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.
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