NEW YORK -- Rose Wells, an enduring figure in the fashion and retail industries for more than half a century, died Wednesday at Beth Israel North Hospital, here. She was 83.
Wells, a consultant to The Gap for the last 20 years, reported to the company's offices here at 8 a.m. last Tuesday, as usual. Later , she went to her doctor.
"In true Rose Wells style," said her son, Richard Bing, "she had told her co-workers she was going to visit some stores."
Wells's doctor sent her to Beth Israel North, where she died of a heart attack.
Wells, an outspoken woman who radiated self-confidence, was known for her sharp fashion eye and equally sharp tongue. There were few subjects on which she didn't express an opinion and her pronouncements were often sought by designers and retailers.
Wells did not offer platitudes. In a 1980 interview in WWD, she angered store presidents by calling them "smug" and their buyers "gutless."
"They are so busy making and sending reports, they don't pay attention to their business," she said. "Send those buyers out onto the floor. Make them talk to the customer."
Wells began her career in 1940 as a comparative shopper at Ohrbach's, where she pioneered line-for-line copies of European couture. She injected a dose of fashion into the value-driven store with lower-priced copies of top European designers.
In 1965, Wells became operating vice president for ready-to-wear and accessories for Federated Department Stores, and is believed to be the first woman to hold such a post. She joined I. Magnin as a fashion consultant in 1973, but resigned the following year to start her own consulting firm.
While at The Gap, Wells was a front-row spectator at the major European fashion shows. When a good idea came down the runway, a variation of it might turn up in Gap stores with stunning swiftness.
"She was a valuable ear and eye who helped us in our growth over the last 20 years," Donald Fisher, chairman and founder of The Gap, said. "She was a visionary in the industry. She had a wonderful eye for what was appropriate and a tremendous sensitivity for the customer."According to Millard Drexler, president and chief operating officer of The Gap, Wells did everything from working with fashion editors on styling to evaluations of merchandising.
Wells spent hours in Gap stores, making sure every item was displayed properly. Her grandson, Jonathan Bing, said, "A friend of mine worked at The Gap and said each store had a signal to call the next store to warn them she was on her way."
"I hope somebody is warning the heavens about what's on its way," said Joseph Cicio, former chairman and chief executive officer of I. Magnin.
"When I met her years ago I realized what a source of knowledge she was," said Bill Blass. "It was all a matter of being frightfully blunt and honest."
Services for Wells will be held Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Frank E. Campbell Memorial Chapel, Madison Avenue and East 81st Street.
Leading luxury brand are shaking things up to keep up with streetwear. Case in point: the arrival of @mrkimjones as artistic director of @diorhomme. Jones, who succeeds @Kris_Van_Assche, is seen as one of the handful of designers who can actually straddle the luxury and streetwear worlds — which could lead to even more changes at established brands. What could this mean for the rest of the menswear landscape? Head to WWD.com to find out what experts predict #wwdfashion (📷: @franckmura)
“It’s like buying groceries. You’re going to buy the best mango, the best mozzarella, the best things. You have to, or others are going to take it all,” said @gabrielahearst on why she uses only the finest fabrics. Last week, Hearst received her first @cfda nomination for Womenswear Designer of the Year, and earlier this month she opened a permanent showroom in Paris. To read @jessiredale’s interview with the designer and find out why this is shaping up to be a big year for her, head to WWD.com. #wwdfashion (📷: @francoisgoize)
“It’s an interesting thing, playing a younger version of your mother. It’s an interesting concept. I adore my mom and love her in every capacity, but it was just something that had never crossed my mind,” says @anniemstarke on playing a young Joan Castleman in “The Wife.” The same role will be played by her mother Glenn Close. Read more about her growing up in the film industry as the daughter of producer John H. Starke and Close and what she has planned for the future #wwdeye (📷: @nataliamantini)
@asics is launching a new streetwear sneaker inspired by its latest ambassador, @steveaoki. The Hyper-Kenzen x Aoki, which will launch at @footlocker stores exclusively tomorrow, is a slip-on style that incorporates the brand’s proprietary Gel technology through beads integrated into the midsole for comfort and endurance. Read the full story on WWD.com.
@beyonce chose a custom gown by @falgunishanepeacockindia for mother @mstinalawson 's second annual Wearable Art Gala last night. The gown, which took 10 days to make, was inspired by Nubian warrior queen Amanishakheto. Reporting by @hernameislex . #wwdeye 👑 🐝#beyonce
After dressing @justintimberlake for his Super Bowl halftime performance last month, @stellamccartney has designed the star’s "Man of the Woods" tour wardrobe. Timberlake will be wearing a mix of pieces from McCartney’s fall men's collection as well as custom designs and items from his own closet. #wwdfashion