Coco Chanel’s Dallas Visit, September 1957

On December 10, 2013, the House of Chanel will host the Métiers d’Art, a “yearly pre-fall collection and runway show dedicated to the history of the house’s founder, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel” (Dallasnews.com, 2013) in Fair Park, Dallas. Chanel’s roots in Texas go back to 1957, when she first visited Dallas to receive an award from the Neiman Marcus luxury department store.

In preparation to celebrate the company’s 50th Anniversary, Neiman Marcus founder Stanley Marcus planned a series of events designed to promote both French culture and fashion within the community, some of which would become Dallas traditions over the following years.

Photographs, letters, telegrams, and documents related to these events are available online in SMU’s DeGolyer Library: Photographs, Manuscripts, and Imprints digital collection. The items are part of the Stanley Marcus Papers, held by the DeGolyer Library.

In 1938, Stanley Marcus inaugurated the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion, bringing European and American fashion designers and women of style to Dallas. Called the “Oscars of the Fashion Industry,” the Neiman Marcus Fashion Awards were given to: Coco Chanel, Hattie Carnegie, Yves Saint Laurent, Elizabeth Arden, Christian Dior, Salvatore Ferragamo, Jacques Fath, James Galanos, Emilio Pucci, Pierre Balmain, Grace Kelly, Cecil Beaton, Estee Lauder, Anne Kleine, Valentino, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Marc Bohan, and Greer Garson.

September 1957 saw the arrival of Coco Chanel to Dallas, where she was the guest of honor in the Neiman Marcus 50th Anniversary celebration. Coco Chanel would be the first individual to receive a gold version of the coveted Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion. 

The golden anniversary of the store was jointly celebrated by Rolls Royce. Executives from both the United States and United Kingdom offices of the Rolls Royce Company made the journey to Dallas to participate in the celebration. For the occasion they sent a cavalcade of cars to Dallas, including a white one to pick Coco Chanel up at Love Field.

One of the special events was a Western-themed party held at Edward Marcus’s Black Mark Farm in Flower Mound. Coco Chanel described a bovine fashion show that took place:  “A pair of unlikely newlyweds suddenly appeared in the converging beams of a number of spotlights: a very young bull stuffed into evening clothes and wearing a top hat between his horns, and an equally young heifer in white Chanel with a long veil (Picardie, 2010).” Dr. Frederick Llewellyn Smith, the Managing Director of Rolls Royce, made an appearance at the Marcus Western party, at one point riding a tractor equipped with a giant Rolls Royce grill.

In 1957, for the 50th anniversary of the store, Stanley Marcus also had the brilliant idea of bringing international culture to North Texas in the form of the first Fortnight celebrating France. Fortnight was an instant success. Inspired by a trip to Stockholm in 1956, the Fortnights were two-week long celebrations, which wedded the cultural with the commercial, promoting the goods, services and culture of the “theme” country (Gurock, 1998), (Dunn, 1984).

For the initial Fortnight, Stanley Marcus secured the cooperation of several civic leaders and groups, resulting in it becoming a community event with specialized displays, such as 32 Toulouse-Lautrec paintings at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (now the Dallas Museum of Art), which were specifically imported for the event from Albi, along with one of the largest displays of French tapestries in the United States, and several French films playing in art house venues throughout the Metroplex (Dunn, 1984).

In addition to the presence of French objets d’art, as well as an abundance of French artisan handicrafts, Marcus invited French dignitaries, models, business, fashion and cultural leaders, writers and filmmakers to participate in the event, many of whom were flown into Dallas via the first International Flight into the Dallas-Fort Worth area (Vogue, 1957). The specially chartered flight from Air France landed in Dallas Love Field, and the landing rights had been secured for the event by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (Dunn, 1984). Once there, invited guests, as well as the general public, were treated to wine-tasting sessions, French-cooking demonstrations, Fashion Showings by members of the Paris Couture Syndicate, art displays, and even Guignol (puppet show) performances for the children (Vogue, 1957).


Overall, Neiman Marcus spent a total of about $400,000 at the initial Fortnight event, and it garnered an estimated $2 million in revenues for the company (Dunn, 1984), (Gurock, 1998). The event was deemed such a success that Neiman Marcus proceeded to make it a regular, yearly event for the next 29 years. Famed designer Alvin Colt was brought in by Neiman Marcus in 1963 to design the installations for the Fortnight, and he continued to do so until they ended in 1986 (SMU, n.d.).

The visit was important to Coco Chanel’s career, as well, and is one of the main reasons Métiers d’Art will take place in Dallas. According to Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s head designer and creative director, “When Chanel reopened [after World War II], the French press was beyond nasty. The only press that understood it immediately was the American press, and Neiman Marcus gave her the Oscar for her collection, so I think it’s a nice thing to go there (Houston Chronicle, 2013).”

Both the Stanley Marcus Papers and the Alvin Colt design drawings, photographs, and other materials for Neiman Marcus Fortnights are held at SMU’s DeGolyer Library. For more information, contact degolyer@smu.edu. Digitized items are part of SMU Central University Libraries’ CUL Digital Collections.

Sources:
Various details for this blog posting were taken from internal Neiman Marcus memorandums and correspondence regarding their 50th Anniversary celebration. Stanley Marcus Papers,  DeGolyer Library, SMU.

“Métiers d’Art, a yearly pre-fall collection and runway show dedicated to the history of the house’s founder, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.” November 19, 2013. DallasNews.com. Retrieved from: http://fdluxe.dallasnews.com/2013/11/chanel-to-take-over-fair-park-in-dallas-on-december-10-for-its-wild-metiers-dart-fashion-show.html/

Dunn, S. October 1984. “Fabulous Fortnight ’84: The Neiman-Marcus extravaganza brings Britain back to Dallas.” D Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.dmagazine.com/Home/1984/10/01/FABULOUS_FORTNIGHT_84.aspx

Gurock, J. 1998. Central European Jews in America, 1840-1880: Migration and advancement. London: Routledge

Picardie, J. 2010. Coco Chanel: The legend and the life. London: Harper Collins Publishers.

SMU Central University Libraries. 2007. “This fall at the State Fair of Texas: Neiman Marcus Fortnight.”  Annotations. Retrieved from: http://smu.edu/newsinfo/excerpts/fortnight-annotations-spring2007.asp

SMU Central University Libraries. Alvin Colt design drawings, photographs, and other materials for Neiman Marcus: A Guide to the Collection. Retrieved from: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/smu/00017/smu-00017.html

Editors of Vogue. October 15, 1957. Part for France in Texas: Distinguished visitors going to the Neiman-Marcus Quinzaine. Vogue.

Sewing Joy. November 22, 2013. “Chanel’s Karl Langerfeld brings ‘Metiers d’Art’ show to Dallas. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from: http://www.chron.com/life/style/fashion/article/Chanel-s-Karl-Langerfeld-brings-Metiers-d-Art-5003042.php

 

About Cynthia Boeke

AA-CUL(CMIT)
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