NEW YORK – Kalman Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction, a savvy trendspotter and merchandiser who was passionate about mentoring young designers, died of complications from cancer Thursday at The Mount Sinai Medical Center here. He was 69 years old.
Ruttenstein, known as Kal, was the guardian of Bloomingdale’s fashion image for almost three decades and was pivotal in building the chain’s reputation.
Among the designers that he was closest to and whose careers he nurtured were Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, Zac Posen, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Marc Jacobs.
“Kal has been my friend on a personal and business level for the past 14 years,” said Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. “He’s been my mentor at Bloomingdale’s and he has been an integral part of what has made Bloomingdale’s different from all other stores. What’s made Bloomingdale’s different has been its people, and Kal symbolizes that as much, if not more than, anyone else. He will be missed dearly, but his legacy will only grow greater with each passing day.”
Ruttenstein, possibly the country’s best-known fashion director, brought excitement and a sense of theater to the selling floor by organizing special events, shops and window displays inspired by Hollywood and Broadway productions such as Hairspray and Moulin Rouge. Last October, Bloomingdale’s put up a “Rent” shop weeks in advance of the release of the movie and had the cast in the store for the ribbon cutting, attracting a crowd of hundreds. Ruttenstein befriended some of the actors, saying he had seen the musical 33 times. The shops featured unusual outfits mixing expensive and inexpensive items.
In 2001, he developed a shop based on “Mamma Mia!,” another Broadway musical, though it was more the music and the spirit of the show, rather than the costumes, that inspired him to get designers to create what he termed a Seventies casual-wedding look with tuxedo separates and off-the-shoulder gowns, and a sexy assortment of dressy peasant tops, hip hugging bell-bottom jeans, strapless dresses, mini-skirts, and bright Moroccan-style shirts.
Ruttenstein distinguished himself by working directly with designers and manufacturers such as Posen, Betsey Johnson, Theory, Elie Tahari, Juicy Couture and Necessary Objects, to create exclusive fashions for Bloomingdale’s shops and windows, and was greeted like royalty at major fashion shows.
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