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Marilyn Kawakami, a pioneer in the bridge business and leader of several American and European women’s designer labels, died Wednesday night in Los Angeles after succumbing to cancer. She was 71.
Kawakami was being treated in Los Angeles, where her sister lives, but was a resident of New York.
Kawakami started as a buyer at Bonwit Teller, became design and merchandising director for Gloria Vanderbilt, and in the Eighties, started the bridge business at Anne Klein & Co. and eventually became president of its bridge lines, Anne Klein II and A Line.
“Marilyn was a warm, generous and caring friend and family member,” said Jeannette Chang, senior vice president, international publishing director at Hearst Magazines International. “She loved travel, dance, politics and the simple pleasures of life, especially her friends. Her passing leaves a hole in our hearts.”
Kawakami also was with GFT at the company’s headquarters in Turin, Italy, working on all the GFT collections, including the bridge lines Sahza, Si You and Essence. Her responsibilities included opening and operating a fashion marketing and merchandising office for GFT in Italy. Kawakami was originally hired by GFT Donna SpA, based in Turin, in 1990 to expand the Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni White Label by integrating American marketing ideas. She also served as president of Ralph Lauren Womenswear and Bill Haire.
Later, Kawakami became a partner at Songmasters LLC for merchandising and apparel. She was also a founding member of the Belizean Grove, a prominent professional organization for women.
Among her affiliations, Kawakami served as a board member of both the New York Fashion Council and the Fashion Round Table, and as a cochair of the New York Chapter of the Women’s National Museum.
Kawakami is survived by her 101-year-old mother, Mary; a sister, Smiley Sciume, and two brothers, Ben and Paul. Memorial services will be scheduled in New York City in the near future.