Lacquer furniture from 1920s Japan. Raw-diamond jewelry. A scarf that takes a year to make. She knows what you want — long before you do
by HOLLY HABER / portrait by CARTER ROSE
Mary Bloom recalls pausing on a Paris street years ago and thinking anxiously, “What am I going to do?” Charged with programming the store at the soon-to-open Nasher Sculpture Center, the experienced merchant was — uncharacteristically — confounded. Then it hit her: The shop had to reference sculpture or the museum’s architecture and be equal to the Nasher’s world-class collection.
Some 14 years later, Bloom has become the retail tastemaker for cultural institutions in Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond. At the Crow Museum of Asian Art, the Meyerson Symphony Center and the new Renzo Piano Pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum, the shops are pantheons of unexpectedly high design. Her keen merchandising is found at the Parrish Art Museum on Long Island, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and elsewhere. “You have to bring the products in the store up to the quality of what is in that museum,” she says. “It has to be interesting, appealing and harmonious with the vision of the museum. I want it to reflect the collection, but also to engage the upper-level patron.” Among the unusual offerings at the Kimbell’s Piano Pavilion shop, for example, are famed Ardmore ceramics from South Africa and chic, oxidized-gold and raw-diamond jewelry by rising star Emanuela Duca, an Italian artist based in New York.
Though “curated” is the latest faddish euphemism grossly misapplied to commercial endeavors, it is perfectly apt for Bloom, who holds a degree in art history and composes each merchandise mix with rare depth and precision. Eschewing baseball caps and — shudder — reproductions, Bloom travels to Europe, Asia and around the United States, lovingly handpicking distinctive art, antiques, jewelry, ceramics and more. “It’s like a blank canvas is to an artist,” Bloom says. “To me, it’s a creative endeavor that comes together intuitively and reflects the museum’s mission.” Probably Dallas’ most discreet retail hero, Bloom scoured the world in the 1980s for treasures for the gift galleries in Neiman Marcus stores. She gained a higher profile in the 1990s as co-owner of Translations, the superbly edited luxury home, lifestyle and gift shop at the Plaza at Preston Center. Loyal patrons still miss the beloved store, which closed a couple years after she and her business partner, Deborah Tompkins, sold it in 2001. “People always come up to me and say, ‘I have this and this [from Translations], and I still use it,’” Bloom says with satisfaction.
This fall, the Crow will offer Japanese Art Deco lacquered furniture from the 1920s that Bloom discovered in Seattle, buying “every piece they had.” It will dovetail nicely with the fabulous exhibit of Japanese fashions from the Mary Baskett collection, by Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, opening September 13. Bloom is particularly proud of the sumptuous cashmere scarves she imports from Kashmir, India. “They are the best pashmina I have found,” she says. “It takes a year to embroider them and each is one of a kind.” The same can be said — without reservation — of the woman who fell for them, and who is putting them within reach.