Keeper of the Couture

Meet Anastasia Cucinella, the new face (and brains) of Westchester’s iconic home of high-fashion, Mary Jane Denzer

Retail-savvy Westchesterites know that the Mary Jane Denzer boutique (currently located at The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester in White Plains) has long reigned supreme as the go-to source for high-end designer clothing. Though the store’s eponymous founder died in December 2015, at age 83, her legacy lives on, thanks to longtime associate Anastasia Cucinella, who was appointed COO of the company by members of the Denzer family in March 2016. Cucinella and Denzer worked side by side for years in the high-pressure world of couture, so the New Canaan resident—who got her start in fashion at the Morgane Le Fay store on Madison Avenue—was a natural fit as Denzer’s successor. We sat down with Cucinella recently to find out how she plans to keep this local retail bastion burning brightly into the future.

Taking over as COO of such a well-known brand, associated so closely with another person, has to be daunting. How’s it going?

First, I am very happy that [Mary Jane Denzer’s] children have decided to continue the business. It [hasn’t been] too difficult to take over, because I am continuing to do what I used to do as Mary Jane’s assistant. We have all been mentored by her, but especially me, because I worked with her for more than a decade. I would like to have someone like her beside me, to take the journey together,…but she always believed in me and gave me confidence. 

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What did you learn as Mary Jane’s protégé? 

She taught me to always be honest with a client. She used to say: “Lose a sale rather than make the wrong sale.” Also, she wanted to dress customers as beautifully as possible. She was a perfectionist, and that philosophy will stay with us forever. She based her business on that principle for 36 years.

 

What are you focusing on as the new COO?

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My priority now is to reassure customers that the level of quality and service they’ve come to expect at Mary Jane Denzer will
not change.

 

Apparel retail is such a competitive industry. How do you make sure the Mary Jane Denzer brand stands out?

We take a lot of time to pick [our inventory] from the showrooms. Everything—dresses, accessories, jewelry—it’s well thought out. We want our customers to be able to buy a complete look. Everything is merchandised the right way. Our clients expect that service. Someone who is spending this kind of money should be catered to. 

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The Mary Jane Denzer boutique at The Ritz-Carlton, Westchester in White Plains

 

Being in the luxury segment, have you seen business affected by changes in the economy?

People buying on this level are continuing to do so. If anything is different, it’s that some of our customers will look for more versatile pieces they can wear multiple times. Also, some young women need a lot of dresses for social obligations, so they might spend $2,500 each for a number of dresses, rather than twice that for just one. Of course, for the big events, our customers don’t really think twice about what they spend.

 

Special-occasion dressing is still important, then?

We will always have dressy clothes. We love Elie Saab gowns, Oscar de la Renta, Jenny Packham. We love being a part of our clients’ special celebrations. Women we dressed 30 years ago for mother-of-the-bride, now their daughters are coming in for the same. 

 

Is the trend toward more accessible fashion a priority for your customers, too?

Yes, this is something Mary Jane started over the past few years that I will continue. She always wanted to have the latest designers in the store. She loved going to showrooms to find new talent. She was trying to open our doors to a bigger audience, bringing in designers like Preen and Ohne Titel, who are very modern and can take a client a lot of places.

 

What are your future plans for the brand?

Opening two more stores, one in Palm Beach and one in Manhattan. We held a very successful fashion show in Palm Beach in February 2015. It was so well-received, it helped us feel we certainly belong there.

 

Is there a guiding principle you use to help ensure the continued success of this business? 

Yes. I quite simply ask myself: What would Mary Jane do?

 

 

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