Location: Memphis, TN
Marital Status: Single
“She really inherited Alfred’s brains, which is a blessing. And we have a really good staff” she says. “I couldn’t do this myself.”
One suspects she’s being modest. Entrepreneur, style expert, mother, grandmother and fitness fanatic–it’s hard to imagine there’s anything Shirley can’t do.
What is it about working that drives you? You could be enjoying retirement right now.
I can’t imagine not working. Working makes life interesting, don’t you think? In 1980 when Alfred bought the Joseph’s chain and we moved to Chicago I told him “I can’t go to Chicago and just exercise and make friends. I’ve got to work.” If I wasn’t doing this I’d be volunteering, doing something good for other people.
When did you marry Alfred?
When I was 18.
He was a true legend, wasn’t he?
My husband was probably the most creative businessman in the world. I’m not just saying that because he was my husband. I think if you asked anybody in fashion they would say that about Alfred. Alfred was probably one of the last great shoe men in the United States. Or anywhere.
You were married a long time. It must have been so hard for you when he died.
I’ll tell you something. After my grief counselor heard my story she said, ‘You know, Shirley, when you married Alfred you were your parents’ child.’ And I really was. I was. I literally walked out of my parents’ house and went downtown to get married. So even after he died, I felt like I was still married to Alfred. But a year later I went back to the counselor and said, ‘I’m single now.’ It took me a year to figure that out.
So how would you describe your style?
I wear Lanvin, Theory, Phillip Lim, Diane Von Furstenberg. I certainly don’t wear open, bare clothes. I don’t wear conservative–by that I mean old. I haven’t worn a suit in a long time.
Is there a new designer you really like right now?
Elizabeth & James, which is designed by Mary Kate and Ashley Olson. We can’t keep it in stock–it’s so wonderful. It’s contemporary and the prices are contemporary and they really do a great job.
Do you have a favorite jewelry designer?
Paul Morelli. And Linda Lee Johnson. We’ve been buying Linda Lee for years.
How do you stay in shape?
Oh my God, I’ve worked out all my life. I’m an elliptical freak. I love the Reformer, Pilates. I’ve been strength training for 16 years. I go to the world’s most incredible weight trainer in Memphis–Steve Baldwin.
What’s the best kind of strength training?
With a personal trainer who is smart and has great equipment. You won’t challenge yourself the way a good trainer will challenge you.
What do you do for cleanser and moisturizer?
I use Crème de la Mer and ReVive. Crème de la Mer was invented by a chemist who burned himself in an experiment and used his formula to heal the burns. He eventually sold it to Estee Lauder, but I’ve had it in my store since before Lauder, and it’s wonderful. And I’m crazy about Sisley.
I like the Bond fragrances a lot. We sell those like crazy.
Does Alfred still inspire you?
Yes, I talk to him. He was the most handsome man. (Takes out family photograph.)
You are so beautiful, my God.
Where have you enjoyed traveling?
Alfred and I traveled all over the world. We loved South Africa, Montana, China. I’ve been to every national park, hiked them all. As for favorites, right now I can see myself sitting on the porch of a log cabin in. I love the American west.
What rejuvenates you?
Exercise. When I retire I’m going to be a trainer for older women.
What’s a great restaurant in Memphis?
I’m mad about a restaurant called Erling Jensen. Erling is a wonderful chef.
Have you read any great books lately?
I’m reading the most wonderful book called The Help. It’s about black household help in the south in the ’50s and, oh my God, everything they went through. I grew up in that era. My mother’s housekeeper raised us. I remember friends who had housekeepers that stayed through dinner and went home on the bus and raised their own children.
What about a favorite spot in Memphis?
I run and walk up and down hills at Shelby Farms, a wonderful park.
Tell me the single most important thing you’ve learned in your career.
Oh my God, it would take me an hour to tell you all the things that I’ve learned. What I love about life is growing. I’ve always said that when you’re in your 50s you can turn around and look back and see where you’ve been. So at 76 you really know where you’ve been. I’ve learned a lot and I hope most of it’s been good.