When 10,000 yellow roses are shipped in at a cost of $8,000 for a Park Avenue wedding, it can only be for a match made in heaven—or Houston. It was a little of each when the nuptials took place five years ago. The groom was Bob Sakowitz, now 35, the scion and executive vice-president of Sakowitz Inc., the nation’s largest group of family-owned specialty stores—a sort of Sakowitz Fifth Avenue of the southwest. The bride was Pam Zauderer, now 29, from a prominent New York realty investment family, and a former fashion-setter in her own right as publicist for the Paraphernalia chain of boutiques.
There was, to be sure, a cowboy and cowgirl atop their six-tier wedding cake, but the music was provided by society maestro Peter Duchin (Pam’s brother-in-law) and a string quartet from the New York Philharmonic. Such have frequently been the contrapuntal harmonies of the young Sakowitzes. They honeymooned in a sleeping bag on the Sakowitz ranch. They holiday at the Riviera villa of the Aga Khan.
At first, there seemed little likelihood that either would wind up in Texas, much less together. Bob graduated from Harvard cum laude, worked a summer at Paramount Pictures, and with his pretty face and dynamism might have given Bob Evans a run for the studio. But after subsequent tours at the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris, Macy’s in Manhattan and in the air force, Sakowitz settled, to his own surprise, into the business founded by his great-grandfather.
Pam, who attended Briarcliff College and the Institute of Fine Arts, met Bob in New York and recalls, “It was hate at first exposure. We argued about every conceivable subject—politics, economics, religion, philosophy.” The evening ended at 10:30, but persistent Bob invited her to Houston. “I had been to Europe and Africa,” she recalls, “but I had never been west of New York, and I was disappointed, because I wanted cacti and desert.” At the Sakowitz ranch, she ate some fruit that was a cross between a pear and an apple called a prapple and, “just loved it. I wanted to take some home and, absolutely without thinking, I turned to Bob and asked, ‘Do you think I can get them through customs?’ ”
But Pam also found a “lusciousness” to Houston that reminded her of England, and it turned out to be her Eden after all. The prapple, she found, was easier to bite off than the Big Apple. “If you do volunteer work at a museum or hospital in New York, they don’t even need you,” she observes now. “But here any little thing you do really counts. I guess it’s an ego trip, but that means a lot.” Corroborates Bob: “It’s a young man’s city. Houston is still at the growing stage.” In other words, it doesn’t take generations for a wildcatter, or a peddler, to become a social lion in Texas. Bob is al ready on the board of the symphony, the opera, the ballet and is the chairman of the city’s Municipal Arts Commission. Pam has become vice-president of the trustees of the Contemporary Arts Museum.
But the Sakowitzes pour most of their fervor and superior sense of style into the store. Unlike the stereotyped Texas merchant princes who wear boots, 10-gallon hats and diamonds as big as the Astrodome, Bob and Pam have each twice adorned the international best-dressed list. And it was their inspiration that first introduced Courreges minidresses and boots to America. Sakowitz Inc. was also ahead of the bandwagon in St. Laurent and Pucci lines. And under Bob’s direction, the family chain has spread to Amarillo and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Trend-spotting is part of the rationale for the young Sakowitzes’ jetsetting life-style. There is a house rule that Pam goes along on all business travel over two nights. “It has worked for us,” says Bob, “at a time when we see a lot of our friends’ marriages dropping by the wayside.” Pam notes that “when we are on a buying trip, we are more like two professionals than husband and wife. People sometimes think we are abrupt with each other.” In exotic stopovers like Bangkok, Pam will photograph display techniques to show Bob’s design people. She admits that “they throw out about 60 percent of my ideas.” “In business,” Bob explains, “you either let your wife in and discuss things or block her out entirely. If you possibly can and you respect your wife—and you shouldn’t marry her if you don’t—I think it can be incredibly beneficial.”
When not on one of his monthly trips to New York or on his several yearly round-the-world jaunts, Bob toils 11-hour days and does nightly homework. His next big project is the annual fall festival in which Sakowitz competes with arch-rival Neiman-Marcus for the most overwhelming display of culture and merchandizing. This year’s will be called “Festival of Great Religious Cultures,” a challenge to the Sakowitzes’ daring and imagination. In the past, the festival has been the sort of splash in which Bob and Pam could best share their cosmopolitan flair with local folks who have perhaps never seen Renoirs, Michelangelos or gold-leafed oil derricks spouting Arpege.