Anastasia Cucinella in Erdem and Debra O’Shea in Paula Hian, partners in Mary Jane Denzer.
BY GEORGETTE GOUVEIA – APRIL 2017
For more than 35 years, Mary Jane Denzer has been a high-end retail anchor in White Plains, first on East Post Road, then on the corner of Mamaroneck and Maple avenues and, since August 2014, on Renaissance Square in a sleek, gray-and-white, 5,000-square-foot space near The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester.
Like any self-respecting fashionista, however, the store keeps evolving. Its latest chapter Mary Jane Denzer finds two new owners at the helm — Anastasia Cucinella, Denzer’s longtime right-hand woman, and Debra O’Shea, who for 16 years was the women’s personal shopper at Richards in Greenwich and served as a fashion columnist for WAG as Diva Debbi.
They follow in the well-heeled footsteps of a woman who was a cultural icon to Westchester. (It was Mary Jane Denzer who arranged the stunning Oscar de la Renta runway show fundraiser for White Plains Hospital’s 120th anniversary gala in 2013.) But she was also a mentor, lifesaver and friend to both women.
“She used to help me when I had a fashion emergency,” O’Shea remembers. “Mary Jane was always gracious. She’d say, ‘Come down. Take what you need.’”
When Denzer discovered she had pancreatic cancer — two months after opening her dream store on Renaissance Square — she met with O’Shea and asked her if she would be interested in continuing her legacy. At the time, O’Shea says, it didn’t feel right. Nor was it the right moment after Denzer passed away (in December of 2015) and her family decided to keep the business going.
The turnkey, O’Shea says, came when the family determined that the best way to carry on what Denzer started was to sell the business to her and Cucinella.
“I worked for her 13 years — 10 full time and three part time when I had my twin girls,” Cucinella says. “She taught me everything I know….But she was not just a mentor. She was my friend.” As was Denzer’s faithful Papillon, Bodhi, whom Cucinella describes as “a frustrated salesman.” (Readers will be happy to know that the feisty Bodhi is now happily ensconced in the home of the woman who took care of him during Denzer’s buying trips, though, Cucinella adds, he still comes into the shop, perhaps to work with select clientele.)
She remembers Denzer as the consummate saleswoman and stylist:
“She would find the dress that would look perfect on you and then she would tell you why it looks perfect.”
WAG observes that tradition on a bustling morning that serves as a harbinger of the soft seasons. While the phone hums, Cucinella and O’Shea attend to a customer interested in an evening gown, a client who intends to be a quietly elegant mother of the groom in a sleeveless mauve Elie Saab gown with velvet trim and a low-back effect and another who tries on a swingy electric-blue cocktail number.
As the pair consult, you’re beguiled by an array of creations from day- to evening-wear that stand at color-coordinated attention amid cases and vitrines of equally enticing accessories, such as the fetching lime and animal print clip-ons by Angela Caputi, a designer they planned to meet with during a recent trip to Paris. (See photograph on Page 10.) Though the two women complement each other — O’Shea in Paula Hian with a look that says “glamorous Greenwich”; Cucinella, an Isabella Rossellini type in Erdem — they are on the same page when it comes to buying. During New York Fashion Week, they both thought, Why buy sleeveless and cover it with a shrug when you can wear the ever-flattering three-quarter sleeves?
They’re a trend, along with the color pink and citrus shades, O’Shea says. For fall, think florals, velvets and embellishments. And always high-low dresses, with a cocktail length in the front that sweeps to a ball-gown finish for a ’50s flair. (Think Kirsten Dunst in Christian Dior at the Oscars.)
Some things, however, remain classic, including the Denzer mix of well-known and new designers — Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, Tony Ward, Alex Teih, Monique Lhuillier and in-house designer Neil Bieff, among them. And the Denzer approach to salesmanship.
“As Mary Jane used to say,” Cucinella recalls, “Don’t just make a sale. Make the right one.”