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Q&A: Marvin Traub

The whirling world of the former Bloomingdale's chairman.

For Marvin Traub, the former Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive turned consultant-deal-maker, traveling to places like Paris, Dubai and Mumbai, India — among his favorite cities outside New York — is like commuting. He logged 210,000 air miles last year visiting 14 countries.

This story first appeared in the October 6, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

At 83, Traub maintains a schedule as rigorous as anyone half his age, defies the notion that aging means losing touch and embodies the spirit of globalization with his flurry of recent cross-border licensing and retail projects. He’s driven by a love of travel, curiosity and fueled by fashion’s wheeling and dealing — not to mention the limelight that can go with it.

Traub recently helped bring Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s to Dubai by linking them with Al Tayer Group, the Middle East luxury retail operator he represents. He also advised Kira Plastinina, the teenage Russian designer, on expanding into the U.S.; is assisting with planning India’s first retail luxury center, and working to bring a large upscale store to Bucharest, Romania, possibly Saks Fifth Avenue or Harvey Nichols.

This year he helped establish a fund for investing, called TSM Capital, which has stakes in Ellen Tracy, Rachel Roy and Matthew Williamson. “We’re in the process of raising a larger fund for investments in special situations. With the current economy, we believe there will be opportunities to acquire companies that can be turned around,” Traub said.

With this whirl of activity, it was a little surprising to discover the always-on-the-go Traub at home in Connecticut, watching the Mets lose and miss the playoffs. He’s got to see the outcome before discussing his latest project, his second book entitled “Like No Other Career” (Assouline). It’s a coffee table-like synopsis of Traub’s second career, summarizing his successful projects, and just as interesting, a few that fell through, like his association with Mohan Murjani to open Tommy Hilfiger shops and other brands in India. They parted ways over differences in the approach. He also writes that in 1989 he passed on a plan to buy Bloomingdale’s with Donald Trump.

There’s a section of 30 sketches from designers and accompanying testimonials from Traub’s farewell to Bloomingdale’s party in Paris in 1991. He served as ceo for 13 years and president for nine. There are also photos of colleagues, celebrities, designers, retailers, family and, of course, the parties he’s hosted and those thrown for him.

WWD: Why did you decide to write a second book?
Marvin Traub: I was approached by Assouline to do the book. That’s why it begins in Paris with Prosper Assouline, having lunch at the Ritz. I feel very strongly about the opportunity for people to have second and third careers. I wanted to encourage people to do things after retiring from their primary careers. When I left Federated [now called Macy’s Inc.] I wasn’t sure exactly what to do. But I knew I wanted to be active. Many people wanted me to work as a consultant. I left Federated having four consulting clients and business built from there. Then I wanted to share this great art done by Carla Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, Moschino and many European designers I received when I left Bloomingdale’s and Jean-Louis Dumas of Hermès and the designers threw a farewell party for me at the Crillon. I also wanted to be rather specific on the things that I was doing [in his second career].

WWD:
You’re known for your boundless energy, sleeping five hours a night. How do you do it?
M.T.: Actually, I sleep five to six hours a night. I enjoy enormously what I do. If you get pleasure at what you are doing, and are surrounded by a talented staff of young people, that helps supply the energy. I like to think I push the young people when I travel or anything else.

WWD: How do you wind down, if ever?
M.T.: I get great pleasure with my family. I golf. I like theater. I like travel. There are many different things that give me pleasure and relaxation. I played golf today and then I did some work to get ready for a reception at the American Embassy in Paris. The ambassador is hosting a party for the book [see coverage, at left].

WWD: You are in the business of buying and selling companies. Some people call this flipping. Is that healthy for a brand?
M.T.: When we invest in companies it is to help build the brand. We don’t buy them 100 percent. We are only interested where we think we can represent added value. It’s not purely a financial transaction. If you look at Matthew Williamson, it’s a wonderful business outside the U.S. I put together an organization for the U.S. We’re working with them on developing an accessory business. A store in the Meatpacking District will open in January. With Rachel Roy, it made good sense for us to sell the business to Jones and keep an ownership [stake] for Rachel, investors and ourselves. Jones has the ability to fund the business so it can grow. Jones is in shoes and jewelry so they can be the licensee. Over time we can develop additional collections.

WWD: It’s interesting that in the book you said Bloomingdale’s Dubai has been your most fulfilling project since leaving the store. You felt you came full circle.
M.T.: I always felt passionately about Bloomingdale’s. I’m very proud of what I accomplished there. Mike Gould [Traub’s successor] has really helped move it further along. The ability to be part of creating the first Bloomingdale’s outside the U.S. — it’s also the largest store in the Middle East and it’s in [what will be] the world’s largest mall — is an enormously exciting project.

WWD: What about another Bloomingdale’s outside the U.S?
M.T.: We have to open the first one and make it work and see where we can go from there.

WWD: Discuss some projects you are working on.
M.T.: The signing of the Bloomingdale’s deal was the beginning of one. Now we have a team planning and putting the store together. I have worked with the Al Tayer Group for the past five years and have helped them plan stores in Dubai, which is enormously successful. Since April, we have opened 12 Kira Plastinina stores, [in the U.S.] and we have in a very short period put together an organization running the stores. We will be launching a Kira Plastinina apparel collection at higher price points, moving into the contemporary area. We will launch with a major retailer.

We think the Ellen Tracy collection just shown for spring is the beginning of building the business. The clothes are very wearable and we feel the colors are great. There’s a feeling of what made Ellen Tracy strong in the past.

We are doing a major project developing an upscale shopping center in the Dominican Republic, with a local developer, Luis Emilio Velutini, really in partnership with a group that includes Oscar de a Renta and Julio Iglesias, in Punta Cana.

WWD: What areas of the world are ripe for retail growth?
M.T.: In the next decade the fastest part of retailing will be in the emerging markets, such as the Middle East, Moscow, India, China and Brazil. That’s where a lot of our projects are focused — the BRIC countries. Eastern Europe, where the countries are beginning to join the European Union, is another area that has future growth.

WWD: How are you feeling these days?
M.T.: I feel great. I have a trainer who comes to the apartment at 6:15 a couple of mornings each week and on weekends I play golf.