Derrill Radcliff Osborn, the flamboyant former men’s fashion director for Neiman Marcus, died in his Dallas home Monday night. He was 76.
The cause is not known at this time, but his death was confirmed by Nelson Bell, a pastor at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Bell said Osborn, who had been ill for some time, had planned his own service and a date for the memorial will be set shortly.
Osborn was descended from pioneers and ranchers who settled in New Mexico. After serving in the U.S. Army, he started his retail career working at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1964. In the decade he was employed there, he worked his way up from a salesman to a buyer. Osborn also served briefly as general manager of the Lew Ritter men’s specialty store in Beverly Hills before joining Neiman Marcus, where he worked as a buyer for six years before being named vice president of men’s tailored clothing. He retired from Neiman’s in 2002.
Osborn, who was known for his flashy personal style — flowing capes, bowler hats, carnations in his lapel and his ubiquitous beard and mustache — had an unerring eye for fashion that helped put Neiman’s men’s store on the map in the Eighties. Osborn is credited with helping to introduce luxury Italian lines to the store, including Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni and Kiton, and championed the return of the three-button suit, wearing a long black tie with a tuxedo, and a gray tie with a black suit and white shirt — looks that are commonplace today but at the time were considered revolutionary.
In an interview with WWD in 2007, Osborn recalled how upscale stores such as Neiman’s only sold private label during the early days of retail when merchant prices such as Stanley Marcus, Adam Gimbel, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field ruled. But slowly, designers such as Giorgio Armani began to make their mark and “it was an enormous transition for all retailing,” he said. “We celebrated a more-sartorial approach…and I had full management support.”
Before the advent of Instagram, Osborn was also a perennial subject in fashion magazines around the world with his shirts and ties from Jermyn Street in London and his shoes and umbrellas from England. But his extensive suit wardrobe from tailors such as Martin Greenfield in the U.S. and Anderson & Sheppard in London were his true calling card, along with his wintertime capes and walking sticks.
“Neiman Marcus was very kind to me and allowed me to be who I was,” Osborn said in the 2007 interview. “I’m just happy that their philosophy fit with mine and we could dance together.”
After his retirement, he continued to live in Dallas and collect bovine antiquities, an interest he developed while growing up on a ranch in New Mexico. In fact, in 2009 he auctioned off more than 300 lots of bovine memorabilia at a gallery in Dallas, pieces he had amassed while traveling the world for Neiman’s. “I’ve always enjoyed watching cows,” he said at the time. “They are so content. I always wished I could be as content as a cow.”
On Tuesday, members of the men’s wear community paid tribute to Osborn. Jim Gold, the former president and chief merchandising officer of Neiman’s, said: “Derrill was truly one of a kind and a powerful force in the men’s wear industry. He was the most sartorial man I’ve ever known and endlessly fascinating. He was obsessed with quality, style and service, and did everything in his power to ensure that Neiman Marcus set the standard for how a well dressed man should look. He also was a great leader. He formed deep relationships with our brand partners and with associates in our stores. He was tenacious when it came to driving change and keeping Neiman Marcus one step ahead of the competition. When the style for suits and sport coats shifted from two buttons to three buttons, Derrill relentlessly drove our associates and clients to embrace the change. Derrill embodied all of the retail values that Stanley Marcus established for our company and he will be greatly missed by all who knew him.”
“We are saddened to hear of Derrill Osborn’s passing,” said Russ Patrick, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Neiman Marcus. “He influenced fashion from an early age and was beloved by his colleagues at Neiman Marcus. Derrill was a mentor to designers and talent within the fashion industry. He also counseled many in the Neiman Marcus Executive Development Program, sharing his expertise on how to present yourself appropriately for work – including always polishing your shoes and keeping your hands well groomed. Derrill had a larger than life personality and was an original influencer and style icon before the days of social media. He had a huge impact on men’s wear at Neiman Marcus, including the relaunch of the three-button suit and making made-to-measure an important part of the tailored men’s business. He will always be remembered as a fashion icon – known for his flamboyant mustache, wide brimmed hat, and fresh boutonniere.”
Ken Downing, now chief creative officer of Triple Five Group and the former fashion director of Neiman’s, added: “Grand. There is no other word that personified the great Derrill Osborn. Derrill was a fashion influencer before the term was coined and became part of our modern-day vocabulary. His personal style and elaborate wardrobe were legendary inside and outside the fashion industry. Derrill was the consummate ambassador not only for Neiman Marcus, but for the legacy of Stanley Marcus and what Stanley represented.
“A world traveler, curiosity kept Derrill constantly on the go,” Downing said. “He loved exploration, of countries, of cities and certainly of antiques, a passion we both shared. He called me ‘Doctor,’ an endearment I cherished. Derrill’s sartorial splendor later in his life transformed into a Texas Rancher meets Klondike Miner — eccentric, eclectic, exceptional, pure Derrill Osborn. The industry, and Dallas, have lost an icon. They don’t make them like Derrill Osborn anymore.”
Barry Wishnow, the one-time president of Calvin Klein and ceo of Hugo Boss who now operates Bash by Barry Wishnow in Nashville, wrote on Facebook: “Losing friends is a tough thing. I lost a great friend named Derrill Osborn. He entered a room, and no matter how you felt, a smile would come to your face. As he was an individual, he adored colorful, interesting people. In his mind, I must’ve fallen into those categories, because we spent more than 45 years knowing each other, for me loving all that he brought to the party. It was a lot.”
Designer Jeffrey Banks weighed in as well, calling Osborn “a style icon, raconteur, fashion executive, and I am proud to say, my friend. Derrill was the true definition of ‘one of a kind.’ He was often referred to as the male version of Anna Piaggi, and he will be sorely missed by the many he knew all over the world.”
Richard Cohen, former president of Ermenegildo Zegna North America and ceo of Trinity Ltd., said Osborn’s death is “a true loss of a character that all of us remember fondly. For me he was a great business partner that helped me personally. It says a lot about a person that when you think of him all you do is smile — that everlasting English accent that I always enjoyed.”
Stan Tucker, a former men’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, called Osborn “a quintessential gentleman, a men’s wear icon of great style who was a colleague and a good friend.”
Joe Barrato, the one-time ceo of Brioni, said he’d been friends with Osborn since the Seventies. “The industry has lost a kind soul with a passion for his work. He carried the torch of elegance personified for our industry and I will never forget how he helped Brioni become an important name in America. Not enough words can express my respect, love and admiration for Derrill except to say I am grateful that I knew him.”
In true Osborn fashion, he had already planned his memorial service. His personal Facebook page on Tuesday showed a printed pamphlet entitled Memorial Service, complete with family crest, American flags and two photos of Osborn, one early in his life in a dapper double-breasted suit, and a second in full regalia with his walking stick and cape. The date is left blank but the time of the service — 7 p.m. — and location — Highland Park Presbyterian on University Boulevard — are already set. The bottom of the pamphlet asks that in his memory men wear dark suits, a white shirt, white handkerchief and a black or gray tie, while women wear couture red or black. And each guest will receive a red rose boutonniere upon arrival.
Osborn is survived by his sister, Karen Gayle Osborn Sharp, brother-in-law Dr. Joseph Sharp, and nephew Stephen Osborn Sharp, all of Abilene, Texas, according to the Dallas Morning News.