By  on January 12, 2006

NEW YORK — With his silvery Nike sneakers displayed at the front of the Carnegie Hall stage, Bloomingdale's Kalman Ruttenstein was remembered at a memorial service Wednesday for his love of fashion, eye for new talent and style.

The store's senior vice president of fashion direction died Dec. 8 at the age of 69.

The service's turnout of 1,100 included leading designers and merchants in a testament to Ruttenstein's impact on fashion and retail. Among the crowd were Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Betsey Johnson, Tommy Hilfiger, Elie Tahari, Diane von Furstenberg, Zac Posen, Roger Farah, Terry Lundgren, Ron Klein, Jim Gold, Vera Wang, Lavelle Olexa, Ira Neimark, Arie Kopelman and Dawn Mello.

"Kal's destiny was to be a teacher, a mentor, a tutor, and, oh, how he succeeded," said Michael Gould, Bloomingdale's chairman and chief executive. "He taught us to never stop being open to new ideas. He taught us that each of us can have vision, passion and integrity. Kal taught us that to see the unseen is a necessary discipline to be a great merchant."

Ruttenstein was considered by many to be the nation's most influential fashion director, and was a fixture at fashion shows and in showrooms. Designers said the spectacle of the runway won't be the same without him sitting in the front row.

Even after he suffered a severe stroke a decade ago, they said Ruttenstein never let up. He maintained his pride and his determination to cover the collections, to create exclusive shops and merchandise that tied in with Broadway and Hollywood and brought a special dimension to Bloomingdale's.

"It was inspiring. He never lost his enthusiasm," said Ralph Lauren. When preparing for the start of a fashion show, if Ruttenstein had not yet arrived, "My response was always, without hesitation, we're not starting until Kal gets here," Lauren said.

"He touched the lives of many people," said Ruttenstein's assistant for 35 years, Sibyl Piccone, one of those eulogizing Ruttenstein, whom everybody called "Kal."

"He was demanding, a perfectionist and quick to criticize, but just as quick to recognize a job well done," Piccone said. "We laughed. We fought. I feel so fortunate to have spent almost my entire working life as his assistant and I will miss him terribly."

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