Saks VP Sunny Diego

Sunny Diego, a much admired men’s wear merchant who spent the bulk of her career at Saks Fifth Avenue, has died at the age of 51.

Diego died Thursday at Memorial Sloan Kettering, where she was being treated for stomach cancer. Her sister, Suzy Kim, said she passed away “beautifully and peacefully at MSK surrounded by so much love. They treated her like a rock star.”

Diego was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Colorado. She received an MBA from the University of Chicago before starting her career in retail at Saks in 1994. Her first stint with the store lasted 18 years and she held a variety of positions, including fashion director of women’s footwear, accessories, jewelry and intimate apparel as well as men’s fashion director. She was also a buyer of women’s footwear, men’s accessories and men’s designer clothing and had been vice president and divisional merchandise manager of product development for the men’s area when she left the store in 2012. While in the product development area, Diego is credited with helping to launch Saks’ men’s collection.

In 2012, she joined LF USA, the U.S. division of Li & Fung, as senior vice president of merchandising in the men’s division, where she oversaw private brands as well as licensed brands including Nautica, Dockers, Ben Sherman and Geoffrey Beene.

Two years later, she joined Lividini & Co., a brand engagement and public relations firm, as chief merchant. But she was lured back to Saks seven months later as vice president and dmm of designer and contemporary men’s wear, a role she held until her death.

“Sunny was a long-beloved member of the Saks family and our merchant organization,” said Tracy Margolies, chief merchant for Saks. “Those who had the privilege of working with her were fortunate to experience her fierce attitude, caring nature, dedication and strength — and her undeniable love of fashion. Her passion for the industry was infectious to everyone from her Saks team to our vendor partners. She was an inspiration to us all, and her incredible legacy will continue to live on both at Saks and across the industry. We will greatly miss her.”

Louis DiGiacomo, general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Saks, added: “It was an honor to have known Sunny for 25 years. She was a caring, beautiful person who possessed amazing energy, passion, dedication and, most of all, generosity. Sunny was more than a colleague or friend, she was family. Like so many who were lucky to be part of her life, I will miss my sister.”

Tommy Fazio, fashion director of NuOrder, said: “My heart is broken with the loss of such a beautiful soul. Sunny brought so much joy and love to not only me, but the whole industry. She helped so many people and gave so much of herself to our business. I’m truly going to miss her sparkle.”

Tom Ott, founder of Retail and Fashion Solutions, and a 24-year veteran of Saks, said: “Sunny was a kind and caring person. She loved teamwork and rallying a group to drive initiatives. She was ‘fashion’ at Saks and was always a pioneer, finding new emerging designers. She was one who always was up for a new task driving the Saks Fifth Avenue men’s collection on the classic end to positioning Saks men’s as the destination for designer. We miss her already and will always remember her passion.”

Jaqui Lividini, chief executive officer of Lividini & Co., said: “Sunny was the perfect name for the woman who brought so much light and positivity into our world. Sunny had it all, highly intelligent, incredible taste, superwoman strength, engaging personality and great beauty in both body and soul. Most importantly she was a fierce and loyal friend and devoted mother. There are those people that you have the privilege to know in your life that just float above the rest. That was Sunny — in a league of her own.”

Designer Mike Amiri said: “Sunny had the remarkable ability to not only recognize emerging talent, but to foster a relationship of friendship and trust to help nurture that talent. She was the shining light in every room and a true rock star. The industry has lost one of its most charismatic and passionate leaders.”

Eric Jennings, who worked with Diego at Saks when he served as men’s fashion director for the retailer, said: “Sunny Diego was a force of nature and lit up every room she entered. I saw this firsthand because I had the privilege of working side by side with her for almost 10 years at Saks Fifth Avenue. We called each other ‘work husband’ and ‘work wife’ because of the many hours we spent together in the office, visiting designer showrooms, and traveling worldwide for business. From rustic mills in Scotland to red-carpet galas in Seoul, Sunny always dressed glamorously and was ready to do business.

“I loved her for her direct honesty, sense of humor, and fierce loyalty. Sunny made an indelible impression wherever she went. Most importantly, Sunny was a devoted mother. When she brought her daughter to trade shows, Sunny made sure her daughter had her very own personalized cards to exchange when she met vendors. For those like me who had the honor of knowing Sunny, we will forever miss her incredible energy and friendship.”

Paul Rosengard, executive vice president of True Religion and a longtime men’s wear industry figure who worked with Diego at Li & Fung, said: “Sunny defined style. In business, she could always spot the winning styles. In her relationships, she personified style. She was elegant and beautiful inside and out. Sunny could move through any social circle, captivate any audience. She lit up the room just by entering and always used this gift to lift others. She will be missed by all whose lives she touched.”

Former Saks men’s fashion director Stan Tucker said: “She worked with me in the men’s wear fashion office prior to moving to other positions in the buying structure. Sonny was an astute merchandiser with taste, and determined to get the job done. She went on after she left the men’s fashion office to prove that she was good at what she was doing, and it came to pass with her promotions.”

Andrea Grilli, CEO of New Guards Group, said “Sunny was a close friend alongside an incredible business partner. I don’t have proper words to describe what my team and I are feeling. Sunny played such a fundamental role back in 2015, when she trusted in our new-born company. She had the vision to trust in our strategy, giving big spaces to our brands in multiple doors at Saks Fifth Avenue, supporting our creative directors when the awareness of these brands wasn’t strong yet in the USA. The world has lost a great person, and my colleagues and I want to express how we have been to have worked with her.”

“My sincerest condolences to all, this news is extremely saddening,” said Virgil Abloh, founder and creative director of Off-White. “If you are looking for an example of beautiful faith and belief in young designers, and commitment to fulfilling their dreams, Sunny exemplified exactly that. Today the Off-White team is saddened by her passing and forever thankful for her gift of faith in us as a team.

Reese Cooper, founder of her eponymous label, said: “I’ve only known Sunny for about 18 months but the impact she’s had on my career is more than I can ever express. She believed in me early on and would always be available for advice or anything I needed, as recently as a week ago. I will truly miss her.”

In addition to her sister, Diego is survived by her daughter Gemma, 13, as well as her parents, Hong and Hyok Kim. Diego’s colleagues at Saks are working on an online memorial tribute but the details are not finalized. Her sister said the plan is for Diego to be cremated and her ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles.