NEW YORK — Sue Patneaude is waving goodbye to retail after almost four decades at Nordstrom.
Effective March 1, Nordstrom Inc.'s executive vice president of women's designer apparel is retiring and handing over the baton to national merchandise manager of designer apparel Jennifer Wheeler.
Patneaude, 59, is credited for launching the designer apparel business at Nordstrom and building it into one of its top-selling categories. She also launched the Via C departments in 2000, which focus on emerging fashion talent, and played a key role in creating the concept for the new designer category that Nordstrom is launching online next month.
Wheeler joined the retailer's Bellevue, Wash., unit as a saleswoman in 1983 and became the collectors department manager at the Hillsdale, Calif., store in 1986. Four months later, she took up a similar post at the downtown Seattle store. She became a collectors buyer in 1988 and, 11 years later, was promoted to national European designer sportswear buyer. She has been in her current role since 2000, working in tandem with Patneaude.
"This is a very addictive business — it's almost impossible to leave it when you love it," Patneaude told WWD on Tuesday. "I decided at some point that I wanted to do something else. The business is strong and the team is experienced. If not now, then when?"
In 1992, Patneaude left Nordstrom to spend more time with her family, but returned a year later.
When Patneaude joined the retailer in 1968 as a saleswoman, it was a two-unit operation largely associated with footwear, which is where it had its origins. Nordstrom now counts 98 stores with a strong presence in designer sportswear, offering collections such as Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs and Dolce & Gabbana. Patneaude also is credited with turning Nordstrom onto Jeffrey, the two-unit specialty store it purchased last year.
"She essentially invented the designer division," said Pete Nordstrom, president of full-line stores. "We were always considered an underdog and she has really had to persevere. There wasn't a roadmap — she had to invent it. She has been sensational in how she has represented the company and forged relationships."In 1970, Patneaude was on Nordstrom's first buying trip to Europe, and in 1973, she became buyer for the collectors department, which she practically had to invent from scratch. In 1981, she was promoted to merchandise manager in designer apparel and, in 1985, to vice president, corporate merchandise manager for designer apparel and bridge. Since 1997, she has been overseeing the store's collectors and couture departments as vice president of women's designer apparel. She was named executive vice president in 2003.
"My goal was to create an even playing field for our company in the designer business," Patneaude said. "Sometimes that was challenging because we were new to that business, and because others were more established. My greatest satisfaction is that today, the market and customers consider us a top designer player."
Patneaude also launched Nordstrom's special-occasion and Savvy departments in the Eighties and, in 2000, channeled her passion for emerging talents into Via C, Nordstrom's department for up-and-comers such as Tracy Reese, Matthew Williamson, Catherine Malandrino and Tory Burch. "We are always trying to find people that are fresh and not overdistributed…people we can grow with," she said.
Patneaude is full of stories and anecdotes, and her favorite memory is of a fashion show the store once organized for ready-to-wear designer Victor Costa, who was also a tenor and came down the runway belting out an operatic tune. "I have always said, 'If you're bored in retail, you are in the wrong business,'" she said.
Patneaude has shown equal support to both European designers such as Missoni — the first Italian label she brought in —and American designers.
Donna Karan said, "She is always very supportive, and passionate about what she does. She introduced me to so many different people when we first launched the collection."
Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre Syndicale, said, "She is all enthusiasm and pure energy. She will be missed…. Nordstrom has always been faithful to its suppliers and this is very much Sue's attitude."
During her retirement, Patneaude hopes to spend more time with her parents; her 22-year-old daughter, Danielle, and her 16-year-old Dalmatian, Princess Dotterina Angel Bear. She will remain in Seattle and hopes to devote some time to charity. "I have never had that luxury," she said. "I'd love to do something with animals and the homeless. But on March 1, I am going for a two-hour walk for some fresh air."
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye