MJD’s legacy lives on

Anastasia Cucinella, manager and COO of Mary Jane Denzer, in one of the store’s signature pieces, a Preen by Thornton Bregazzi dress. Photograph by Jay Ackerman. Courtesy Mary Jane Denzer.

When the owner of a business dies, uncertainty mingles with grief: Will the enterprise go on?

Too often, a business doesn’t outlive its guiding spirit. Happily for fashionistas that is not the case with Mary Jane Denzer.

MJD the woman — whose unerring eye made her luxe clothing and accessories store a must-visit in White Plains for more than 35 years — passed away in December. But MJD the immaculately elegant shop — situated in the shadow of The Ritz-Carlton New York, Westchester — lives on.

“I’m so glad that Mary Jane’s children decided to continue the store not just for Mary Jane’s legacy or for me but for the customers,” says Anastasia Cucinella, store manager and COO, who worked alongside Denzer for 13 years. “There’s a great need for a specialty store.”

Indeed, not a week goes by, she adds, without a call from a client who can’t find what she needs at a department store.

“We have that uniquely different clothing that you’re not going to find in a department store.”

Cucinella — a warm woman who greets you with a kiss and, after making sure you have coffee, gives you her undivided attention — slips away only to return with a divine Oscar de la Renta, a short black strapless cocktail dress embellished with gold leaves. It’s a work of art and a reminder of MJD’s long association with the House of de la Renta.

The staple designers remain, including Roland Mouret and Thierry Mugler. A delightful floral-on-black number by Erdem, another MJD favorite, has pride of place on a display column toward the front of the store — representing a continuing trend in patterned dresses. A beaded, sleeveless chiffon affair that graduates exquisitely from pearly gray to pink is a signature of Ossining’s Neil Bieff, who, like MJD, has often been in WAG’s pages.

But Denzer was also a forward thinker.

“She had an amazing eye for fashion’s new designers before everyone else finds them,” Cucinella says. “And that’s what makes the store special, too — the new designers.”

Companies like London-based Preen by Thornton Bregazzi, whose jersey dress in floral on black is complemented by white zigzags and horizontal black-and-white striped sleeves. It’s a great dress for day to night and spring to summer to fall. There’s black, pink and white pants, along with a matching shirt, by Italy’s Manto and a shimmering beaded confection by Georges Hobeika, a Lebanese designer. Other new designers for fall include Blumarine and Fabiana Filippi.

They’re the kind of looks Denzer would’ve loved. But then, you sense her presence in the store everywhere. It’s in the photograph of her with her beloved Papillon, Bodhi. It’s in the inviting display cases filled in part with colorful clip-on earrings — a reminder that Denzer was one of those rare women who never pierced her ears.

But mostly, it’s in the person who succeeded her.

“I feel that I’m an extension of Mary Jane,” Cucinella says. “She taught me everything about seeing new fashion with a new eye.”

And finding the right look for each woman, whether she’s a size 2 or a 12. (Beyond a size 14, MJD has clothes custom made.)

“We love to dress every woman and make them feel secure,” says Cucinella, who adds that MJD is now outfitting a third generation of shoppers.

As she speaks, a casually dressed woman comes in looking for a special something. Before you know it, she’s standing before us in a black sequined, crinolined cocktail dress — with tulle off-the-shoulder straps — that makes the most of her well-developed bustline and great legs.

It’s the kind of transformation, Cucinella adds, that marks MJD — then and now.

For more, visit maryjanedenzer.com.

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