're one of the few retailers with this kind of heritage remaining," Mr. Feczko observed, a note of sadness in his voice. "The Gimbels and the Macys have all moved on."

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