Stanley Marcus personified his family's store. He was 100% quality, in his outlook, his vision, and his taste. As a former Chairman of Neiman-Marcus, he had a lot to say in his two books, "Minding the Store" and "Quest for the Best".
"To be a tastemaker, you have to have good taste, but having good taste does not make you a tastemaker," he wrote. "In addition to good taste, the tastemaker must have the self-confidence and some of the arrogance of Cezanne."
He tells of the arrogance of Walter Hoving, the president of Tiffany's. Hoving's philosophy was "Give the customer what Tiffany's likes, because what it likes the public ought to like." Marcus also tells us of Gucci, which New York magazine called "the rudest store in New York". Marcus said it was probably Dr. Gucci's way of expressing pride, while the rest of the world described it as arrogance.
It made me question how I define taste.
Is good taste whatever a famous designer says it is --- or is it in the eyes of experts, or simply the eyes of the beholder? Are there such things as good taste and bad taste, or is it taste and no taste? And who decides that?
As always, my marketing side wins out. I say the customer decides. We can and should try to educate our customers about taste and fashion, but ultimately it's her taste that we have to relate to.
Another question is, is taste based on some innate sensitivity, or is it carefully, studiously acquired? If the latter, how is it acquired? Do we assume the taste of the editor of Vogue, or editor of Nylon or MTV? Or a celebrity? Or our contemporaries at work or school?
The last time I was in Neiman-Marcus, I assumed the taste of the salesperson.
I was looking at the "readers", those reading glasses that come in various strengths. I was worried that the store's selection was just for women, but Ms. DeMint said the pair I was thinking about was perfect on me. That it gave me both character and style, and was expressly selected by their optical buyer in New York. I bought them, but had buyer's remorse by the time I hit the door. But the new glasses didn't give me enough character and style to return them immediately. I came back the next day to see if Ms. DeMint was there. She was. So I left. Today, they're giving both character and style to the glovebox in my car.
I guess I had enough taste to go into Mr. Marcus' store. Not enough, however, to withstand the self-confidence of Ms. DeMint.