GELFAND: A ROUGH-CUT DIAMOND

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Everyone has a favorite Gloria Gelfand story.
Whether it’s the one about the department store chief executive officer she told off over markdown money or the time she yelled at a newspaper reporter for writing that “jackets were dead,” while the writer was wearing a sports jacket, Gelfand has developed a reputation for a boastful brashness that is nearly unparalleled in the industry, particularly for someone her age.
It’s a quality appreciated by most friends of Gelfand, a consultant for the past three years and the former president of Escada and Louis Feraud, according to several of them who turned out for her 75th birthday party on Friday.
“The first time I met Gloria, she threw me out of her showroom,” said Ron Frasch, the newly installed ceo of Bergdorf Goodman, who met Gelfand in 1982 when he was the coat buyer of Saks Fifth Avenue and she was president of Escada.
“What was I supposed to do?” Gelfand shot back. “I had this beautiful collection, and all you wanted was coats!”
“I had to change jobs to get back in,” said Frasch, who went on to join Neiman Marcus as divisional merchandise manager and helped turn Escada into a major vendor for the retailer.
Other retail executives have had similar experiences.
“The thing about Gloria is that she can yell louder than I can,” said Allen Questrom, ceo of Barneys New York. “And she’ll tell you if she doesn’t like something.”
Burt Tansky, president and chief operating officer of Neiman Marcus Group, said he’s seen her two sides, as well.
“She’s a unique person and personality — she has a soft side and a tough side,” he said. “In business, she can be tough, but she’s always fair and she understands the needs of a retailer. She also has a soft side, which is as a caring and loving person.”
Gelfand started her career at White Stag in 1944, taking a receptionist job after high school while her husband fought in World War II. She took college courses five nights a week for five years until she earned a merchandising degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, while rising to the rank of vice president at White Stag. That company introduced the first jeans designed for women in 1946, wholesaling for $2.875.
Gelfand went on to take senior management positions at Sportempos and at two bridge apparel launches under conglomerates General Mills and Leslie Fay in the Seventies, before joining Escada in 1981. She also brought Rena Lange to the U.S. market in 1990, became vice president of Ferragamo in 1992 and president and ceo of Feraud in 1994.
She joined MMG, a consulting firm, in 1997 and moved with Andrew Jassin to Jassin-O’Rourke last year as director.
“Gloria never takes no for an answer,” said Victor Costa, one of several designers who turned out for her birthday. “I admire anybody that is a go-getter and that can remain excited about this business.”
Lafayette 148’s Edward Wilkerson, Adrienne Vittadini, Joanna Mastroianni, Catherine Malandrino and Steven Slowik were also at the event, as were several industry players who studied under Gelfand’s direction.
“I love the way she tells stories,” said Laura Wenke, senior vice president of marketing and communications at cashmere and sportswear firm Tse.
“She always tells you what she told somebody instead of what happened, like ‘I told him to drop dead!’ and that’s a crowd stopper at 80 decibles when you’re having dinner at Mr. Chow,” she said. “People never know if you’re having a conversation with her or being reamed out.”