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Jack Miles Applauded for Keeping the Social Set Chic

September 18, 1987|MARY ROURKE

Forget all this business about chic socialites on magazine covers setting standards for style. It's set on fashion runways, says Jack Miles, I. Magnin's man for fine apparel for 50 years. Thursday night, the store's VIPs presented Miles with the ultimate seal of approval, the Mary Ann Magnin Award for Excellence, named after a founding member of the powerful retail family.

The man knows how to sell clothes.

Mrs. So-and-So is in the dressing room with a $6,000 dress. He's left her there alone to decide. She's one who comes in from Pasadena, Palm Springs, Salt Lake City or Phoenix, shops by appointment and never asks the price. Miles explains: "She phoned me the other day, said she needed a dress for a special event, I gave her the one dress. No choices; people get confused. One dress makes it seem like this is the one for you."

Miles thinks nothing of selecting a $7,500 Valentino cloth coat from the designer's Paris showroom and shipping it home for one of his regular customers, certain she will buy it.

"My customers have taste, but they let me guide them and they look better because of it," he explains.

He's slowly phased out his Hollywood client list--"women who want beautiful clothes"--that once included Greer Garson, Deborah Kerr and the late Rita Hayworth. "There aren't any celebrities anymore, women you remember after a movie," he says. "If I had to rely on Hollywood these days, I'd be out of business."

He courts the social set instead. Wives of financiers, publishers, heads of corporations, bank presidents. He phones them twice a year, in September and April, to book appointments. He shows them the newest designer collections (he's partial to Valentino), and they take two days to buy a wardrobe. One day to look, the next to try things on and have fittings.

"The rich today shop just the way they always have," he says. "They never come in for the sales, and they'd never just pop in without calling, because they want to know I'll be here."

He calls his customers "my ladies" and talks unabashedly of his fondness for them. Once a year he throws a little luncheon for them all at the Bistro Garden. "This year there were 40 of us," he recalls, adding that several among them dropped $50,000 in his department since their last gathering.

The designer fashion show he puts on as part of the afternoon isn't anything pushy, he says. "It's just to keep them entertained. I keep it elegant. Beautiful clothes in an uncluttered place. That's what customers want."

Miles' first job at Magnin was as a pattern maker in the custom-fur salon of the San Francisco store. He's about to take off for Paris for his 51st designer fashions buying trip.

He says he's not recruiting any new customers, because these days he oversees the fine-apparel departments in eight Southern California branch stores. But he can still spot a big spender when he sees one. It's not the shoes or the handbags that give her away. "I look at the jewelry," he says.

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