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.”
James Galanos, the godfather of American Couture, shown in a pose with iconic retail maven Martha Phillips in the 1980's, on the anniversary of engaging in 30 years of trunk shows together.
WOMEN OF INFLUENCE
The international fashion press called upon Martha and Lynn regularly to quote their opinions on particular designer fashion shows that were mutually attended or to provide commentary on fashion trend or to poll them from a number of viewpoints as expert merchants and as two women whose voice mattered at a legitimate level. They were often quoted or written about in the fashion sections of leading newspapers and magazines like: the NY Times, the Sun Sentinel News, the Palm Beach Post, Palm Beach Life, People Magazine and countless other significant many other publications including a New York Times Publication | The Times of the Eighties: The Culture, Politics, and Personalities that Shaped the Decade.
The Duchess of Windsor once described Mrs. Phillips as:
One afternoon during a trunk show at Martha's, we had just finished an appointment with a client who had a very strong personality. She looked like Judy Garland's doppelgänger and bore the command and demand of a Napoleon. During the appointment, she nonchalantly lit up a cigarette, without pause for permission, and asked Miss Lynn if she could have a glass of ice cold 'clear water' followed by an obvious wink. Lynn was 5 steps ahead and as if on cue, one of the staff appeared with a silver tray with a double dirty martini already chilled and served with two plump cocktail olives. 'Clear water', it turns out, was unspoken code among those well-heeled ladies and it always meant something with a kick. Miss Lynn had a full bar on the ready and knew the drink of choice for all of her regular clients. The husky voiced grand dame held the glass raised it slightly and winked once again at Lynn this time as a thank you gesture. She sat in a gilded chair positioned center salon to view the live in-house models (there were always at least two per day) who had started to parade the ensembles that Lynn had suggested for her from the Lloyd Klein Collection. She was the center of all attention, she knew it and she expected it. When it came time to dispose of her dangling ashes, she would simple hold her cigarette out and confidently expect that someone would position an ashtray in order to relieve her of having to seek a landing. Her politically incorrect habit of smoking in the center of the salon that was filled with several million dollars in couture merchandise, didn't seem to be too out of form at the time. Perhaps it was because this old-school, pint sized diva was about to place a $55,000 order with us, for her and her new daughter-in-law. To be honest, I think she could have asked us to peel her a grape and it would have been peeled and plated in an instant.
THE PINK PANTHER IS A PUSSYCAT
I noticed the jaw drop reaction on the face of Gabrielle d'Allonches. She was the Chief of Couture sales for the Paris atelier. She was present for every trunk show, including this one, to ensure that precise measurements and specific written instructions were recorded and understood for each special order that would be coming from Paris. As the client departed the showroom, Lloyd, Lynn and I, all looked at each other after we all noticed the look of astonishment on the French woman's face. We simultaneously burst into a controlled but gleeful laughter. The mood was buoyant, but still contained, since there were yet other women in the house browsing the collection. I remarked naively that I thought that the woman who had just made the day for us with her orders, was a "real tough cookie". Lynn smiled in an all knowing way, like the Cheshire Cat who's been there and done that! She leaned toward me and said, in a whisper, that was loud enough for the four of us to hear. "John, my dear, this young lady (affectionate term for someone in the same age range as herself) was a pussy cat. If you had met Mama, you'd know what a real tough cookie was."
HER-STORY OF THE HARD SELL
According to Lynn, Miss Martha was a bit more comfortable in the role of 'Commander in Chief''. She'd been working in the retail trade since the age of eight years old. Her father was a clothing merchant who owned a women's tailored suits and with an equestrian riding outfits, called 'Star'. One day she overheard her father complaining to his store manager, about an underperforming sales clerk.
He said "that woman couldn't sell a blouse to a topless woman. I'll bet my little Martha could sell a blouse better than that girl" (as he pointed at Martha who was sitting quietly at the make-up counter) "Do me a favor, make me happy man and find a replacement. The sooner the better, as in yesterday."
Little Martha got off the stool and walked to her father for whom she who would do anything to make him happy and said,
"Papa you just watch, I will show her how to sell."
That day she sold 6 blouses and 4 dresses and a hat. Her father was amazed and watched as she worked the room. He said to Martha,
"My darling you are a Star, You are the brightest Star in the sky. You are now in charge of running this Star. (the name of his boutique).
In her early twenties, she married Phillip Phillips, who owned and operated his own ready to wear manufacturing business. Ten years later she decided to go back to doing what she did best and what she loved to do most. She opened her own retail operations privately on the l2th floor of 501 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. It was the first of her many eponymous stores. This one was simply called 'Martha'. You'd have to be in the know, to know, of the store. Eventually the women who bought and not just shopped came knocking on the door, as word swept like stock tips in a whisper through the highest levels of the social circles along the Eastern Seaboard. Although the rest of the country was facing the harsh realities of the depression she sold only high end garments at the top of the market. She sold nothing with a price tag less than a $100, which would be about $1,700 in 2016. She was a tough as nails, old school, master of the 'hard-sell', able to convince women to do and to buy just as she demanded. She had the reputation of someone who was self-possessed, resilient, and comfortable when in-charge. According to some, she was allegedly downright domineering. Betty Halbreich, a decades long personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman wrote in the book about her on the job experience entitled 'I'll Drink to That', that Martha's hard sell routine was like that of a salesman from old Barney's Boys Town.
Nothing deterred her, not even her unmistakable lisp, that for some, might be called a speech impediment, but for her became a signature beauty mark. Lynn smiled, as the look on her face indicated the depth of wonderful memories she held that were near and dear to her heart. She went on to say in an affectionate and playful tone of voice that intentionally mimicked her mother's trademark syballence with a reverent humor, saying,
"When you look up in that thky and you thee the twinkling thtar in the night thky, You are theeing Martha. I am the thtar in the thky. I am the moon. and I make the ruleth. I am your Mutha and it will be thith way until the day I am no longer here to have lunch with you."
Emotions all of a sudden flushed over all of us, as her eyes filled with tears of fondness, and she said,
"Mama was one of a kind, she was couture and she was my best friend. Life will never be as sweet as when Mama was here. I miss her so..."
What a rare moment this was and one none of us will ever forget.
Lynn and Martha shown in a photo of the two reviewing designer sketches together in 1963
Lynn went on to say that her mother had tried to teach her how to tame the lions of the trade because, (as Martha had said to her) "The lions will eat you for dinner if you don't let em' know who's in charge of the den." She confessed that she never had the "Hutthpa" of Miss Martha. But preferred to use a velvet glove in an iron fist, something she learned from being under her mother's thumb and learning by observing how she succeeded at helming the wheel. She was in fact more poetic and artistic and soft spoken than her elder. Before following in her mothers footsteps she had made a solid attempt albeit short lived acting career. Her business choices were were always placed for approval or denial by Martha. It wasn't until her mother passed in 1996 that she was able to make decisions on her own without having to be approved by the Boss, although she often used the rule of thumb, "What would Martha say", as her litmus for making certain business decisions. On another occasion she shared that she and her mother were quite good at playing "good cop, bad cop". It was effective, if for no other reason than they were naturally suited in those roles which were a reflection of their reality. Between the two of them, no one could say no.
Both Lynn and her mother are credited together and separately with being instrumental in the early careers of such fashions icons as: Valentino, Carolina Herrera, Carolyn Roehm, Mary McFadden, James Galanos, Norman Norell, Nolan Miller, Emmanuel Ungaro, Arnold Scaasi, Oscar de la Renta, Randolf Duke, Zang Toi, Bob Mackie, Zandra Rhodes, Patrick Kelly, Christian Lacroix and almost every major fashion designer in North America, but particularly from Europe. They were the exclusive representative for full designer collections for the entire United States like those designed by Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, just to name two. The list of the designers they worked with reads like a 'Fashion Designer Hall of Fame'.
"Gianfranco Ferre, Mila Schon and Andre Laug also made their debut in Martha's window. For her ''efforts in promoting Italian fashion,'' the Italian government ''knighted'' Phillips with the rank of Cavaliere in the Order of Merit, the Italian equivalent of the French Legion of Honor."
Fashion designer Mary McFadden and retail notable Lynn Manulis photographed together in Palm Beach in 1978 (above); Mrs. Roy Tuchbreiter (on left) with Lynn Manulis (center) and Couturier Pauline Trigere (on rt) photographed attending the annual Red Cross Ball in 1965 - The Ball continues to be the most important event of the Palm Beach Season each year.
(photo above) Pauline Trigere on left next to Lynn Manulis attend the Red Cross Ball together in Palm Beach in 1965.
(photo below) Lynn Manulis wearing an outfit designed by Christian Francis Roth on left, opposite to designer Charlotte Neuville in 1989, at a Martha's store opening event.
REMEMBERING THE ELEGANCE OF MISS LYNN
The night we first met Lynn Manulis backstage at the conclusion of the Lloyd Klein runway she was groomed and impeccable from head to heel and in every way. From her custom Chanel Couture suit and her Jean Schlumberger designed Tiffany necklace and earrings, down to her custom Manolo Blahnik, "Hangisi" flats. Her platinum blonde mane was meticulously coiffed and frosted in the vein of Virginia Graham, the 60's TV talk show host of Girl Talk, among many other appearances.
Virginia Graham (above photo)
(SMALL SIDE STORY)
Virginia Graham was one of my childhood favorites from television. For some reason, I remember her mainly for her insane mane. So Lovely! Both Miss Lynn and her mother Martha were apparently members of the "Big Do Brigade" often with a frosted blonde tamed to resemble mile high cotton candy or at least that's what it seemed to me at 7 years old. I never met Miss Martha and only know of her through the countless stories over lunch recalled by Miss Lynn and from the photos she shared with us, about her dear "Mama". From the first photo I viewed of Miss Martha, I thought how closely she may have resembled Virginia Graham from seeing her as a kid on TV as host of "Girl Talk". Women seemed at ease in confiding to her and I imagine that was how Martha was with her ladies.
Lynn's excellent posture and deliberate pace which was never hurried yet never lazy added to her sophisticated appearance. She exuded an air of confidence that belonged to someone who's physical stature was of someone taller than her 4'8" height. When we first met "Miss Lynn", we were impressed that at 78 years old, she was actively working and running operations for her store. She was up early and to bed quite late (per her own admission) and she was more active than many others were at half her age. She spoke with a voice that combined the affected cadence and command of Connecticut's Kathryn Hepburn, a smattering of snob like that of Bette Davis and yet the overall soft and smooth calming voice of Loretta Young. She was an actress in New York in her early years and she indeed carried herself like a an important person one might even say..., a"Thtar."
She never spoke to anyone with even a hint of superiority or a tone of condescension. She was the best kind of snob. She was the quintessential curator and a walking fashion historian. Proper etiquette, politeness, and manners ruled her character. However, it was her enthusiasm and sparkle in her eye that captivated anyone within earshot as she recalled any of the countless stories that provided the full prowess in the details of her work. Like the time that she discovered Monsieur Valentino Garavani in a small, "blink and you'd miss it", atelier in Rome and helped to introduce his talent to New York by making the right connections with New York High Society. Her sense of satisfaction with such "finds" as with Valentino, was just as empowering for her as one might expect of an inventor, or the scientist who without their efforts at discovery, mysteries answered by their unveiled remedy, would have no cure. Her sense of well-deserved satisfaction with her accomplishments, clearly was part of her "joie de vivre". For his part it's been said that his gratitude for her assistance was why each and every season whether she made it to his show or not, a reserved front row seat was created in expectation of her arrival and left empty in her absence. Her stories and recollections shared often to anyone she felt was truly interested in listening, were always inspiring. Even if you'd heard them several times, (which we did), they somehow picked up new specifics that made them even more fascinating. She had been working on organizing photos and memorabilia and begun writing her memoir for the entire time that we had interaction. Sadly, that project that may never have its own conclusion. I wish that she had made more progress. We last saw her in 2002. Palm Beach is still filled with wealthy clients, but since 9/11 things were never the same. Bottomless budgets seem to have disappeared. I am certain that there are plenty of the ladies who lunch and then go shopping in Palm Beach, but not like it was, in the last days of Martha.
We were saddened to hear of the store closing in 2003. Miss Lynn said she'd never retire. Lloyd and I shared a "Passover" dinner during our last trunk show with her. That night was very special, beyond the religious connotations of that celebrated evening. I will never forget her heartfelt words which struck me as as painfully sincere. "I will not retire until it's time to go see Mama. Beside, if I did retire and didn't go see her right away, I don't think I'd hear the end of it, from Miss Martha... for the rest of eternity, and that wouldn't be something to look forward to, now would it?"
When the news that Miss Lynn had passed away at the age of 82 in 2004, we learned only then about her lung cancer struggle. I knew it had to be something beyond her control for her to stop working. She is sorely missed by Lloyd Klein and by all of our staff that met her over those many wonderful trips to Martha's for trunk shows. If you were lucky enough to have met her, or perhaps to have been one of her discoveries, I am certain you'd agree with our sentiments.
Although there is no evidence, that the Clare Boothe Luce 'comedy of manners' play called, "The Women", for which the renowned movie by the same name, as directed by George Cukor, was based on Martha Phillips. But I'd wager to say that the movie, is about as close to the style and essence of Marthas, as any could story on film could possibly reference. Do yourself a favor, find a way to see it through whichever movie platform you subscribe to and watch the film. You can practically see Miss Martha and Miss Lynn in action!