(Editor’s Note: The family of Marie Nader announced her passing on Jan. 5. Well known in St. Augustine as a fashion leader through the Amavon Shop, located on King Street for many years, Miss Nader would have celebrated her 104th birthday Jan. 15.
This story appeared in Old City Life on the occasion of Miss Nader’s 100th birthday. Among those quoted were her sister Yvonne Pearrow, who has also passed.
By ANNE C. HEYMEN
When it comes to the 21st century, St. Augustine’s Grande Dame of fashion is of the opinion that today’s styles are “no style. There is no style.”
Marie Nader, founder of the Amavon Shop, a must-shop women’s dress emporium in the oldest city for more than 40 years, commented on today’s fashion trends just after celebrating her 100th birthday. Marie, eldest of the six children of Matilda and Joseph Nader, was born Jan. 15, 1915, in Portland, Maine. Her parents had settled there after escaping from the Ottoman Empire in their native Lebanon. The family came to St. Augustine in 1930, moving here from Jacksonville with a stop in Worchester, Mass., after Portland. Here, Joseph operated a grocery store.
Nine years after the family’s arrival in the oldest city, Marie established the Amavon Shop, first located at 99 1/2 St. George St., and offering services as a millinery shop. “We had a millinery counter where ladies could sit and try on hats.” The shop was named for the three Nader sisters – Annie Nader Pfaff, now deceased; Marie Nader and Yvonne Nader Pearrow. The family also included three sons – George and Eli Nader, both deceased; and Nicholas Nader. Both Nicholas and Yvonne, like Marie, are residents of St. Augustine.
“I learned a lot from her,” says Yvonne. “I went to work at Amavon and learned how to run a business at a very early age.” She was kind of like a mother to the whole family,” Yvonne continues. “She always said ‘I won’t marry. I want to take care of my family.'”
Honored at a 100th birthday party Jan. 17 at the Casa Monica Hotel, Marie’s birthday celebration was attended by 25, mostly family and a few friends. It was hosted by George’s widow, Dorothy Nader of Orlando, and “it was fabulous,” says Marie. The luncheon included Marie’s favorite Chicken Nicoise and chocolate cake elegantly decorated – including flashing 100 numerals.
Currently in rehab, Marie commented on fashions today in a room filled with balloons, fresh flowers and cards – mementoes of the Jan. 17 birthday party. A brightly colored scarf set off her outfit as she discussed her favorite designers of her day – Lili Ann of California, Anne Fogarty, Coco Chanel, and for intimate apparel Hanes and Playtex.
Amavon was first located on St. George Street across from the city hall, and Marie recalls being able to look out the window and see Judge Jackson waving to her. But the St. George Street building in which Amavon was located was sold, and the business had to move. “I panicked,” Marie admits, but a salesman told her it was the best thing “we could ever do, and it was.” The new location was on King Street in what is now part of the Casa Monica Hotel. Located across the street from the palatial Hotel Ponce de Leon Hotel, the shop was popular to not only residents, but for tourists, especially the high society individuals who wintered at the Ponce. Marie has no idea how many fashion shows she presented at that hotel, but it was lots she says. “And Annie modeled in them.”
The problem today, says Marie, people wear whatever they have. “They don’t get into style any more. They really don’t. It’s just too casual.” One particularly popular fashion – those pricy jeans with holes Marie describes as “just horrible.”
Among her favorite memories of fashions of yesterday are hoop skirts – petticoats worn under formal gowns. “We were the first ones to get them in St. Augustine. That was fun,” says Marie. She also liked the pantsuits which Coco Chanel started.
Annie and Marie operated Amavon, while sister Yvonne, with husband Jack, were proprietors of the nearby Pearrow’s which offered children’s clothing. Amavon styles came from a variety of markets, with twice-a-year trips to New York, as well as trips to markets in Atlanta, Miami and Tampa.
A 1933 graduate of Ketterlinus High School, Marie was involved in not only the business world of St. Augustine, but she served her community through the Pilot Club and Beta Sigma Phi as well as Cathedral Parish. She enjoyed the Bridge Club and St. Augustine Women’s Golf Association. “I love golf. I loved that golf course,” she says of the former Ponce de Leon Lodge facility. “I was so mad at that man for tearing it up, and I told him so.”
She’s seen lots of technological advancements in her lifetime – the radio, TV, computers (she doesn’t own one); and cell phones (she does have that.)
She says she owes her long life to honey and olive oil – that’s how she likes her salads; and also good genes. Both her mother and father lived to age 92. Lebanese food is also a favorite.
Advice to today’s young people: “Work had and stay with it. Don’t jump around from place to place.”
As to memories as a business woman in the oldest city, she has lots, including humorous memories like, she says, the day a man followed his wife into the fitting room. “I had to chase him out.”