All photos courtesy of the Marcus family.
yErie Marcus Smith has always been fascinated by her great-aunt, Carrie Marcus Neiman—the mysterious force behind Neiman Marcus, which she co-founded in 1907 with her husband, Neiman, and brother, Herbert Marcus. Smith, 85, says that like many women of the era whose accomplishments were eclipsed by their male counterparts, Carrey’s leading role has often been overlooked by history.
Carey died in 1953 when Smith was a teenager, and she made it her life’s mission to get things right, researching and collecting tales over the decades about her great-aunt, and jotting the details away with the idea of writing her autobiography. day. Lots of people—including Smith’s late father Stanley Marcus and her good friend Pulitzer Prize-winner Doris Kearns Goodwin—suggested that you “stop talking about the book and just write it,” says Smith, laughing. “But it was hard to get started because I wasn’t a biographer. I was an avid reader, but I wasn’t a writer.” Years passed, until the 2020 pandemic finally forced its hand. “Everyone’s had a white sheet for a year, and I thought, ‘This is now or never. “
Smith’s book came out this month. A girl named Carrie: the visionary who created Neiman Marcus and set the fashion standard (University of North Texas Press). And it was worth the wait. The book paints a captivating portrait of Carrie Neiman: “the stern-looking lady in the black dress” who terrorized Smith as a child but was actually “the quiet genius behind the success of the world-renowned department store known as Neiman Marcus.”
A beauty preserved with smoldering features and a regal demeanor, Carrey had an innate style and an eye for the best. It didn’t come from money—her family were German-Jewish immigrants who eventually made their way to Hillsborough—but they were cultured and cultured. Carrie grew up loving classical music, reading books in several languages, and devouring European fashion magazines. She was married and only 24 years old when Neiman Marcus opened Elm Street in downtown Dallas, a city that was in many ways still uncivilized, with unpaved streets teeming with horse-drawn carriages and saloons. But she owned a symphony orchestra, a Shakespeare club, and a group of wealthy citizens.
Carrie was a Jewish woman in a town dominated by Christians and men, but her flair and sophistication made Neiman Marcus an instant success. European ready-to-wear and haute couture were first introduced to Texas. “Carrey only had one job, but it was the most important job of all,” Smith wrote. “She was responsible for procuring all the merchandise for the new store…she stayed close to her original ideas of fashion – sophisticated, clean lines and quality materials – and brought back some of the latest feminine designs from New York and Paris…she knew that the store’s hopes for success depended entirely on her choice. Appropriate clothing.”
Neiman Marcus has become one of the world’s most talked about and successful stores, thanks to the enduring values Carrey instilled, including the old saying that the customer was always right, says Smith. In his book Minding the Store, Stanley Marcus credited his aunt with much of what he learned while she was under her tutelage. An iconoclastic warrior in the retail world, Carrie was a dissident in other ways, splitting from Al in the 1920s at a time when the divorce was scandalous. After Herbert’s death in 1950, Carey became chairman of Neiman Marcus – one of the few women in the country to hold such a position – and oversaw the company’s first branch store in Preston Center just a few years before her death at the age of 69.
Since then, much of Curry’s legacy has been lost to time — something Smith hopes to correct. “It was really important to me to reveal the unacknowledged significance of this woman,” Smith says. “Someone had to talk about it.”
Parallel to the book’s launch, a new exhibition, “An Eye for Style: Carrie Marcus Neiman and the Woman Who Shaped Neiman Marcus,” will open at SMU’s De Gaullier Library on December 2, a date Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson is scheduled to proclaim “Carrie Marcus Neiman Day.”
To order the book, visit carriemarcusneiman.com.