NEW YORK — Roger Farah has a lot of friends and fans in high places.
On Tuesday, the Fashion Institute of Technology honored Polo Ralph Lauren's president and chief operating officer at a gala to benefit the institution's Educational Development Fund, and the 700-plus turnout of top industry executives was a testament to how well respected Farah has become in his three successful decades in fashion and retail.
"He is a class act and I have the most respect and admiration for him," Ralph Lauren said. "We are both friends and business partners. If the U.S. was looking for another president and Roger were available, I'd pick him."
So would many others that night, it seemed, judging by the turnout.
"It's the Who's Who of American retail and wholesale," said Neiman Marcus' Burt Tansky, scanning the crowd at Cipriani 42nd Street, which that night had enough Ralph Lauren dresses on hand for a line opening.
Guests included Paul Charron, who had just announced he will retire from Liz Claiborne at the end of the year, Warnaco's Joseph Gromek, Bergdorf Goodman's Jim Gold and Linda Fargo, Saks Fifth Avenue's Ron Frasch and Andrew Jennings, Barneys New York's Howard Socol, Lord & Taylor's Jane Elfers, J.C. Penney's Myron E. "Mike" Ullman, as well as Marvin Traub and Jay Baker. In addition, almost every Polo senior executive came out to salute their president.
Farah is a big supporter of developing new talent, and the gala raised $1.2 million for FIT, of which $500,000 will go directly to its scholarship endowment fund. Past honorees included Vera Wang, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp.'s Mark Weber and gossip columnist Liz Smith.
Farah started his career at Saks and subsequently worked in top positions at Rich's Department store in Atlanta, Federated Merchandising Services, Macy's and Venator Corp., the former Woolworth's. He joined Polo in 2001, and has helped transform it into one of the world's fastest-growing luxury brands, tripling its European business, establishing a global infrastructure and laying the foundation for global expansion.
"He always says to us that hard work pays off, and if you want something done, you have to work for it. It won't just happen to you," Farah's daughter, Alexis, said.Tansky, who was the gala's chairman, worked with Farah at Saks in the late Seventies and early Eighties and presented him with the award.
"Although he reported to me, it's hard to say who learned more from whom, he from me or me from him," Tansky said. "A Wharton graduate, he grew up in the family lingerie business. Summers were spent at the cutting tables and in the shipping department, learning how to avoid markdown money."
Ralph Lauren leapt to his feet and led a standing ovation for Farah.
"Ralph has been generous with his friendship and has created a culture that has enabled me to grow and learn and continue my education," Farah said. "Thank you, Ralph."
Farah also elicited a few chuckles from the crowd.
"Burt and I were talking yesterday and couldn't believe 29 years have gone by, or that we both had hair when we started," he quipped. "I guess that is the sacrifice you make for too many overbought seasons."
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