The following is from the Spring 2007 edition of the SMU Central University Libraries' Annotations
The first Neiman Marcus Fortnight in 1957 made the pages of Time magazine where it was described as “Dallas in Wonderland. ” The flagship downtown Dallas store celebrated its 50th anniversary that year by creating a French extravaganza. Gallic décor, French fashions, perfumes, food and a visit from designer Coco Chanel captivated shoppers. Dallas’ first international flight landed at Love Field for the occasion – an Air France jet filled with French dignitaries, designers, writers and artists.
From the DeGolyer Library collection: Billie (left) and Stanley Marcus (right) hosted French designer Coco Chanel at a ranch party in 1957 before the first Neiman Marcus Fortnight.
For the next 29 years Neiman Marcus Fortnight became one of the most important events in Dallas, bringing the culture, products and celebrities from more than 30 countries to the city, says Anne Peterson, photography curator at DeGolyer Library. “Mention Neiman Marcus Fortnight to any Dallas woman over 40 and her eyes begin to glow.”
Items from DeGolyer Library collections will be used this fall to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fortnight and the 100th anniversary of Neiman Marcus at the State Fair of Texas September 28-October 21, 2007. DeGolyer houses the papers of legendary retailer and Fortnight creator Stanley Marcus and Alvin Colt, the Tony Award-winning costume and set designer who created the Fortnight displays.
The State Fair Exhibit at the Hall of State will use DeGolyer collections to capture the essence of Fortnight with videos, photographs, posters, drawings and a video interview with 91-year-old Alvin Colt, says Bill Plaisance, senior designer at Neiman Marcus and designer of the exhibit.
A longtime supporter of SMU, Marcus donated his papers in 1993 to DeGolyer Library. More than 400 boxes of correspondence, photographs, newspaper clippings and posters are included in the collection. Colt gave 550 Fortnight drawings and nearly 1,000 photographs along with blueprints and elevations to DeGolyer Library the same year to complement the Marcus collection.
Stanley Marcus, then president of Neiman Marcus, created Fortnight to offset the pre-Christmas sales slump. Fortnight soon generated more sales at the downtown Dallas Neiman Marcus than the holiday season and was copied throughout the retail world.
In 1963 Marcus recruited Alvin Colt, a New York costume and stage designer. For 23 years Colt created opulent displays, transforming the main store floor into an English manor hall for the 1967 British Fortnight.
Under Colt’s direction, a live bull was displayed in the china shop for the Spain Fortnight of 1980 and a crocodile splashed in a pool outside the Lacoste shop at the French Fortnight. An elephant created from fuchsia orchids stood near the elevators at the 1969 East meets West Fortnight.
“Fortnights are done with a very theatrical point of view,” said Alvin Colt in 1984. “It’s not display, interior design or anything like that. Fortnight design has a whole stamp of its own. It’s an experience, and it’s just the same as when the curtain goes up on a show.”
The downtown Dallas Neiman Marcus elevator bay design, inspired by ancient Greek architecture, was created by Alvin Colt for the 1982 Odyssey: Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy Fortnight.
Fortnight was much more than a grand display. “ People didn’t travel in 1957 like they do now. Fortnight brought the world to Dallas,” Peterson says.
The exhibit will include photos of Monaco’s Princess Grace and Prince Ranier, Sophia Loren, Estée Lauder, Joan Crawford, and Britain’s Princess Margaret at the annual Fortnight galas.
“Fortnight was a cultural event as well as a marketing event,” said Stanley Marcus in an interview before the 1984 British Fortnight. “I was very insistent about bringing in folk art, music, dancers, paintings and other things that we wouldn’t sell but that would help educate the public. I think that’s a very essential part of Fortnight.”
Neiman Marcus’ Bill Plaisance won’t try to recreate Fortnight at the State Fair exhibit, but visitors can expect to experience its grandeur.
“It will be very powerful, I promise you that.”
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