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Industry Remembers Marvin Traub

Recollections of the merchant and the man from around the industry and around the world.

Marvin and Lee Traub

This story first appeared in the July 12, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Ralph Lauren: “Marvin Traub has been part of my life for over 45 years. His support and loyalty extended way beyond my professional life. When I opened our store on Madison Avenue and 72nd, Marvin was my first customer. When he left Bloomingdale’s over 20 years ago, our relationship was just as strong. He and his beloved wife, Lee, have always been our friends, sharing so much, watching each other’s children grow up. Marvin was not only an icon in the world of retail, but a great supporter of the culture of this city. He was a rare person and a rare friend. In a recent tribute to him, I was able to thank him for all his years of support, belief, advice, good stories, good laughs, warmth and most of all his personal loyalty. I will miss his hand on my shoulder.”

Karl Lagerfeld:
“I’m really sad. He and his wife were the nicest couple in the business. He was great, so cheerful, so friendly. He is somebody I will always remember.”

Lagerfeld said Traub was a key figure in retail “when it was a fairy tale,” referring particularly to the Seventies and Eighties. “His innovation was to make a store that was not so noteworthy into the trendiest shop in town. He was very professional — he made it happen.”

Ira Neimark: “Marvin and I were friends but fierce competitors. Possibly I am the only one who goes so far back to having worked with Marvin’s mother, Bea Traub, when she was the head personal shopper at Bonwit Teller when I was a blouse buyer. Mrs. Traub would continuously keep me up to date on her brilliant son at Harvard. His mother had a right to be proud since Marvin was also a brilliant merchant.”

Donna Karan: “He was a man of fashion. He really understood the soul of it and the spirit. For me, the most memorable thing is how he’d take a country, such as India, and go on a journey. He had a presence. There was nothing he couldn’t handle. He was larger than life in the world of fashion. He had such passion and set standards for what retail was all about. He had amazing relationships with designers….You couldn’t say no to Marvin. When I met the Queen of England, I was with Marvin. Only Marvin could have the Queen of England at Bloomingdale’s with Calvin, Ralph and myself. Only Marvin could turn Lexington Avenue instead of running downtown to uptown. I had to wear gloves and a hat, and we had to have a rehearsal and we waited three hours for the Queen and Marvin. We had a whole page of instructions.”


RELATED STORY: Marvin Traub, Retailing Legend, Dead at 87 >>

 

Diane von Furstenberg: “It’s very sad. Marvin was so incredibly important to fashion, to promoting fashion, and to retail. He invented the showbiz for retail.  He was such a showman. He loved that, and embraced it. He invented the Indian promotion and the Chinese promotion. He was so ahead of his time. For the opening of Bloomingdale’s at King of Prussia, he made me ride on an elephant. It was endless…the things he would do, and everybody always did it for him. He was hands down to the very end.”

Leonard A. Lauder: “The world may never see a broadbanded merchant like Marvin Traub again. He almost singlehandedly led the conversion of Bloomingdale’s from a local department store to a national brand. He created the concept of Saturday’s Generation during the Sixties and Seventies. The opening of Bloomingdale’s decorator rooms became the social event of the season.”

Lauder, who had sometimes vacationed with Traub and his wife, Lee, paused for a moment, then observed, “the way he loved to travel, we assumed he would live forever. Alas our assumptions were wrong.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg:
“I am saddened by the passing of Marvin Traub, a proud New Yorker and a true symbol of what one can accomplish in New York City through hard work and creativity. Under Marvin’s leadership, Bloomingdale’s became much more than a local department store, and thanks to his vision, today it stands as an iconic piece of New York and an important part of the retail sector that is so important to our economy. Marvin’s legacy will live on not only for New Yorkers, but also the millions of tourists from around the world who come to New York City each year to shop in stores like Bloomingdale’s.”

Hubert de Givenchy: “I liked Marvin very much. He was…an absolutely charming man. He always supported the Givenchy label and gave us the possibilities to do a lot of things together at Bloomingdale’s. I am very saddened by this news. I had a lot of admiration for his work, for him, and he was a great friend.”

Rosita Missoni: “He was one of the first to believe in us and we jokingly called him ‘the godfather’ because he opened the doors to America for us and paved the way for our international success. He helped so many other designers, too — he believed in young people and in talent. He was an indefatigable worker, very intelligent and educated — I think he was a model student at Harvard. And he had an incredible charisma. Whenever we met, it was a feast, full of memories.”

Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Macy’s Inc.:
“I was close to Marvin for many years, and his guidance and advice were invaluable to me as well as to other members of our company’s management team. Marvin was a visionary and innovator. He was a true master of fashion retailing, and we all learned so much from him. I continued to meet with Marvin for regular updates over the years. In fact, we had a meeting planned for yesterday that he was unable to attend. Marvin meant so much to me. I will miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Marvin’s family.”

Allen Questrom, former chairman of J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Barneys New York:
“Marvin certainly led more than a complete life. He was quite a character, a total optimist…He was the most enthusiastic guy on any subject, with the energy of a person 25 years younger. I would run him into at the Regency, where he always ate breakfast, and he was always either on his way or just coming back from India or China, and in those years these were still considered very exotic places to travel. He traveled everywhere and made it a point to know everyone. He knew all the vendors all the designers. If he wanted a line in the store, he made a point of developing a partnership. He was a real merchant. I remember, when I was a home furnishings buyer at Abraham & Straus, I was a young kid, I visited Bloomingdale’s, and I remember seeing Marvin walking the floors. He was always there talking to people. He focused on the theater of the business. He will be missed.”

Tommy Hilfiger: “I remember when I met him with Joel Horowitz. We were showing at the Holiday Inn in downtown L.A. because we couldn’t afford to show at MAGIC. We set up in a run-down conference room. He came in and sat on a broken couch and loved the line. He put us in Bloomingdale’s and really launched us and stood behind us with a lot of conviction, and he really understood what we were doing from the beginning. When he walked into the room, it was like God was arriving. We remained friends ever since. He really figured out early on that retail and entertainment worked hand in hand, and I really believe he understood the value of theater in the stores and launching and standing behind designers from all over the world. He always had the best of the best.”

Michael Gould, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s:
I remember a year ago flying to Dubai with Marvin and his associate Kelsey [Scroggins] to visit Bloomingdale’s in Dubai, which was doing a New York event. Marvin played an important role introducing us to the Al Tayer Group [which is licensed to operate the store] He was instrumental planning the way the store looked and now with planning this event. Imagine at 85, he was meeting with the planning group and telling them he didn’t think they were buying enough. He was doing it classification by classification, and said they were not buying enough. So at dinner, I recall asking him of all the projects he’s have done since leaving Bloomingdale’s, which is the one…and before I even had a chance to finish the question, Marvin’s comment was ‘Bloomingdale’s.’ There was just something that he felt was so special to be working with Bloomingdale’s again.”

Ron Johnson, chairman and ceo of J.C. Penney Co. Inc.:
“Marvin’s had an extraordinarily positive impact on our industry for the past 50 years and was one of the most innovative merchants in the world. He shared his wisdom with others and I valued his guidance. Earlier this year, when I asked him about our transformation at J.C. Penney, he told me, ‘Don’t blink. Stay the course.’ Those were his exact words. He encouraged me. He said we were on the right track.”

Elie Tahari: “There are not too many people in this industry I was as close to as Marvin. He started my career. He invited me to lunch in the conference room at Bloomingdale’s. In the middle of the lunch, I got upset and walked out and said, ‘I’d never sell Bloomingdale’s.’ We were fighting over a location. He wanted to put me in contemporary and I wanted to be in designer. But he had no ego at all. He called me the next day and wanted to have breakfast since lunch didn’t work out. He said, ‘Let’s start from the beginning,’ and he walked me through the store. It became the biggest success I ever had in one store. We had a love affair. Marvin was the first one to bring me into a department store. It was a small space and we’d bring the product in in the morning and, by night, we’d bring another truck load in. For a long time, we were talking every day. He was the most gentlemanly and generous man, and very professional. I think he was the Prince of Retail. He was an example of an honorable man, a committed man, always focused on going forward and how can we do this better.”

Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies, Kurt Salmon: “It is hard to imagine the retail world without the daily presence of Marvin…but he leaves a legacy of iconic proportions. He was one of the greatest department store merchants and innovators of the 20th century. He invented the concept of the ‘store as theater’ with international fairs, exciting new merchandise from all over the world, unparalleled store displays and presentation. He introduced and nurtured new designers, like Ralph Lauren, the Missonis, Sonia Rykiel and many more, and he made the 59th Street flagship store mantra, “Like no other store in the world’ a fact not just a claim. Visiting the flagship became ‘required reading’ on the report cards of competing retailers from around the world.”

Burt Tansky: “The most important thing I can say is that it’s been a privilege to have known Marvin over these many, many years and to admire the work he’d done at Bloomingdale’s. He created a role model for retailers in this country and all over the world. I watched how he created new businesses and I was pleased to have worked with him and his team in a few projects I was involved in. I send my sympathy to his wife, Lee, and his family. We were always competitors but very friendly competitors. I was a great admirer of Marvin as a retailer and then in his consulting business. He was a terrific guy. He created a model we all admired and we all followed and that model included his own personal energy the way he ran Bloomingdale’s and his own company. He will be missed.”

Guy Peyrelongue, retired ceo of L’Oréal’s Cosmair Division: “For me, I was so touched by his great love for France and its art and craftsmanship. That came from when he served in the American army in Europe.

“[He was] a very great merchant and a great talent. The man had great style, great heart and a youthful attitude. When he retired, Traub did not stop working. He pursued projects and new ventures. He was a most wonderful family man [and] a great example.”

Norma Kamali:
“Marvin inaugurated the idea of a designer having a license with a store. I had a license with Bloomingdale’s in the Eighties and we did so well. We did lots of categories and had a huge legwear, stocking and socks business that was extraordinary. It was really rocking. This was when stores used to be stores, and the buyers were on the floor interacting with the customers, and you could see the energy. It was bound to get an authentic result. He did all the different country promotions. They transformed the store and the store was a living experience. Now we walk around with our mobile devices, and the stores need some excitement. Nobody’s come near to what he did. Bloomingdale’s was the center of the universe. He certainly contributed a lot to retail. He was an incredible man and lived an incredible life.”

Robert Chavez, president and ceo, Hermès of Paris: “I spent almost 10 years working for Marvin at Bloomingdale’s in its heyday. He not only set the standard, he always raised the bar to a new level, and always made it more dynamic and more exciting than anybody else had ever made it. He was nonstop, 24-7. He ate, drank, breathed retail, and he made it so exciting that you wanted to do it with him. I learned in those days how, at Bloomingdale’s, it was always a given that you were never to walk into a showroom or a factory and just take and buy what was there. You had to make it different and it better. That’s what made Bloomingdale’s so special.”

Glen Senk, ceo, David Yurman: “A one in a million human being — kind and nurturing. He had higher standards both for himself and everyone working for him. He taught me so much. He just has so much energy, passion, curiosity and drive. Right up until the last time I saw him, he never faltered. I saw him about three weeks ago. He never stopped his quest to learn and to be the best. It’s just devastating.

“He was an amazing, amazing man. He had such a profound impact on so many people. He had an intellect and energy and passion and curiosity and charisma where he could literally levitate you. It was so motivating to be with him. He taught everybody to be the very best. He never made you feel badly, he always made you feel good, you could always do more.

“[Marvin] was so daring. These kinds of people don’t exist today. When he did the French promotion at Bloomingdale’s, I said, ‘There’s nothing for me to buy in France.’ He said, ‘Glen, I want you to experience the country even if there’s nothing to buy, and bring the essence back.’ I ended up doing it.

“Also, the responsibility that he gave people. I was a kid. He made me head of Bloomingdale’s By Mail when I was 29. He would take risks on people. He’d be very clear with what the expectations were and then he just let you do it. He was so good at keeping up with people. He was so good about staying connected. He was traveling up until a few months ago. He didn’t stop skiing until three years ago. He loved fashion, food, furniture, his wife, his kids, architecture.…If there was a new restaurant in town, he was there. If a new sneaker was coming out, he knew about it. To be a great retailer you need that. He was a merchant to his core. In the early days, he walked the floor and he knew the sales staff by name and they called him Mr. Traub.”

Gilbert Harrison, chairman, Financo:
“[Marvin] was truly one of the great merchant princes. He truly loved every minute of his life and was at home with any retailer or apparel company you can imagine. He was a senior advisor to Financo for 10 years. He joined me a year after he left Bloomingdale’s. Even though I’d been doing this for many years, he taught me more than you’d ever know. Financo supplemented Traub’s merchandising acumen by giving him the financial expertise he needed.

 

“Marvin left to build his own consulting firm in 2004. He was a retail magnet of the first order. He reinvented the way people shopped. He earned the respect of so many industry players. Marvin was able to anticipate the changing consumer. He could call and get through to any ceo in the world.

“He never abandoned being a hands-on merchant. He always walked in and out of stores, critiqued merchandise and shared his thoughts with the tenants. When he first joined me, he said, ‘We have a breakfast meeting at 7:30 a.m.’ I said that’s fine, I have a trainer at 7. He said, ‘That’s fine, do the trainer at 5:30 or 6, that’s what I do.’ His enthusiasm was tremendous. Forget about me, he wore out my junior people. He traveled the globe. He wore out our vice presidents and young associates in their 20s. He’d get off the plane, take a shower and run to a meeting.

“Marvin loved his family and loved his three children and their families. He took pride in taking them on family vacations in Africa and China. It’s sad because it’s truly an end of an era. He was a gentleman, always dressed impeccably. He loved doing what he was doing. It’s a loss.”

Laurence C. Leeds Jr., chairman of Buckingham Capital Management:
“He was a best friend and a marvelous human being. He was generous, kind and one of the most creative, dynamic people. There were more than two sides to him. There was a professional and brilliant retailer who took Bloomingdale’s from a mediocre, run-of-the-mill store and made it into the most dynamic and most exciting retailer in America. Also there was the people side of him. He was a magnificent husband and father, and had many great friends and a personal life that was warm and intense. He was beloved by his family and friends. He and Lee had a great romance that lasted all their lives. I’ll never forget when his chauffeur was dying of AIDS. He used to drive up to the Bronx to bring him food.”

Andrew Rosen, president, Theory:
“I go so far back with Marvin. I was a young boy, and I remember sitting in Marvin’s dining room at Bloomingdale’s with my father and Marvin. He was a giant and a real innovator. He was such a dynamo. I remember all the country promotions. He really made Bloomingdale’s an exciting shopping experience and a cool place. Even after he retired, he traveled all over the world, developing new stores in countries, and advising people on how to create retail businesses. He would always come back and talk to me about the different stores in faraway lands that he wanted me to sell. He was a great ambassador and friend to our industry and was a great ambassador for American retail.”

Lew Frankfort, ceo, Coach Inc.:
“I went to a meeting with him and my team at Bloomingdale’s in 1981 to discuss our wholesale business. He had learned that I was opening our first retail store on Madison Avenue and 65th Street. Marvin stopped me outside the conference room and said, “Lou, I’m going to scream at you in front of your staff and my team. What I’m going to say is that you’re being a very bad partner for opening your own retail store. But off the record, I want you to know it’s one of the smartest things you could ever do.’ We went into the conference room and he said, ‘Before we talk about our business at Bloomingdale’s, I can’t believe you’re opening your own store.…’ He was a man who had great vision. He wanted me to know I had a lot of courage. He was a great man. He was always future-minded. As recently as a few months ago, he was always talking about new markets and new channels. He was really ahead of his time.”

Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre Syndicale
: “I received a note from him last week, and I sent him a letter yesterday. [Marvin] was for decades quite a figure. And he made Bloomingdale’s something a little more impressive than just a store. He [considered] that it was a place to visit and a place with a sort of citizenship. It was extraordinary that after he left he was not young then, but he went on being active and efficient for years afterwards.”

Walter Loeb, Loeb Associates: “He was very creative, a showman. He put Bloomingdale’s in first place because of his work with designers. Certainly the [country promotions] made Bloomingdale’s a fashionable place to shop.”

Robin Burns-McNeill, chairman of Batallure Beauty: “He was a great mentor and a great man and such an iconic figure in our industry. I’m incredibly saddened by the news. Marvin never let any grass grow under his feet, not even recently. He’s a great man, a great leader, a great person. He’ll leave a great legacy. When I worked for him at Bloomingdale’s, he was someone who I was in awe of and admired greatly. He added a lot to my learning. Any success I’ve had started at Bloomingdale’s and he set the tone for breaking the rules and being innovative. From his foreign countries and product development, he really instilled in people and in me that you look at things through different lenses than most people. He did nothing in a conventional way. He rewarded people that took chances and sought innovation and explored new worlds.

“I feel very fortunate to [have] been a part of it in the Seventies and early Eighties when Bloomingdale’s was in a very interesting time and a leader in innovation. ‘Like no other store in the world’ — his vision made that  marketing phrase a truism and he deserves all the credit for delivering all that. There’s people who have great careers. I owe that to the environment he provided for young talent. So many learnings have served me well. When I was at Victoria’s Secret [as president and ceo of Intimate Beauty Corp./Victoria’s Secret Beauty], he would bring to me businesses to help mentor along. At Calvin Klein, I worked with him on the launch of Obsession. He went from being a mentor to client to colleague at Victoria’s Secret.

“[Marvin] was always high energy on top of anything new happening on the horizon, whether distribution or product. He was very generous in leveraging his own network of people and experiences. He was confident but he was not arrogant. He instilled confidence in other people. He made you feel like you could do anything. I’m just in shock. He’s one of those people.”