Longtime Aspen retailer, fixture with storied past dies at home
Amen Wardy’s career in fashion, design stretched from Texas to Beverly Hills to Main Street Aspen
Amen Wardy, whose career in fashion and décor started in 1957 in west Texas and captured Beverly Hills before he settled into Aspen for nearly 30 years, died last week in his sleep at his Carbondale home, his family announced Monday. He was 81.
Wardy started in women’s fashion at a store his grandmother ran in El Paso, Texas, where he was born, and became well-known in the 1970s and ’80s for his southern California boutiques that drew celebrity A-list clientele. Many of those customers followed him when he launched a home décor store on Aspen’s Cooper Avenue in 1992 with his longtime spouse, Bob Hightower.
Hightower said Monday they took just three weeks to set up shop in Aspen. During the three decades in Aspen, Amen Wardy Home has bounced around downtown locations including on Cooper Avenue near Wagner Park, the Elks Building (where they had the spot which is now the Ute Mountaineer as well as what was the Marmot retail store) and near the gondola. They moved to the current space on Main Street in 2019.
“Up until COVID hit, he was still in the store seven days a week,” his daughter Soffia Wardy said Monday.
Amen Wardy had the salesman drive from an early age, and after dropping out of high school he opened his first business alongside family in El Paso, Soffia said. Hightower said Wardy’s grandmother ran the Border Tobacco Store, which was like a general store and was right across the Mexico border. Wardy first sold women’s costume jewelry there when he was a teenager, according to Soffia, and then he moved into women’s clothing, Hightower said.
Wardy moved out of the family space and converted an old Georgian house in El Paso into a boutique in 1960. His muse, Hightower said, was the Academy Award-winning actress Loretta Young.
“She was his inspiration in the beginning,” Hightower said, “and then he opened his shop in El Paso and would go to Beverly Hills and buy all the clothes the movie stars were wearing and he brought them to El Paso.”
Soffia said her father dressed “all the Midland oil women and created a tremendous following.” Women from Dallas to Houston to San Antonio flocked to his El Paso shop.
After Wardy and his wife divorced in in the early 1970s, he returned to California, and this time stayed for a while and his reputation for fashion quickly followed him. He went to visit a friend in Laguna Beach in 1976, and Hightower said that is where they met. Wardy took over an old JC Penney auto parts store in Newport Beach in 1977 and turned it into a boutique that “became an overnight success,” Hightower said.
It was during this time that his mobile dressing room — dubbed the clothes-mobile — became a hit.
“He bought a 40-foot mobile home and gutted it and equipped it with racks and drawers for accessories and loveseat and chair and fridge and bathroom,” Hightower recalled. “People would call him up, and he would load it up and brought everything in their size, complete with accessories, shoes, jewelry and even a seamstress, and he would drive to your house. … One of our first customers was Joan Rivers.”
That came, he said, right when the comedian was taking off. She was going to cover the 1981 Royal Wedding and needed help. Hightower said Rivers called Wardy, which started a long friendship.
“He went to her house in Beverly Hills and she came out and climbed in the trailer,” Hightower said. “They were there most of the day, and he completely outfitted her for that trip.”
It led to Wardy outfitting Rivers when she started “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers,” and his client list ranged from Barbra Streisand to Leona Helmsley, Hightower said.
Their time in California included opening a place in a prime location in Newport Beach and a spot on the famed Rodeo Drive, Hightower said. Wardy was also a part of the Fashion Island Hotel where he had a grand showroom as well as a ballroom where they held fashion shows.
In 1988, the Los Angeles Times featured Wardy and said his client list was “as long as the flight path from San Francisco to the heart of Texas, and it’s studded with socialites and celebrities. Joan Collins, Joan Rivers and Kenny Rogers’ wife, Marianne, have all sent Wardy their autographed pictures. Rivers made the best-dressed list the year she hosted her own TV talk show, and Wardy supplied her wardrobe.”
During the interview for the feature, Wardy said: “Ask me to describe myself and I’d say I’m successful. And happy.”
Hightower said the unrest in the early 1990s (Rodney King riots, Gulf War), along with business dropping off, led them to find another path.
And like most everything else Wardy tried, his move with Hightower was a success. They came to Aspen at the behest of a friend in 1992 and never left.
Hightower remembered that they arrived on Halloween weekend, found the space on Cooper Avenue and by Thanksgiving weekend, the store started its Aspen run.
“We whipped that store into shape in three weeks. We had merchandise in storage in L.A., and I packed it up and shipped it here,” Hightower said. “He got on the phone and called manufacturers he dealt with for years, so when store opened it was pretty full. We had several longtime, good customers. Many had houses here. When they found out he was here they beat a path to the door and brought all their friends. We had a fantastic Christmas season.”
Within a few years, Wardy and Hightower bought 14 acres outside of Woody Creek, built their dream home, took in a dozen dogs and other animals, and lived there for more than 20 years before moving downvalley in 2015.
Soffia said her father was not feeling sick and they had been making plans as usual.
“He wasn’t ready. He was not your typical 81-year-old. He had so much energy,” she said. “We were planning trips to Paris and to markets.”
Soffia said they will continue to keep open the Aspen store and “honor him by keeping his name on the door.”
According to the family, Amen is preceded in death by his parents, Amen Wardy Sr. and Rose Ayoub Wardy. Amen is survived by his lifelong partner and spouse of 45 years, Bob Hightower; sister Joann Wardy; former wife Lorraine Aboumrad Wardy; daughter Soffia Wardy (Pepper Weinglass); sons Amen Wardy III (Traci Tolman); and Jean Paul Wardy (Marianna Defterios); and his grandchildren Amen Wardy IV, Gianna Rose Wardy, Kingston Wardy, Athena Wardy, Jean Paul Wardy II.
A celebration of life will be determined at a future COVID-19 friendly time. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Friends of Aspen Animal Shelter.
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