To be sure, Peacock Alley founder Mary Ella Gabler is a renaissance woman. The cottage industry that began out of Gabler’s lifelong appreciation for antique linens has matured into a multimillion-dollar company, now in its 43rd year. Distribution spans the U.S., Canada, and South America, and the company owns design studios in Dallas, Atlanta, and Nashville, as well as outlets in Dallas and Plano. The wife, mother of two, and grandmother of six, has handed over the company’s leadership to her sons but retains a creative say. With her well-earned downtime, she’ll be able to sleep in—cocooned in layers of luxury linen, of course.
Grew up in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and attended Marjorie Webster College in Washington, D.C. I was a phys ed major and wanted to be on every athletic team. Tennis was my favorite. I liked that it was an individual sport where I won on my own.
Graduates and returns to her hometown to join the family furniture and appliance business. It strengthened my work ethic, and I think it influenced the way I think about work today.
After a year, she realizes the job wasn’t for her, and in 1962, joins a few girlfriends who where living in New York City. My friends joined the airline, and that’s what I thought I would do, but I didn’t make the cut—I was too skinny. It was a different time.
On to Plan B. I went to work on Wall Street as a receptionist—a much better opportunity. I was one of very few women in the industry. It was totally intimidating, but I didn’t think about that. I was just putting one foot in front of the other—I had to pay my rent. They sent me to the New York Institute of Finance to become licensed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Moves to Dallas when boyfriend, Michael Needleman, gets a job transfer. The couple marries. I thought I was moving to the end of the earth. Nobody would hire me. I worked a temporary job at Neiman Marcus during Christmas. Then I worked at Smith Barney as an assistant to a few key sales people, and I handled my own accounts—that was important to me.
Ends her career in finance when she gives birth to her first son, Jason. She has Josh two years later.
Joins forces with a New York friend, and the two start stitching. We would make patchwork pillows—she from her Park Avenue apartment and me in Dallas—and give them away to friends. They loved them.
Go into business together and give their company a name. We had lunch at Peacock Alley restaurant in the Waldorf, and after a few glasses of wine, we decided that would make a fine name.
Get their first big order. I reconnected with a contact made at Neiman Marcus. It was back when they were doing Fortnight. The theme was Fête des Fleurs, (festival of flowers). She showed them what I was doing, and they thought my pillows would fit right in.
Incorporates in 1973 and takes a small manufacturing space in Far North Dallas. At the time, not many specialty stores carried bed skirts and those type of items. And 80 percent of sales were in white. We started working with sheeting mills like Wamsutta and Martex to make bed coverings and white eyelet bed skirts to accessorize with their sheets.
Buys out her partner in the 1980s. Starts importing sheets and matelassé bed coverings.
Makes the foray into retail in the early ’90s. We had extra space in our warehouse, so we decided to put in an outlet. Later, we found a space on Travis Walk and opened our first Peacock Alley boutique. The space had been a window store and had lots of little vignettes so it was perfect for showing different bedding collections. By the late ’90s, we’d outgrown the space and moved to a location on Oak Lawn Avenue for a short while before settling in our Design District space in 2011.
Passes the torch in 2010. My younger son is the executive vice president; my older son came on board five years ago. He’s our CEO. I’ve stepped back somewhat, but they are open to me being as involved as I want to be. I’m passionate about product development. As a mother, having my sons and daughters-in-law express interest in taking over the business was so gratifying.
HOW GABLER MAKES THE BED
I’m a symmetrical person, so I feel like four pillows—two sleeping pillows on bottom, and two decorative pillows in front—is the simple solution. On my bed, I have a mix of white bedding, antique linens, and pieces from different Peacock Alley collections.