Byline: Mark Tosh

NEW YORK — Vincent Knoll, a vice president and director of couture for Saks Fifth Avenue, died Saturday afternoon at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center following an unexpected heart attack.
Knoll, 55, had recently returned to his home in Manhattan after vacationing with his family in Spokane, Wash., and was expected back in the office this week, according to a Saks spokeswoman.
In his 14-year career at Saks, Knoll became a friend and confident of many American and European designers, who looked to him for advice and direction. He joined Saks as buyer of American designer collections in 1981 and was named Saks’ director of couture in 1983. In the latter role, he traveled every season to Paris and Milan for the European collections. Knoll was promoted to vice president at Saks in 1993, when he also added designer sportswear to his responsibilities.
Knoll’s duties at Saks included overseeing its designer collection trunk shows, which serve as important sales tools. He also put together groups of clothes from various collections with which he toured the Saks stores, racking up hefty volume figures.
On Sunday, friends and associates remembered Knoll for his rare sensibilities in fashion, his personal warmth and his rapport with industry people and customers.
Philip B. Miller, chairman and chief executive officer of Saks, called Knoll a “unique gentleman with a very special sensitivity to people.
“He had an extensive customer following who relied on his great taste and sense of style,” Miller said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed by all of us who knew and cared for him so deeply.
Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks, said Knoll was one of “Saks Fifth Avenue’s greatest treasures.” She said she considers it a “privilege to have worked with him” during her two years with the retailer.
“He combined great style and sophistication with wit and was truly a rare talent in this industry,” Bravo said. “He will be missed by many, especially his Saks family.”
“He was a wonderful man in a business where sometimes it’s difficult to be nice,” said Oscar de la Renta. “He was someone whose advice I trusted. He had a great feeling for fashion and a knowledge of who the customer was.”
Jacqueline de Ribes, whose following in the U.S. received a strong helping hand from Knoll, said he had been a “great, great American friend” and helped her develop the self-confidence she needed at the beginning.
“I owe him everything in America,” she said Sunday in a telephone interview from her home in France. “Whatever I did over there was because he believed in me, and we became such close friends.” She recalled how on a cold day in January 1983 she brought her first 24-piece collection in trunks to the Regency Hotel in New York to show to Knoll after previewing it for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris.
“I didn’t want anybody to know anything about anything before I got his advice and his opinion, so I modeled my own clothes in front of him in my little suite at The Regency,” she said. “And the next day, we had everybody from the Saks team come, and in three days or four days Saks took my clothes, and we signed an exclusivity for the trunk shows.”
“He was really wonderful, always giving me the right advice,” she said. “We could discuss fashion for hours.”
Designer Bill Blass said the extraordinary quality of Knoll’s that stands out is that he was among “the breed of gentlemen, maybe one of the last.”
He added, “He was truly a gent. That’s the highest possible compliment one man can pay to another.”
Blass also said Knoll was a “brilliant buyer” and had a “great loyalty” for Saks.
Arnold Scaasi, a friend of Knoll’s for more than 30 years, said he had received a note from Knoll Friday and was expecting to meet with him this week for lunch or dinner.
“He was certainly one of the nicest human beings in our industry,” he said. “He was a very fine person and he was a superb merchant. He totally understood quality designer merchandise. He loved it, and he knew how to sell it.”
Scaasi said Knoll also was “always optimistic’ about women’s willingness to buy better quality merchandise.
“He had an extraordinary feeling for beauty and quality,” he said. “In an industry that sorely lacks an appreciation for this, he was one of the few people who considered it a must to have beautiful, quality clothes.”
Adolfo remembered Knoll as a charming man with impeccable taste. “I was very lucky to have been able to work with him,” he said. “It was a joy to work with him.”
“Fashion was not just a business for him, but a passion,” said NIcole Fischelis, vice president and fashion director at Saks. “We would spend long hours together talking about fashion.”
Elieth Roux, a former buyer at Bergdorf Goodman who became a friend of Knoll’s in the late Sixties when they worked there together, recalled him as “a very kind and intelligent person.” She said, “He understood fashion very well. It’s a great loss.”
Born in Bismarck, N.D., Knoll began his retail career at The Crescent in Spokane, Wash. He moved to Oakland, Calif., in the early Sixties to work at Irene Sargent. In 1969, Knoll moved to New York to join Sara Fredericks as a buyer. He left in 1976 to take a buying position at Bergdorf Goodman, where he worked until joining Saks in 1981.
Knoll is survived by his father, Emmanuel J., and a sister, Jaunt Davis.
Services had not been set at press time.