View or download at paleincomparison.com/famous_medium.mov
(With apologies to Phil Ochs)
Oh, once I was young and impulsive
I go-go danced for a rock band
Drank too many shots of tequila
And covered my breasts in Saran(tm).
But now I’ve grown older and wiser,
And that’s why my life is so bland,
So love me, love me, love, I’m a liberal.
“(Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.)”
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: June 16, 2009
Selma Weiser, who created Charivari, a forward-looking fashion boutique that grew into a retail mini-empire on the previously fashion-starved Upper West Side of Manhattan, and with it helped open the American market to international designers like Giorgio Armani, Issey Miyake and Claude Montana, died Friday in Manhattan. She was 84.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said her son, Jon. In 1990, a stroke paralyzed her left side.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Charivari was a buzz word in New York, with five stores peppering the Upper West Side. (A sixth opened across town, on Madison Avenue, in 1992.) Known for their mix of traditional and avant-garde fashions for both men and women, the stores became destinations for the shopping intelligentsia. Mrs. Weiser presided over the expanded business with her son, Jon, and her daughter, Barbara.
There was no buzz when she opened the first Charivari store on 85th Street and Broadway in 1967, in the middle of what was then a stolid neighborhood where no one who was anyone shopped for fashion. Once, in the 1970s, Jon was ejected from a European showroom when the designer discovered Charivari’s address and assumed it was a discount store.
A spirited, stubbornly optimistic entrepreneur, Mrs. Weiser conceived the store as a moderately priced women’s dress shop. But from the April Fools’ Day she opened the doors with a go-go dancer performing in the window, Charivari always sought to create a stir (the name is a French word meaning uproar or hullabaloo) and frequently achieved it.
“They were expensive, but they weren’t selling to rich people, they were selling to you,” said Amy Axler, a former customer, who recalled the favorite Claude Montana jacket she bought when the Mets made it to the World Series in 1986. “When you went in there, you knew you were going to get something good, you knew you weren’t going to see it all over town.”
Among the designers Charivari introduced to the American shopper were Yohji Yamamoto, Ann Demeulemeester, Dolce & Gabbana and Marc Jacobs, who began his fashion career as a teenage stock boy at the Charivari on Columbus Avenue and 72nd Street. Long before many designers began to open their own boutiques, one of the developments that helped bring about the company’s demise, Charivari featured the lines of Armani, Versace, Prada and others.
“If, during the nineteen-eighties, you wanted your clothes to indicate that you were a) in the know, fashionwise; b) a bit of an intellectual; and c) not afraid of wearing unfinished seams or jackets turned inside out, or other things that might, if not worn with sufficient élan, look like fashion disasters, then you shopped at Charivari,” Rebecca Mead wrote in The New Yorker in 1999, lamenting the company’s declaration of bankruptcy.
Selma Heyman was born in Manhattan on Sept. 13, 1924, though she grew up mostly on Staten Island, where her father, Julius, was a dentist. She hated her old-fashioned name, her daughter said, and throughout her retail career, she kept trying to get people to call her other things — Selena, Sela, Samantha. It never took.
“To everyone she always Selma,” Barbara Weiser said.
Her first husband, Magnus Weiser, was her father’s patient. The marriage ended in divorce, as did a brief second marriage, which took place after her stroke. In addition to her two children, who live in Manhattan, she is survived by a sister, Lori Gordon of Falls Church, Va.
Mrs. Weiser began her retail career as a notions buyer — bobby pins and such — for a department store. Later, the store in Newark where she was working as a dress buyer closed and, recently divorced with two children, she opened Charivari as a last-ditch effort to support her family.
“She was about to move us in with her aunt,” Barbara Weiser said. “But she said, ‘Or else we could open a store.’ ”