Doris Shaw, a department store advertising and marketing executive, who lent her flair to Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, and helped shape the image of Abraham & Strauss, died at her home in Garrison, N.Y. earlier this month. She was 97. No cause of death was given.
After graduating in 1942 from the Newark School of Fine Arts, Shaw became assistant art director at Frederick Loeser’s department store in Brooklyn when she was 21 years old. She became an art director at Franklin Simon in 1955, rising to vice president of sales promotion, and remaining until 1972. Shaw in 1974 joined Saks, and Bloomingdale’s in 1977, departing a year later to become editor in chief of House Beautiful magazine.
Drawn back to retail, Shaw headed sales promotion at the May Department Store Co. until 1979, when she jumped to A&S and rose to executive vice president of marketing and communications, a role she held until she retired in 1988, when she became a creative marketing consultant for A&S and launched Shaw Concepts in Palm Desert, Calif.
Shaw returned to the East Coast and settled in Garrison, N.Y., where she became executive director and a board member of the Putnam History Museum, and served on the board of the Manitoga/Russel Wright Design Center.
Shaw was a teacher and a mentor to other women, including Martine Reardon, former chief merchandising officer of Macy’s, who arrived at A&S in 1984 as a college intern. Nancy Slavin joined the retailer the following year. Both women rose through the ranks of A&S’ sales promotion and marketing division.
“Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe her,” said Slavin, who would become senior vice president of marketing for Macy’s private brands. Federated Department Stores, which owned A&S, acquired Macy’s in 1994. “At 97, she was reading every newspaper from cover to cover. She had such a curious mind, was super creative and so giving. She knew the trends way before anyone else.”
“She was a quiet voice with a big impact,” said Reardon. “She gave attention to everybody. That’s why Nancy and I, who grew up under her, flourished. She prided herself on discovering talent. The magic of Doris and our careers is that even when we were no longer working for her, she was powering us. She was such a force professionally and personally. She watched over my career and Nancy’s career.”
Nikki Shomer was in her 20s when Shaw arrived at A&S in 1979. “We also worked with some of the retail and creative industry giants, including Henry Wolf, Milton Glaser, Arthur Elgort, [Massimo and Lella Vignelli]. With Doris’ her kind mentoring, I grew from an entry-level position to director of catalogue and direct mail.”
“Executives saw her as their secret weapon, running store design and visual presentation and marketing,” said Slavin. “She had great poise and confidence in her abilities. She’d walk into a board room where 99 percent of the people were men, and they all had such great respect for her.”
Reardon said Shaw “broke the glass ceiling before we even knew there was a glass ceiling.”
John Burden, who helmed Abraham & Strauss from 1981 to 1985, recalled that when he took over, the retailer “had really gone down the tubes big time. Doris had so many ideas and enabled me to do so many things. She had influence over the merchandise and over everything. She was a major implementor of the turnaround of A&S in the Eighties.”
“Doris was a very stabilizing person,” said Chaim Edelstein, who was chairman and chief executive officer of A&S from 1985 to 1994. “She very much understood the needs of A&S. We were pretty trendy, with a very good junior business, and she knew how to push it. As we moved toward the mid-Eighties, we became a very aggressive company and started to do very well.”
Tony Veziris, an A&S merchant, stepped into Shaw’s job when she retired. “She recommended me to replace her. I went from the merchant ranks into advertising,” he said. “She stayed on as a consultant, which was the perfect opportunity for me. I could have her council and her work on strategic direction.
“Doris was a very petite woman, but in terms of personality, she was so immense,” Veziris said. “She was very dedicated to A&S being successful. She carried that torch.”
Shaw’s ad copy, while tame by today’s standards, was provocative in the Seventies and Eighties. She paired with models lines such as “Darling, I didn’t come this far to play it safe!” and “How I love to do the things I shouldn’t.”
While Shaw took an editorial approach to advertising, Reardon said “she had no bias for either the copy or the visuals. They’re were both very powerful. She embraced the business objectives. That’s why the chairmen loved her.”
Shaw is survived by her daughter Liza Darmstadt, son-in-law Robert Darmstadt, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.