By  on April 23, 2010

Marshall Stewart, who owned SME Inc., one of Chicago’s oldest and largest multiline showrooms, died last month at his Chicago home following surgery. He was 73.

Stewart was born in Brookline, Mass., and graduated from Boston University with a business degree. He began his career in the Sixties as a sales representative for the sportswear and dress firm Mr. Mort in New York. Stewart moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1965, where he was an independent sales representative for designer and better sportswear brands. He was among the first executives to recognize the shift toward young designer sportswear, bringing lines such as Calvin Klein, Franck Olivier and Genre to the Midwest department stores Lazarus, Dayton-Hudson and Marshall Field.

In 1976, Stewart formed SME and became the Chicago Apparel Center’s first tenant, occupying a 7,000-square-foot showroom, which closed in 2003. He worked with 500 specialty retailers to market lines such as Christian Dior, Halston, Bill Blass, Norma Kamali, Diane von Furstenberg and Adrienne Vittadini.

“He was well read, a great conversationalist, could finish the New York Times crossword puzzle before I was done reading the paper,” recalled Alan Golub, former president of Leslie Fay and Stewart’s friend for 50 years. “And he was a great cook and a handy guy if things needed to be fixed.

“He was kind and interested in others, always willing to lend a hand and help others with no gain for himself,” Golub said. “Those of us who were lucky enough to have known him are left with a large void in our lives, which can only partially be filled with the wonderful memories he has left us with.”

Stewart’s daughter, Liza Stewart, who has a namesake contemporary showroom in the California Market Center in Los Angeles, said that Oprah Winfrey would come to SME to order clothes during her early days in Chicago.

Stewart frequently advised emerging designers and taught fashion and merchandising students at the Chicago Art Institute and Purdue University.

From 2004 to 2007, Stewart was an executive at Fritkin-Jones Design Group, where he worked with clients to create trade show exhibits, sales and marketing centers and retail environments.

In addition to his daughter, Stewart is survived by a son, Adam Stewart, vice president of marketing at Google Inc., and a sister, Shari Herman.

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