A tireless champion of young designers, Margaret Hayes, president and chief executive officer of Fashion Group International, died Thursday at her home in Greenwich, Conn. She was 79.
The cause of death was complications due to breast cancer, which she had had for several years.
Known as a hard-driving executive who produced impeccable events, Hayes made the switch from a successful retailing career to FGI in 1994, when she was hired as the organization’s president. At FGI, she oversaw such key programs as the group’s annual Night of Stars gala, the Rising Stars awards, a symposium series and the ready-to-wear trend forecasts.
Born in Queens, N.Y., Hayes graduated from Queens College. She began her retail career at Bloomingdale’s in the executive training program and became a senior-level executive. She was recruited by Saks Fifth Avenue in 1976, and rose to become senior vice president, then general merchandise manager, directing and implementing sales and profit growth for seven divisions and contributing the largest profit base for the company.
At FGI, Hayes oversaw a membership of 5,000, engaged in the fashion and design-related industries, in 26 regions around the U.S. and internationally. Founded in 1930 as the first nonprofit, professional organization established by and for women (men were welcomed to the membership in 1997), Hayes liked to talk about the founding members, which included Edith Head, Dorothy Shaver, Claire McCardell, Virginia Pope, Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Eleanor Roosevelt — all highly successful in business when few industries were even open to women.
Hayes was among the honorees in 2017 at the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation’s Hamptons Happening fund-raiser. That honor hit home for the fashion executive. Hayes, a supporter of many cancer research initiatives, said at the time, “As a cancer survivor myself, cancer research is not only philosophically critical, but has been vital to me in the course of my own life.” In 2013, Hayes was also honored by K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers, which is now known as Delivering Good.
In addition to orchestrating FGI’s Night of Stars, which had such high-voltage presenters over the years as Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Sarah Jessica Parker, Viola Davis, Nicki Minaj and Karl Lagerfeld and a who’s who of honorees, Hayes championed young designers with FGI’s Rising Stars awards. In the midst of such events, Hayes could often be found trying to keep things on track, not-so-gently reminding people they needed to find their seats, as the program got started. While her all-black ensembles often made her blend in with the fashion crowd and oversize glasses, her tall stature and bold jewelry helped her to stand out. After such events, Hayes was more apt to be analytical than self-congratulatory with such statements as “What did you think?” or “It could have been a little shorter.”
She was known to look out for those in the industry. In 2014, when FGI’s computer system became immobilized by hackers who demanded a ransom, Hayes wanted that publicized primarily so that other fashion companies would be warned.
Designers and executives spoke highly of Hayes’ dedication to her role and how she championed designers.
“Margaret was a passionate and dedicated person who developed FGI into what it has become today. She was a relentless leader who cared deeply about young designers and talent in the industry. She helped unlock the future for many people who needed opportunity. She will be missed by all,” said Tommy Hilfiger, who was a personal friend.
Diane von Furstenberg said, “Margaret had a true passion for fashion and worked relentlessly for The Fashion Group.”
Michael Kors said, “Margaret was a great cheerleader for fashion and a real champion of young talent. She understood the mechanics of fashion, from retail to design, and I’m very sad to hear of her passing.”
Simon Doonan, the Night of Stars’ longtime emcee, said, “Margaret always reminded me of the great ladies who taught school in my childhood: She was tough and caring and incredibly benevolent. Margaret had a lovely, quiet, sardonic sense of humor.”
He added, “At the Night of Stars, it was fantastic to look around the room and see J. Lo and Prince and Donatella [Versace] and Tom Ford and Iman and all these incredibly glamorous people and realize that Margaret was the one, who was ultimately responsible for getting them there.”
Jason Wu said, “Margaret was a passionate pillar of our community. Her work through Fashion Group International has helped so many of us start our journey in this industry. She truly gave us opportunities to reach new heights. She was not only a force within our industry, but her kindness and willingness to help others has touched many of our lives. I will miss her dearly.”
Phillip Lim said, “I am truly saddened to hear of Margaret’s passing. She was the grand dame of this industry and one who tirelessly celebrated emerging talent, not just established names. Margaret treated everyone equally with love, respect and encouragement. As a former recipient of the FGI Rising Star award, I feel privileged to have known her and her mentorship in the course of my career.”
Having worked with Hayes for so many years, Ruben Toledo, who designed the Night of Stars program for some time, said he and his wife Isabel could “really feel how much she truly loved the fashion and the beauty industry and more so the people in it.
“She always so passionate and inspired about finding ways to diversify it, and to help spot new opportunities within it. She always greeted change and newness with enthusiasm. Her sense for spotting cycles and patterns within the fashion business system was uncanny,” Toledo said. “We will miss her greatly, but will always feel inspired by her example. She constantly championed diversity and bravery in any form and consistently made it one of her core principles. Margaret was a born leader who’s bravery was contagious.”
Donald J. Loftus, the former president of Parlux Fragrances, who is chairman of Fashion Group International, called Hayes “a very strong woman” both as a retailer and as an industry executive. “I knew her from Saks as well. She’s very smart, takes her job very seriously, and worked very hard to do the right thing. She wasn’t easy. She had very high standards and expected people to deliver. She also had a very big heart, and could be very gracious and generous with her time.”
Because her standards were so high, “she sometimes came off as a little rough,” said Loftus. “But she got the job done. I would go to the Night of Stars or any of her events, and they were always impeccably run, and everything ran like clockwork. And I knew she had a team of only five people. It was amazing what they would pull off. She got great loyalty from her staff, who stayed with her for years, for 25 years or more. It’s a real loss.”
Loftus said she was involved until her final days. “Even when she was really ill, she was still working. She came into a board meeting two months ago. She never stopped working through it all. She was amazing,” said Loftus.
Marylou Luther, a FGI member of 60 years, got to know Hayes when she succeeded Lenore Benson at FGI. In charge of FGI’s ready-to-wear trend reviews, Luther saw Hayes in action. “I think she is possibly the strongest woman I have ever known. She was just totally amazing — forceful. When she said something, she meant it. She meant you to do it. She was in charge.”
Under Hayes’ tutelage, men became members of FGI. “To her credit, there had never been a male member before Margaret [was in charge],” Luther said. “She was also the first to get the regional groups going. I think there are 28 regionals now all over the world. In fact, they are meeting in New York next week.
“She made a difference by being a force for good. If Margaret asked you to do something, you would immediately assume it was important and you would do it. She was great at bringing people together,” Luther said. “Her experience at Saks and Bloomingdale’s in the beauty world was extraordinary and helpful to her.”
Stephen Sadove, principal at Stephen Sadove and Associates and former ceo of Saks Fifth Avenue, described Hayes as “a good friend and a great person.
“Everything she did with the fashion group elevated young individuals and recognized people in the industry. She was omnipresent. She was sort of one of the legends of the industry,” he said.
“She had left Saks by the time I got there, but she really had an institutional memory of Saks. She always was a sounding board for me and others. She also was on the Movado board, which I joined. Right until the end she tried to stay involved on a regular basis. She had lived with cancer for years.”
Stan Herman said, “She was a major column in our business — like the old Greek columns. She was a very fastidious supporter of fashion in a way that kept things organized. She was the most organized person I knew. She had a very specific vision about how to run the fashion group. She was strong-armed about it, but usually very fair about it.”
Herman also described her as “an outsider insider,” as in someone who worked in the fashion industry, but she also knew how to run a business with a good motor — which isn’t always common in the industry. “Margaret was one of the most respected women in our business. The force of her personality will be missed. That’s for sure,” Herman said.
A solid presence who held her ground with FGI through a lot of growth and expansion, Hayes was a fixture in many ways, according to Fern Mallis, an industry consultant. “She was always trying to create some news and a buzz with the fashion group to keep it relevant in a very changing industry. She was always steadfast, committed and professional with great perseverance.” Hayes was “iconic to a lot of fashion industry professionals who make up the core of what the fashion group is all over the country — all the people who work in the business — salespeople, showroom people and manufacturers,” Mallis said.
Through the years, FGI’s Night of Stars honored designers from around the world and attracted all-star presenters, Mallis said. “They really had their niche in the firmament of the fashion industry. Margaret led that charge and did a great job doing it.”
Jaqui Lividini, ceo and founder of Lividini & Co., met Hayes when they worked at Saks. Hayes was a general merchandise manager for intimate apparel, lingerie and beauty, and Lividini was just starting out. “She was so powerful. As a young woman starting out in the industry, Saks was amazing because there were these incredible strong women with incredible jobs, like Mara Urshel and Ellin Saltzman, and Margaret was one of them. She of all of them was the most commanding in so many ways. She left Saks, and I grew up, and I got to know her as an adult. She really was a softie. As commanding as she was, she was really fair and really reasonable, and could be very sweet at times. I don’t think people saw that side of her very often. You really saw it when she talked about her daughter. She was such a devoted mom to Alex,” said Lividini.
Ralph Rucci described Hayes as “an extraordinary independent force in fashion.” With the fashion group and her awards, “she sought excellence without any sort of favoritism or where the industry was going. It had to do with the quality that she felt was there and she pursued it as such,” Rucci said.
On a more personal note, Hayes was a stalwart supporter and helped to secure his plaque on Seventh Avenue’s “Walk of Fame.” Even while lunching over lobster claws at her favorite haunt, the Bryant Park Grill, Hayes maintained “a ladylike commitment to her work,” Rucci said. “She always had a point and she would get to it at lunch. She was definite and firm in her opinions. But she always was a lady, commuting in every day from Connecticut. I adored her. I had the highest respect for her.”
Diane Clehane, FGI’s media relations and advertising consultant, who has worked with Hayes since she became president of FGI, said, “Margaret was a remarkable woman and a tireless champion of the fashion and beauty industries. As president and ceo of FGI, her incredible work ethic and tenacity was widely respected by those who worked with her and for her.
“She was also a tireless champion who did a great deal for raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research. Our first major project together was an extremely successful designer house tour that benefited the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at MSK [Memorial Sloan Kettering]. It was FGI’s inaugural breast cancer awareness initiative. Margaret’s commitment to the cause continued throughout her tenure. I respected her greatly and will miss her,” added Clehane.
Hayes served on a number of corporate and nonprofit boards, including International Flavors and Fragrances; The Movado Group Inc.; LIM Fashion Education Foundation and The Mosholu Preservation Corp. She also received numerous humanitarian and business leadership honors awarded by the American Cancer Society, the American Jewish Committee, the City of Hope, Cosmetic Executive Women, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, The Fragrance Foundation and La Medaillè de la Ville de Paris.
She is survived by her daughter, Alexandra Adame. She was predeceased in 2015 by Omar Adame, her husband of 42 years.
Funeral arrangements haven’t been set yet.