NEW YORK — No one likes to talk business more than Gloria Gelfand, so it was refreshing Thursday night to see her celebrating her 80th birthday, surrounded by many of the executives she has schooled.
Burt Tansky, Ron Frasch, Massimo Ferragamo, Jane Elfers, LaVelle Olexa, Catherine Malandrino, Joanna Mastroianni, Lawrence DeParis, Joan Kaner and Fern Mallis were some of the Seventh Avenuers who raised a glass to Gelfand at Studio 450 here.
Before setting up her own marketing consulting business three years ago, Gelfand’s career had included top positions at several international design houses, including president of Escada and Louis Féraud.
Gelfand, with her raspy voice, towering presence and oversized glasses, has never been one to be overlooked. Not that she would let you. When Mastroianni was house-hunting in the Hamptons, she wound up buying the residence next door to her friend Gelfand.
While Gelfand blew out the candle on her birthday cake, Frasch, vice chairman and chief merchant at Saks Fifth Avenue, said, “There’s really no one like Gloria left in our industry today. She’s passionate at 80 years old. She’s always telling me about some new line she saw or a product she loves. She is always looking over the horizon, and that’s what our industry is about….She wasn’t in it for the money or for all the other reasons people go into this business.”
Gelfand was one of the first people Malandrino met after relocating to the Big Apple. “I was at a cocktail party and she turned and looked at me and opened her eyes wide. She wanted to know what I was wearing. When I told her, she said, ‘I’m going to help you in America.’ Everything she tells me is a great help. It’s like I have been blessed with a godmother.”
Mallis recalled a trip on the Hampton Jitney with Gelfand years back. “I learned more in two hours on the Long Island Expressway than I’ve learned from some of the people I have worked with. Retailing, designing, how things are placed in the store — of course I can’t repeat what she said about some people. It was an advanced course in the fashion business.”
Even her hairdresser, Vincent Roppatte, who also styles the hair of Diane Sawyer and Lindsay Lohan, said he always refers to Gelfand as The Queen of Seventh Avenue when she visits him at the Red Door Salon. Roppatte and Gelfand hit it off when they met 15 years ago, and, when asked, he told her that her hairstyle looked horrible.
She appreciated it because that kind of look-you-straight-in-the-eye directness is signature Gelfand.
Basking in the company of her friends, the Escada-suited Gelfand said, “You spend your life — from the time you enter this Earth until the day you go — with people. People is what it’s all about. When they are good, and with it, and challenging and make you happy, that’s really it. That is my life.”