Jane Graves Has An Inflated Idea of the Importance of Men in Protecting Women
"At first I thought of stuffing him," she explains, "but that wasn't practical. I didn't want him around all the time." Instead she designed an inflatable model, which could easily be dressed in a variety of men's clothing. That was 11 years ago, and her idea soon began to run into problems. Tiny holes in the Japanese-made plastic quickly deflated retailers' enthusiasm.
Now Graves is back on the market with "Silent Partner," a perfected model that she sells by mail from her studio and through the prestigious Horchow Collection catalogue at $12.50. Women buy the Partner not only for their cars but to prop up in front of a window or TV to give the impression that there's a male on the premises. Surprisingly, men are also customers: They put the model in a chair with its back to the office door to discourage casual visitors.
Graves, 52, has been an innovator for 31 years, first designing perfume packages and later gift items for retailers, ending up at Neiman-Marcus. She was inspired by her mother, Helen Cole, who was famous in the '30s for her Manhattan store windows. Among her clients were Macy's and Bonwit Teller. Graves' father, John Cole, was in the business of promoting inventions. He taught his daughter, she says, "how to carry through an idea to a practical solution."
In 1958 Jane married the celebrated nature writer John Graves, whose Goodbye to a River and Hard Scrabble are Southwest classics. When the first of their two daughters was born in 1959, she retired from Neiman-Marcus, but she continues to free-lance ideas for Horchow's at Christmas. One recent thought: towels with paw prints to wipe dogs' muddy feet.
"I have more ideas," she says, "than I can handle." But she's cautious about going public now. "If I do, someone will rip them off in a minute."