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Remembering Paul Stuart’s Clifford Grodd

A men’s wear pioneer with indefatigable energy and unwavering vision — those were just some of the industry accolades showered on Clifford Grodd.

A men’s wear pioneer with indefatigable energy and unwavering vision — those were just some of the industry accolades showered on Clifford Grodd, the president and chief executive officer of Paul Stuart, who died in his sleep at his New York City home Tuesday. Although he had battled cancer for several years, the disease was currently in remission, according to the company.

This story first appeared in the May 27, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A service celebrating the life and career of Grodd, 86, will be held at 1:30 p.m. today at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at 1076 Madison Avenue at 81st Street in Manhattan.

Saying their relationship went back a “lifetime,” Ralph Lauren reminisced: “I used to shop in Paul Stuart as a kid, before I was even designing anything. So I knew Cliff and Ralph Ostrove [Grodd’s father-in-law and co-founder of the store] for a very long time.” Lauren called Grodd “one of the great merchants of specialty retailing — ever. He created the store that everyone else came to see and copy.”

He added that Grodd’s adherence to the Ivy League sensibility — Paul Stuart is known for its soft-shoulder suits and is credited with bringing side vents and the three-button suit to the U.S. — helped him “create one of the great stores in New York.” Lauren said Grodd was “an attractive guy with great style” who offered top-notch clothing and beautiful neckwear.

In fact, Lauren said Paul Stuart was among his first accounts when he was starting out as a neckwear designer. “He was the first or second guy to buy my ties,” he said, even before Bloomingdale’s, Polo’s first large retail customer. “Cliff’s was a private label store and he only showed Paul Stuart merchandise. So I had to decide whether I wanted to be exclusive to Paul Stuart or not. I wanted my own brand and wanted to build my own company, [so we parted ways.] But we stayed friends forever and spent time socially.

“He was tough to get to know because he was very strict, but I loved him. He had great integrity, was honorable and legitimate,” Lauren said.

Claudio Del Vecchio, ceo of Brooks Brothers, said, “Cliff was a retail legend, a pioneer, a perfectionist with an unfailing eye, but most importantly, a true gentleman. His contribution to our industry is immeasurable.”

Designer Thom Browne said of Grodd: “He was a refreshingly confident merchant who knew what he and Paul Stuart meant to people. This confidence drove him to stay true to Paul Stuart and not boringly follow trends. He really stood for something and we need more people like him. I always enjoy passing by the iconic store on my way to the other iconic American store, Brooks Bros.”

Joe Barrato, president of Moncler North America, said he had had a long, leisurely lunch with Grodd on Sunday, where he spoke animatedly about the future of Paul Stuart, and so was shocked to hear of his death. “I’ve known him over 40 years,” Barrato said. “He was just an amazing merchant who never wavered from his point of view. He had incredible passion for what he did and was an amazing human being — he just cared about people. If I was happy, he was happy for me. If I was sad, he was sad for me. I loved him dearly.”

Grodd is survived by his wife, Barbara; a daughter, Patricia; a son, James, and two grandchildren.

Those wishing to make donations in Grodd’s memory can send them to Lincoln Center Business Council, c/o Alexandria Olin, 70 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10023, or the Columbia School of Social Work Scholarship Fund, 1255 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10027.