FASHION EXECUTIVE ANNE BALL, 52, DIES
Byline: David Moin / With contributions from Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — Anne Ball, whose expansive three-decade career took her on adventurous paths in developing bold retail concepts and to prestigious posts at Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Anne Klein, died here last Friday. The cause was cancer of the liver.
The stylish, 52-year-old Ball was born in Osaka, Japan, the daughter of Colonel William Cowan Carter and Lillian “Polly” Harwell Carter. With her military family, she traveled extensively as a child, giving her a global and intellectual perspective that became important in her professional life.
She began her career at Neiman’s in Dallas, while attending North Texas State University. Upon graduation, she joined Neiman’s executive training program and advanced through the ranks until being named vice president and divisional merchandise manager for designer sportswear and imports as well as bridge and leisure sportswear.
Despite only working together for about six months at Neiman’s in the mid-Eighties, “she became someone I always reached out to, because of her unique way of looking at fashion and its relationship to life,” said Ron Frasch, Bergdorf Goodman’s chairman and chief executive officer, and a former Neiman’s general merchandise manager.
“She knew how to connect fashion to real-life trends,” Frasch added. “She was a voracious reader, constantly relating her love of fashion with her incredible curiosity. She had a viewpoint you’d never read about elsewhere. She understood commercial fashion and noncommercial fashion with equal enthusiasm, and how to evaluate designers from a creative or commercial standpoint. What a wonderful eye she had.”
Tomio Taki, chairman of Takihyo Inc., which once owned the Anne Klein brand, knew Ball when she was a buyer at Neiman’s, and he was working to distribute Issey Miyake in the U.S. “She understood the contemporary market perfectly,” said Taki, referring to the forward fashions of the Eighties. “A lot of buyers buy piece by piece, but Anne understood the importance of a total look.”
In 1986, she and her husband, Frank Ball [whom she met and married while both were teenagers] formed the Ball Group Inc., a private retail management company that launched the French retailer Printemps in the U.S., in Denver. They also created a new, fashion-forward image for the Stanley Korshak emporium in Dallas, but it was the Printemps concept that drew national attention from retailers and designers, even though it ultimately failed to sufficiently catch on with the Denver community and eventually closed.
“That was an incredible store,” recalled Gene Pressman, the former co-chairman of Barneys New York, who visited Printemps. “The taste level and everything she was doing there was very special. It was a big project. The design of the building was beautiful and there was a common thread — a single point of view throughout. I was so impressed that it became one of the main reasons I decided to hire her.”
She went on to become vice president and gmm of Barneys in 1990, responsible for developing and directing all merchandising activities for rolling out the Barneys America branch expansion, including introducing major private label collections produced in Europe and the Far East. She led a special merchandising staff, separate from the team for the New York store.
“She was a kind person and highly intelligent, more of an intellectual,” Pressman added. “If she weren’t such a great retailer, she probably would have been a great professor. She was a great teacher and so caring about the people who worked for her.”
Others recalled her gamine style, generosity, wide interests and inquiring mind.
“Everybody loved her,” said designer Richard Tyler, who worked for Ball while she was president of Anne Klein Collection, beginning in 1991. “She was the sweetest, most genuine person, with the most impeccable taste. Everything she did and touched was beautiful. This is a cut-throat industry with a lot of tough people. But there’s nobody with a bad word about her. That’s unusual in this business. She was an intellectual. She loved the arts and loved taking classes — whether it was Egyptian art or philosophy, she could absorb anything. She was always learning. And the great thing was, it was all about the end product for her — how beautiful it looked. That’s why we worked well together.”
Aside from Tyler, Ball also worked with such designers as Louis Dell’ Olio and Patrick Robinson. With Robinson, Ball got on the road to educate retailers about the Anne Klein Collection, ahead of the actual deliveries, and to learn.
“The tour is about understanding our customer by region and by city,” Ball said in 1995, at an appearance at Neiman’s. “It’s from the stores that we know what works best.” During that trip, Ball introduced Robinson to the legendary retailer Stanley Marcus. “I was barely in the door of his office before he was all over Anne, telling me how great she is,” Robinson recalled Monday.
Ball’s tenure at Klein in the early Nineties wasn’t always easy; she survived two stormy designer transitions — from Dell’Olio to Tyler to Robinson — and conflicts over the direction of the business. But Robinson, who designed three seasons at the house, said Ball was always in the designer’s corner.
“She was so supportive and so inspirational from Day One,” he said. “She loved designers, she loved getting the details right. That was one of the reasons she loved Richard Tyler so much, because his details are so perfect.”
The tall, slender Ball, with her close-cropped hair and pale skin, “had such great natural style,” Robinson said. “You could see Anne from three blocks away, from the back, and know it was her. She was unmistakable.”
While at Anne Klein, she reentered academia at New York University to earn an M.A. degree.
Later, she worked with Saks, as vice president of international merchandising, and most recently, as a consultant, creating merchandising and store concepts for Seibu of Japan, opening six locations in Tokyo.
Philip Miller, vice chairman of Saks and the former chairman and ceo, recalled in the mid-to-late Nineties, she worked as a consultant to Saks in a merchandising venture with Seibu.
“We asked Anne to design a collection for Seibu under Saks’ Real Clothes brand. She did an absolutely excellent job,” Miller said, “and after we ended our agreement, Seibu contracted directly with Anne to do a collection with them. She got along famously with the Japanese, probably because she was quiet and self-effacing, and yet had this very deep, broad understanding of fashion and an innate understanding of their culture. She was very interesting and complex.”
In addition to her husband and her mother, Ball is survived by her daughter, Jayne Dennison Ball; son-in-law Mark Judson Kilpatrick, both on foreign assignment in the Marshall Islands; a sister, Paige Carter Garner of Nashville; and a niece and four nephews. A memorial service will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church, 12 West 12th Street, at Fifth Avenue.