Bud Konheim

“See what Bud says” was a common refrain for many in the fashion industry, who valued the late Bud Konheim’s cutting and comical view of business. Never one to mince words, the chief executive officer of Nicole Miller Inc. got straight to the chase. Always making the time to call or to keep a lunch appointment, Konheim was determined to stay connected with what was happening but more importantly with what he envisioned may be ahead.

“What are other people telling you?” he would often ask, before answering his own question sardonically. “Let me guess: Their business is just wonderful.”

Whether you knew him or knew of him, Konheim’s commitment to the industry, its future, and the city that he called home for decades is worth considering. Here, a recap of some of the views he shared with WWD through the years.

On shopping malls in 1990

I never wanted to be in malls in the first place. Malls give me hives. They’re completely devoid of any personality.

The ambiance of malls has changed. There are a lot of nonshoppers and gangs and danger in the parking lots. They’re on the verge of being taken over by teenagers.

On department stores’ number-crunching in 1988

The emphasis at department stores is not on our wavelength. We’re worrying about how beautiful to make the clothes and they’re worrying about the deal.

The impetus for the 1987 opening of the first Nicole Miller boutique in 1988

The opening of the store came out of a long fight Nicole and I have been having because she wants to do a show.

On his shared stubbornness with Miller in 1988

The partnership has developed to the point where Nicole asks me a question and already knows what my answer will be before I answer it.

On expanding into Europe in 1988

Bad times and boring merchandise create opportunities — we found that out with our men’s ties, which have been doing wonderfully. This industry is in danger of looking like what’s coming out of Germany and England, that same old humdrum with no innovation. One of the reasons that business is so bad is because there’s nothing to buy.

On trade shows in 1991

Trade shows are a 20th-century way of selling goods. They’re artificial and they do nothing for selling designer lines.

On reviving the economy in 1991

The way to pull this country out of recession is that demand has to be greater than supply. Retailers are now operating on such lean inventories that they will soon cross that line, where demand will outstrip supply. That’s when they’re going to need to restock the stores aggressively.

Disputing the idea that financiers should be more indulgent with young designers when they fail in 1992

It’s like being suckered into a Broadway play. Relationships change, the market evolves. With continuing losses, stress and strain, creativity flies out the window.

On Walmart in 1996

Big, but not necessarily better.

On the CFDA in 1996

It’s our club. Like Groucho Marx said, “Who’d want to belong to a club that would accept someone like me for a member?”

On hip-hop in 1996

I don’t get it or understand it but it’s current culture, so it’s OK. It’s like swing was to me.

On the power of intuition and truly knowing your consumers in 1996

We’ve organized our business to sell to stores that want to buy our designs not to dictate to us.

There used to be a time when department store buyers sought the best merchandise for their stores based on their taste levels. Now the message has changed. Buying is now based on the bottom-line guaranteed sales. The buyer is forced to buy safe and basic, and that leads to disaster.

The importance of wear-testing before launching a golf line in 1997

Everybody who had anything to do with this line played golf under my supervision. We were afraid of having Seventh Avenue design with no way of raising your arms or having to hold your breath.

On the freedom of the Internet in 2000

We get labeled as being print-driven or known for little black dresses, and retailers say, “That’s what you’re good for.” But on the Internet, nobody has any preconceived notions. You’re free as a bird on it. You bypass what stores are doing. There’s no layered stuff between us and the consumer.

On hosting a benefit for a Harlem-based education foundation in 2002

The revival of Harlem is what it’s all about. It’s a big part of New York and we want to be in Harlem.

On his business approach in 2005

Let’s take out the demographics. We’re in a very emotional, sexy business. Demographics are for the corporate guys, they love it.

On his company’s aversion to chargebacks and markdowns in 2007

Someone asked me how we get away with it, and I said, “Just say no.” It doesn’t make sense because the money has to come from somewhere, so if you raise the prices in order to pay back, you’re encouraging the markdown. It’s a silly game and I refuse to play it.

Unless you sell the clothes all the guarantees are worth less.

On technology’s potential in the fashion industry in 2013

There are more options out there than we can even begin to explore. I don’t know what the future is, but I do know it’s always changing. I’m committed to technology and to the people in my company that use it.

 

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