Martha Phillips and her daughter Lynn Manulis were an iconic mother and daughter 'dynamic-duo', that reigned as the most respected and expert curators of fashion's designer collections for nearly a century. Their influence on "designer fashion", is staggering, as you will discover in this blog post. We invite you to learn about them and become familiar with the legacy left by these two amazing women. You'll also discover why it was apropos, in 1992, for the NY Times to dub them as, The Doyennes of Couture.
According to legend and as reported in the Orlando Sentinel, a customer was once overheard saying, "You know you've "ARRIVED" (socially), if you found yourself shopping at Martha's."
However, we say, if you were a fashion designer fortunate enough to have been discovered by Miss Martha and Miss Lynn, you had not only, 'ARRIVED', but you were about to be escorted to the top!
noun [C usually singular ]the oldest, most experienced, and often most respected woman involved in a particular type of work:
(i.e. The party was held in honor of Vivienne Westwood, that doyenne of British fashion.)
I'd already been back to the States from Paris for 2 months after having met Lloyd Klein and accepted the challenge to source out the opportunity for U.S. market expansion for his eponymous brand. I had a few obstacles to overcome, like my learning curve with the vocabulary of fashion. I also had a network that was weak in specialty as it pertained to the apparel design business. I’d never really studied the who’s-who or positions of authority, etc. that define the industry. So, I immediately launched into my research by reading as much as I could and by asking questions of anyone that had information on the topic. But two months later, although better armed with a little knowledge, I seemed to be getting nowhere in my pledge to find new opportunity. I'd exhausted my personal database and it felt like I had planted enough seeds, that something would surely surface soon.
I'd heard through (a friend of a friend) that the organizers of a new fashion fair in Florida, were seeking a fashion company to present their collection on the runway, to an audience of wealthy and potential clientele. The organizers wanted an unknown designer luxury brand to introduce to the socialites of Palm Beach. When I heard this I contacted them by email and by mail to suggest that Lloyd Klein was exactly the designer and brand they were seeking. I was hopeful that I would get an immediate response, but two weeks later, I'd heard nothing back. So I decided to call and solicit a reply ready to arm them with as much information as I could gather to make them say yes. I was readied with my hard-sell approach and sat down to make the call. I was expecting to be sent to an assistant or to voicemail only to leave a message. However, I was thrilled to have the Program Director take the call immediately. I took a great sigh of relief after hearing him say,
"I've been meaning to call you since this morning but the day has been a little hectic. I apologize for not reaching out to you in response earlier but we need to vet your designer before making an offer. We think Lloyd Klein is exactly who we have envisioned to headline our event. We phoned our contact at the Chambre Syndicale in Paris, and they were effusive with compliments about Mr. Klein and his brand."
STYLE Palm Beach Catalog Cover art (above)
OPPORTUNITY WITH STYLE
Lloyd Klein was to be the "Featured Designer" at a tented, luxury goods, jewelry, fashion and lifestyle fair, called, "STYLE Palm Beach". He would be the headline attraction for the five day program that had drawn the participation of over 200 luxury goods companies. Each company would showcase millions of dollars of merchandise and samples representing the best of the best. Lloyd Klein's runway would officially kick off the program on February 25th, 2000. It was practically tailor made for Lloyd Klein's introduction to the right clientele and to make it even tastier, all expenses were paid for the staff coming from Paris and Los Angeles.
It was already July, 2000 and while 6 months seemed like plenty of time to prepare, time started to fly. Lloyd and I spoke almost every day for at least an hour and often for two or more. We hadn’t missed a day since meeting for the first time in Paris. It's now become habit and although sometimes it is relegated to texting every so often, it has become a key to our working together. The practice of checking in with each other quickly led to our mutual ability to intuit each others responses. Now, 17 years later it gets sharper as each day passes. I was already well aware that Lloyd is a man who likes answers right away, especially those that are obvious. It's been my practice to get things nailed down before bringing it to the table. Vetting proposals and sifting through inquiries has always been part of my job. Even before getting the confirmation via proposed written contract was received, I'd already started contacting local South Florida retailers to investigate and discover sales opportunities to make it as worthwhile as possible. Finally, I received a final agreement ready for signature that included every detail, I could foresee, down to the last hangar to be included in our performance rider. I'd held off from giving Lloyd the good news until I had the proposal in hand to avoid disappointment. Just as I was ready to make the call to give him the exciting news, a facsimile (I love that word) rolled-in (literally) from a boutique in Palm Beach,that simply read:
Miss Lynn Manulis, will attend on behalf of Martha Phillips.
Please confirm seating arrangements with our office, as soon as possible.
Appointment pending, to be scheduled post-show.
IF YOU KNEW MARTHA'S
LIKE WE KNEW MARTHA'S
Lloyd was audibly ecstatic when he got the news about the event. He was at first surprised and before he could say a word, I stopped him in mid-sentence to say, "I told you I would find the right opportunity. You believed in me and I believe in you". We spent a good hour talking about how great this was and I was just about to hang up for the night, since it was already 1 am. I'd been up that day since 5 am had only taken a short dinner break so I was ready to get some rest. I was about to hang up the phone and I suddenly remembered the rsvp I'd already received just before I called him. "I almost forgot. I got a letter by facsimile from a store called Martha's and the store's President, a woman named Lynn Manulis is planning on attending." I had no idea really, who she was, or how important the store called Martha Phillips was, but Lloyd sure did. The news that Martha's would be in the audience was huge for him. I was unaware of their story, but he kept us on the phone till 2 am, explaining why in Paris they were esteemed as the most powerful women for American retail. The list of success stories was well known in Paris, where the company's eponymous Founder "Miss Martha" Phillips and her daughter, "Miss Lynn" Manulis, were sought after front row seated guests for every major European runway show. It seemed like he was more excited by connecting with Martha's than anything else. I slept well that night!
The video clip above is a snippet of an interview with Lynn Manulis on the front row at Emmanuel Ungaro runway from July 1987 Haute Couture. The longer version of the same video shows the women and men, who at that time, were among the quintessential front row seated guests for whom Fashion Week targets and without whom the need to hold the biannual event is unnecessary. Included in the somewhat raw footage are many of the renowned clientele and journalists associated with Paris Fashion Week. In particular: Lynn Wyatt, Ivana Trump, Nan Kempner, Bernadine Morris, Polly Mellon, Sonia Rykiel and John Fairchild are highlighted in interview and imagery. Now that's what is known as a real front row!
THE LAST GREAT DISCOVERY IN FASHION
As she promised, Lynn Manulis, whom everyone knew to refer to as "Miss Lynn", attended the Style Palm Beach show featuring debut of fashion's new discovery from Paris. The show was met with a thunder of clapping hands and standing ovation from the smartly dressed 600 VIP guests. Martha's President, was the first of the guests, to make her way backstage. She'd made a direct beeline to Lloyd, grabbed his hand, looked him directly in the eyes, and said,
"I'd like to meet with you in the morning and become your exclusive retailer in the South Florida region. You have the kind of talent that one doesn't find easily and I'd like to have you as my new 'discovery', if you will allow me to help you."
The next day, Lloyd and I were invited by Miss Lynn to join her for lunch at the historic, Colony Hotel, just down the street from the Boutique which was located at the Esplanade on Worth Avenue. She was full of energy and we were impressed that at 78 years old she seemed to be floating on air, while everyone else around us was moving at a slow shuffle pace. Palm Beach residents are wealthy but the majority are also senior age and enjoying the benefits of retirement. So slow shuffle is no exaggeration. "Miss Lynn" was delightful and we all got along famously. By the end of lunch we were already on calendar with a to return to Palm Beach to enjoy a 3-day trunk show. the following week. It was the first of many over the next few years. Each "season", we'd be scheduled to arrive just before Christmas, and return in March to deliver the orders from the previous show and write new orders for the current one. They were a phenomenal success, with one particular in-store appearance and trunk show having a 3-day total just over $250,000. Martha and Lynn were unlike anyone before them and it's doubtful there will ever be anyone like them again. Continue reading to learn more about why they are among the most revered icons of the fashion business.
“Lloyd Klein Couture is among
the most gratifying fashion discoveries,
I’ve made in these many years”.
Lynn Manulis as quoted in 2000
Palm Beach Daily News aka the "Shiny Sheet"
(Above) an excerpt from the Lloyd Klein limited edition book printed in 2001 showing the verbiage from a letter of recommendation made about Lloyd Klein by Lynn Manulis, President and Chief Executive Officer of Martha Phillips. (Below) Tiffany is modeling a Lloyd Klein Cocktail Dress ($2,200) and Hat ($11,000) The first day sales reached $68,000 and by the end of the 3 day sales event we had reached $250,000. Image captured in Palm Beach during a trunk Show at Martha's on Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, Florida.
Martha Phillips (1898 -1996) sitting on right, and her daughter Lynn Phillips Manulis (1918-2004) standing on the left,
were among the most influential merchants in modern fashion history.
BRAND NAME DROPPING
The mother and daughter fashion icons had been among the most influential Fashion Directors and couture merchants for over 70 years. "Miss Martha" is said to have had more direct sway over what was worn by high society women than Anna Wintour possibly has today. Her clientele consisted of the old moneyed, blue chip socialites with surnames like: DuPont, Post, Firestone, Rockefeller, Guest, Duke, Vanderbilt and the-like. They were the women, for whom John Fairchild, Publisher of Women's Wear Daily, dubbed as "The Ladies Who Lunch". They could be counted on to have a shopping spree at least two times a year to buy multiple gowns for the season of upcoming galas and milestone social engagements, from the designer collections, that Miss Martha would suggest that might suit each particular client. She kept a private record of who planned to wear what for any particular social event. She made it part of her work to make sure that no two women would wear a dress that might possibly be worn by someone else at that same soiree. In fact, she often would only sell a particular style to be worn in one part of the country at a time. For example, she would be certain that a particular Jimmy Galanos gown might be sold in limited quantity allowing one each for Aspen, New York, Washington D.C., Florida, or perhaps Dallas or Beverly Hills. Of course, this was part of why the merchandise was sold at premium prices. Martha's sold dresses priced at what would be $17,000 to $42,000 per gown today. At their heyday they had 4 stores and were said to have annual sales that reached 40 million dollars. Martha Phillips was considered to be more powerful than the press as the arbiter of what was 'hot', and what was most definitely, not". Their discerning good taste and noses for discovering talent, made them the uncontested un-official Fashion Ambassadors, with the same level of power and respect as any accredited member of the Diplomatic Corp. In fact, among the First Ladies whom were counted as clients were Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Nixon. Mrs. Kennedy didn't come to Martha's personally, but Martha is reported to have understood that "some of the purchases Princess Radziwill had made, were for her sister, Jacqueline.”