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THE STYLE FILES: THE PLAYERS : The Ladies' Salesman : Teddy Edwards knows how to make a woman happy

March 16, 1994|RIP RENSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Calling Teddy Edwards a salesman is practically indecent. Even his actual title, sales associate, is inadequate. Fine ladies' dresser is closer to the mark. Attire adviser, at least. Haute couture courtier . . .

Teddy, as everyone calls him, has been many things in his 60 years. A tyke in the British West Indies, where he was born. Teen-ager in New York City. U.S. Army soldier in Japan and Korea in the '50s. Actor in the '60s in Paris and Rome, with bit parts in Fellini's "Satyricon" and "Catch-22." Restaurateur and boutique owner in London in the '70s. Sonia Rykiel specialist at Bullocks Wilshire from 1984 until its tragic closure last year, when he assumed the same post at parent company I. Magnin in Beverly Hills. (He settled in California for the weather.)

These days, Edwards' domain is a place where women routinely drop $10,000 to $20,000 for protective coloration, where Chandon Brut Cuvee and San Pellegrino are poured in the shoe department (in monogrammed I. Magnin Champagne glasses), where the salespeople are better coiffed than most people in human history, where at least one severely underdressed visitor was greeted with a steely stare and a hollow, interrogative "have you been helped?", where statements like "this is too beige--it almost looks cream ! are practically Muzak, where fine ladies' skirts, dresses, jackets hang in lithe, elegant rows, awaiting fine ladies to inhabit them.

"When I'm looking at a lady, I'm looking at her as a piece of art," Edwards effused. "I love it when I finish dressing a lady and the result is that she looks wonderful . . . You can bring out something that she hasn't seen. There's nothing better than that! That's the reward.

"A lot of people are shy about dressing and don't have a lot of nerve, and often those are just the people that can look fabulous!"

He sat easily in an I. Magnin office two floors above raucous Wilshire Boulevard, impeccable in faintly striped charcoal Oxford suit, tie with muted colors just bordering on flair, tasseled loafers, red rhinestone AIDS pin. In all, no more presentable than a newly minted coin.

"I'm actually an actor, and it's all theatrics with me," he said--no, projected --in a carefully modulated, smoky timbre. "And I love theatrics. I think that's part of my success, that I pull people into my theater. It's more than just selling."

Don't misunderstand the remark about theatrics; Edwards does not imply insincerity. His job merely allows him to indulge his sense of the dramatic; his designated I. Magnin "area" is his stage. Besides, he will tell you, acting is organic to dressing well: "Yes, oh, it's certainly connected. And women certainly are the prize actresses. Especially today's women that have invaded the corporate world. I have a lot of those kind of ladies and certainly clothes are going to help them a great deal."

And it is more than just selling, with this man. Sales are almost anticlimactic; the perfunctory necessity done at the end of fashion consulting. Edwards's long-established reputation is that he genuinely has the beauty of his clients at heart--not what's inside their Gucci bags.

"Teddy isn't there to sell you something," flatly declared longtime client Sheila Tepper, noted arts patron and producer of KKGO-FM's "Backstage California." "Teddy's there so you have something that's right for you, that you love, that's right on your body, that looks good to him, and that you're comfortable in. I don't know anybody else that does that. He has an unerring eye, and his friendship is there."

Rosemary Stack, wife of actor Robert and no stranger to high fashion shopping, echoed Tepper. "First of all, I don't like to be sold. Teddy doesn't sell you, he just kind of shows you, which I appreciate . . . I think he can especially help a lady who--and I'm not referring to myself--there are some women who can spend money on clothes, and they don't know what kind of shoes to put with it. You know? Which is really kind of sad. Which is why they need people like Teddy."

This ladies' gentleman--whose zest and appearance belong to a man 20 years younger--has more than 300 regular clients, about 75 of whom are "active." (He will divulge no names.) Yes, he keeps files on their tastes--largely in his head--but is not necessarily bound by patrons' stated parameters. Like any good actor, he improvises:

"Well, I have lots of ladies who just so rarely come in, I just continually pick things for them," he said, ignoring a hissing glass of San Pellegrino at his side. "Often they're busy ladies and can't really come in for the trunk shows and what-not. I go to the trunk shows often, and I'll say, 'Oh that would be great for so-and-so'--and I UPS it to them.

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