Neiman Marcus

Jean Rosenberg, Retail Pioneer and Ideal American Size Six, Dies at 97

Jean Rosenberg, Retail Pioneer and Ideal American Size Six, Dies at 97

Jean Rosenberg, whose eagle-eyed merchandising and designer discoveries helped define the Fifth Avenue specialty store Henri Bendel, died June 15 at the age of 97.A memorial service is not being planned.
She died, just two weeks shy of her 98th birthday, in the Central Park South apartment in Manhattan where she had lived for 50-plus years, according to her nephew Robert Kravitz. “Basically, she wanted to live there because Bendel’s was on 57th Street. It was literally right outside her back door,” he said
In her lifetime, Rosenberg practically took up a professional residency at Henri Bendel, where she worked for more than 30 years, all under the tutelage of former president Geraldine Stutz. Stutz was known to call her second-in-command “Henri Bendel’s fashion conscious” and together they were troubadours in bringing female professionals to leadership roles in retail. The bulk of Rosenberg’s tenure involved serving as vice president and merchandising director for the jewel box of a store.

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Located in a 10-floor town house at 10 West 57th Street, it was steps away from Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf Goodman and other prized Midtown specialty stores. Known simply as “Bendel’s,” the store became a must for many well-heeled women and young stylish urbanites who were attracted to its ravish decor, finely edited mix and Fifth Avenue window displays.
Steered by Stutz, Rosenberg was instrumental in creating the “Street of Shops” in 1959. Architect H. McKim Glazebrook created 12 small shops with a main street running through and connecting alleyways through the shops. Designer concept shops were added in 1965. Their efforts essentially were the precursor to designer and big-name concept shops that dominate today’s retail scene. The layout was such that shoppers had to wind around a pathway that took them through various designer concept shops. Without a direct route from any point A to point B, they were exposed to much more merchandise.
Rosenberg told The New York Times in 2006, Henri Bendel’s “was for a particular kind of New York woman, where she could find a uniformity of taste and a certain amount of comfort in a smallish environment, where everything in one store was to her liking.”
As the retailer’s lead buyer, she was integral to the store’s fashion leadership position at that time. Along the way, Rosenberg brought to light such designers as Krizia, Sonia Rykiel, Jean Muir, Chloë and Emmanuelle Khanh. Henri Bendel was also the launching pad for Stephen Burrows, who designed the Bendel’s Studio line, an in-house label, from 1971 to 1973, and then again in 1977. After being discovered by Stutz, the late designer Carlos Falchi focused on leather handbags. Through Henri Bendel’s support, Falchi developed a multimillion-dollar brand. Another designer, Bruce Oldfield, got his start at Henri Bendel, designing for its private label for a year or two in the early ’70s. Oldfield returned to the U.K. to establish his own label, which is still in operation.
Other fashion talents orbited through Henri Bendel early on in their careers during the Stutz-Rosenberg years, including Joan Kaner, who joined the buying office in 1967; a teenage Robert Rufino in 1971, who had an 11-year run as visual merchandising years, and Marion Greenberg, who embarked on a nine-year post in the store’s buying office in 1971.

Rufino said of Rosenberg, “She brought in and discovered so many brilliant designers to this country, from Jean Charles de Castelbajac to Stephen Sprouse — on and on and on. She was so spot-on…Bendel’s was the leader. Of course, we were one small store at that time. When Saks or Bergdorf Goodman would give designers a double order, we did lose major designers.”
Bendel’s was “such a mixture of wonderful treasures that women often shopped three or four times a week,” Rufino said. “There was no other store like Bendel’s. People used to flock to Bendel’s. It was the place to be. You walked into the first floor and heard beautiful music. The setting was like being in somebody’s home. There was boutique after boutique on every floor. You had your salesperson helping you. People cared about you. It was the golden age of retail. I don’t think there will ever be a store like that again. Jeannie was involved with merchandising things, setting up shops, what was the right mix.”
Kaner recalled Saturday how Rosenberg made a practice “of trying on every piece of merchandise that we received to make sure that the fit was right and that the proportions were good. She just had an eye [for fashion]. But she also followed through to make sure that the product would mean to the business what she thought it would. She was an incredible person.”
Kaner, whose career pinnacled as senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said of Rosenberg, “She was my first boss in the retail industry. I really learned so much from her.”
In the ’70s, change was underway in fashion with pants gaining popularity and eclipsing skirts. “You had to have an open mind about fashion and what it should be or shouldn’t be. Jean and I were in sync about what it should be and that you should try all these things,” Kaner said.

Jean Rosenberg
Photo Courtesy

Through the Seventies, the flagship store was “the” place to shop and “clients” included style arbiters Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Babe Paley, as well as Cher on occasion, Greenberg said. “The atmosphere at Henri Bendel kept staffers striving. Everyone always wanted to do what was best for the store. They really loved the store. Their interests weren’t in themselves or their careers. It was really for the benefit of the good of the store. We adored Jean and Geraldine and we wanted to do our best for our clients and our customers.”

In the Fifties and Sixties, designer sportswear was a new concept and Rosenberg frequently jetted off to buying trips to Europe. American buyers would travel with their own measuring tapes to ensure that the European sizing was just right. Prior to Henri Bendel, she started her fashion career at Gunther Jaeckal and then moved on to Bonwit Teller, another prestige specialty store.
With Stutz, Rosenberg developed the European ready-to-wear business for the store and defined the Bendel look. Many of her finds were displayed in the “Cachet” department on the third floor. They also put out the welcome mat to unproven designers, hosting weekly Friday go-sees to give aspiring talent the chance to show their collections. Hundreds routinely lined up each week, unruffled by the hours-long wait on the sidewalk.
With its assortment, the retailer catered to trim sophisticates, who sought some exclusivity. However discriminatory this might sound by today’s standards, Stutz reportedly seldom ordered clothing above a size 10. Jacqui Wenzel, Rosenberg’s longtime assistant, recalled how Rosenberg once told her that Yves Saint Laurent had used her body measurements to create the size six for his American ready-to-wear collection. “A size six, back in the day, was the smallest,” Wenzel said Saturday.
Despite a 35-year friendship, Wenzel said her former boss remained “Ms. Rosenberg.” While going through some of Rosenberg’s things recently, Wenzel read a speech that Rosenberg had delivered to LIM students in the late Sixties, predicting that the couture market was changing and ready-to-wear would be the modern woman’s choice. “It sounded like she was already ahead of the curve concerning the high-end market,” Wenzel said. “Jean did consider herself a modern woman of the times. She never married, by choice.”
In an obituary for Stutz, who died in 2006, Rosenberg explained that she had a vision of the kind of store that she wanted to create. Rosenberg had joined Henri Bendel’s six months before Stutz’ arrival in 1957 and the duo jointly departed in 1986, after the store was sold to The Limited, the retail conglomerate founded by Leslie Wexner.

Six years prior Stutz had rounded up a group of investors and led the acquisition of the store from Genesco, which had bought the store in 1957. Genesco’s chairman Maxey Jarman took the bold move of installing Stutz as president at a time when leadership at the executive level was scarce. Her lead role in the 1980 acquisition made Stutz the first American woman to own a major New York store. The Stutz-Rosenberg exit marked the end of one of the longest power partnerships in American retailing.
After retiring, Rosenberg enjoyed speaking about fashion merchandising at events for industry professionals and fashion and design undergraduates, her nephew said. As for any outside interests from work, Kravitz said, “Work was her interest. She was proud that she set out to and had a career in fashion. In her day, I don’t think a lot of women graduated from college. She wanted a career in the fashion business and she went to school to get a degree to make sure that that wouldn’t hold her back.”
Her hometown of Cambridge, Ohio – 74 miles southeast of Columbus – might not have screamed fashion. But her father owned a boutique there called the Style Center and her mother had a hands-on approach to the business too. As a girl, she tagged along on his buying trips to Manhattan and overseas. After graduating from Ohio State University, Rosenberg started her career by working for her father.
Predeceased by her sister Nancy, Rosenberg is survived by her nephew and her niece  Nancy Kravitz.

Neiman Marcus Group Details ESG Initiatives

Neiman Marcus Group Details ESG Initiatives

The Neiman Marcus Group has developed an agenda of ESG investments and goals revolving around reducing emissions, eliminating products with fur, increasing the sale and awareness of sustainable products and furthering diversity and equity within its ranks.The program and its goals are spelled out in the luxury retailer’s first environmental social governance report, titled “Our Journey to Revolutionize Impact,” issued Wednesday.
“As a leader in luxury retail, ESG is an essential part of our growth roadmap,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group.
Among NMG’s goals:

Reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions 50 percent from a 2019 baseline by 2025, and perform a Scope 3 assessment in 2022 to understand the company’s position and chart a path toward a net zero goal. Scope 1, 2 and 3 refer to greenhouse gas emissions stemming from the activities of a company, and “upstream and downstream” activities including a company’s suppliers and the transport and disposal of goods.
Procure 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 across the business and join RE100, the global initiative by  businesses committed to achieving 100 percent renewable electricity.
Eliminate all products containing fur listed in NMG’s Animal Welfare Policy by 2023.
Increase revenue from the sale of sustainable and ethical products by 2025 by launching two sustainability edits at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman that identify categories within sustainable and ethical fashion.
Extend the useful life of over 1 million luxury items through circular services such as mending and alterations, restoration, resale and donation by 2025, building on the 350,000 products addressed in FY21.
Extending Neiman’s network of 10 in-store Fashionphile selling studios which authenticate and take in luxury products from customers, to every Neiman Marcus store.

Also on Wednesday, NMG selectively disclosed some highlights of its fiscal second quarter, which extended from November 2021 through January 2022, citing “strong full-price selling, significant gross margin expansion and high single-digit comparable sales growth.”

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NMG, which operates the Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman stores and websites, cited adjusted EBITDA growth of 15 percent for the quarter compared to the same holiday period pre-COVID-19. Adjusted EBITDA for the 12 months ending January 2022 increased 26 percent compared to the pre-COVID-19 period ended January 2020.
However, NMG did not disclose any actual dollar figures for the top or bottom lines.
“We are very pleased with our strong holiday performance and second-quarter results,” van Raemdonck said. “We delivered healthy topline growth and significant margin expansion relative to the comparable pre-pandemic period. The strong growth we have continued to experience is a testament to our differentiated luxury business model, focus on a full-price strategy, and the ability and agility of our teams to continue to execute well while navigating a dynamic macro environment. NMG is a relationship business. Our brand partners continue to trust NMG because of our relationships with luxury customers, and customers know that we’ve curated an extraordinary assortment of the most desirable brands.”

NMG also reported current liquidity of $1.2 billion, versus $458 million a year ago, and has no borrowings outstanding on a $900 million revolver.
NMG emerged from five months of bankruptcy in September 2020 through a debt-for-equity deal with its new owners, enabling the company to eliminate more than $4 billion of debt and significant annual cash interest payments stemming from the debt, ranging from $200 million to over $300 million. The new owners are Pimco, Davidson Kempner Capital Management, and Sixth Street.
For its ESG strategy, NMG said it analyzed data from multiple sources, including ESG ratings and rankings, research reports from industry media outlets and trade associations, disclosures from NMG’s best-in-class peers, ESG reporting frameworks like Global Reporting Initiative and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, etc. to inform its strategy.
“We are proud that our first report aligns with external frameworks from SASB, GRI, and TCFD and provides investors with comparable and decision-useful information about the company’s ESG performance,” said Pamela Edwards, an NMG board member and chairperson of the audit committee. “It is our hope this will help investors and other key stakeholders share the board’s confidence in the strength of this company and its future as we seek to hold ourselves to public company standards while moving with the speed and agility of a private company.”
NMG officials characterize the company as outpacing the industry in terms of inclusivity and diversity. Its CEO is openly gay, and the majority of the board members are women, compared to the 26.7 percent industry standard, according to the 50/50 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index.
In addition, women at NMG make up 59 percent of the vice president level and above, and 68 percent of all corporate and store associates. The company was founded by Carrie Marcus Neiman.
The board’s audit committee members completed training on ESG oversight with Ceres and UC Berkeley School of Law. They reviewed the company’s ESG impacts, risks and opportunities, as well as the work of the newly developed ESG Steering Committee.
On the social and governance front, NMG listed the following goals:

Increase racial diversity at the vice president level and above to 21 percent by 2025 and 28 percent by 2030. NMG is partnering with McKinsey’s Connected Leaders Academy, Prospanica, and Fashion Scholarship Fund to develop and attract BIPOC talent.
Advance workplace equity, invest in a pay equity study this year, and introduce 16 weeks of paid parental leave to cover associates’ child bonding, adoption and surrogacy needs.
Support women-founded fashion tech companies like Fashionphile and Stylyze. In 2019, NMG bought a minority stake in Fashionphile which specializes in the buying and selling of used luxury handbags, jewelry and accessories. Last year, NMG purchased outright Stylyze, a machine learning SaaS platform for personalization.
Increase spending with diverse retail and non-retail suppliers.
Partner with customers to raise $3 million for charity through The Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation.
Increase associate giving and volunteerism.
Support disaster preparedness and relief “to keep store communities thriving.”

“NMG’s first-ever ESG Report is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the true impact Neiman’s has had on the lives of our customers, associates, brand partners, and the communities in which we do business,” said Eric Severson, chief people and belonging officer, Neiman Marcus Group.

Neiman Marcus Steps Up Sustainability Efforts

Neiman Marcus Steps Up Sustainability Efforts

The Neiman Marcus Group, which is developing an environmental, social and governance strategy, has formed partnerships with the Textile Exchange and Give Back Box to advance ESG initiatives.
The Dallas-based luxury retailer is also broadening its partnership with Fashionphile.
In April 2019, Neiman’s became the first luxury retailer to make a long-term investment in resale by acquiring a minority stake in Fashionphile, a reseller of preowned luxury handbags and accessories. There are six Fashionphile “selling studios” where consumers can drop off used merchandise and get paid for it inside Neiman’s stores in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Fashion Island, Calif.; NorthPark, Dallas and Scottsdale, Ariz. According to Neiman’s, more than 39,000 items have been dropped off at the stores, extending their life cycle.
Nine more Neiman Marcus stores will have the Fashionphile service within the next nine months, including this fall at the Boca Raton, Fla.; King of Prussia, Pa.; Atlanta, and Austin, Texas stores. In the spring, Fashionphile studios will be in the San Antonio; Las Vegas; Topanga, Calif.; Troy, Mich., and Northbrook, Ill. stores.
At the select Neiman’s stores, Fashionphile customers can drop off and receive a quote and payment for their items. Customers can also shop the Fashionphile website, and Neiman’s expects customers who drop off the goods to also shop the store. Fashionphile personnel authenticate products and determine the value.
Additionally, Neiman Marcus has begun issuing gift cards as an optional payment method to all customers who sell their luxury products to Fashionphile. Customers who opt to be paid in Neiman Marcus gift cards also get an extra 10 percent bonus on the gift card value.
“Now more than ever, environmental sustainability is top of mind for fashion and retail industries. NMG is taking action and driving change while we continue to revolutionize the ultimate luxury experience,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, Neiman’s chief executive officer. Neiman’s is expected to unveil its 2025 ESG strategy early in 2022.
“As our team works to finalize the anticipated 2025 ESG strategy, the company is looking forward to helping build a better future for our industry with help from amazing partners such as Give Back Box, Textile Exchange and Fashionphile,” said van Raemdonck.
Neiman’s recently became a member of the Textile Exchange, a nonprofit organization that develops and promotes industry standards for preferred fibers. The organization encourages the adoption of sustainable materials to reduce CO2 emissions from textile fiber and material production by 45 percent by 2030.
The Textile Exchange will assist Neiman’s by providing insights and education to NMG’s merchants and brand partners as Neiman’s seeks to increase revenue from sustainable and ethical products over time.
Neiman’s said it was the first North American luxury retailer to join Textile Exchange alongside brands from groups like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering. A representative from Neiman’s will speak at Textile Exchange’s annual conference Nov. 18, alongside panelists from VF Corp. and Elevate Global.
“NMG is synonymous with luxury merchandise and has the power to change their directly controlled products and influence on a much larger scale,” Claire Bergkamp, chief operating officer of Textile Exchange, said in a statement. “It takes leaders such as NMG being committed to scaling preferred fibers and materials to evoke the industry-wide change we need.”
Neiman’s is also teaming up with Give Back Box to expand its offering of sustainable services and support the circular economy. Give Back Box enables consumers to extend the life of products by donating them to someone in need thereby reducing fashion’s environmental footprint.
To participate, customers can reuse the box their Neiman Marcus order arrived in, fill it with any “gently” used clothing, accessories and shoes to donate, and ship it for free to Give Back Box. A prepaid shipping label can be printed out at givebackbox.com and a pickup can be scheduled, or the box can be dropped off at any UPS, USPS or FedEx location. Give Back Box will direct customers’ donations to local charities and provide NMG with real-time impact reporting on pounds of cardboard and clothes recycled. Neiman’s will announce the partnership via a customer letter in more than 50,000 Neiman Marcus online shipments ordered during the company’s “Give Big” holiday campaign.
“We do believe the impact created together will go far beyond just the life cycle of clothing, and we are looking forward to creating impact and inspiring people to help others and do good this holiday season,” said Monika Wiela, CEO and founder of Give Back Box, which has partnered with Nordstrom and Rent the Runway. Give Back Box indicated that since 2012, it has shipped and recycled more than one million boxes and diverted more than 19 million pieces, or 13 million pounds, of clothing from landfills and given them a second life.
On Earth Day in April, Neiman’s announced it formed a team to develop an ESG strategy. The team has quarterly oversight from NMG’s board, and takes a cross-functional approach to “engaging leaders and task forces across the company ensuring that ESG is infused into all parts of NMG’s business.” The team collaborates with independent, third-party consultants to identify ESG issues and priorities and set time-bound goals.

Neiman’s Turns Toward Technology With Heightened Investments

Neiman’s Turns Toward Technology With Heightened Investments

The Neiman Marcus Group has purchased Stylyze Inc., a machine learning SaaS platform for advancing personalization, underscoring the luxury retailer’s eagerness to invest in technology to enhance digital capabilities and engagements between selling associates and shoppers, and boost sales.
NMG executives said Stylyze marks its first technology acquisition and that the company intends to spend more than $500 million over the next three years in technology and digital capabilities. The company said it’s partnering with more than 25 “key” technologies such as search and browse, product recommendations, financing, order tracking and returns, promotions, loyalty and ratings and reviews. The purchase price on Stylyze was not disclosed.

Meanwhile, the Dallas-based NMG on Tuesday selectively disclosed some fiscal third-quarter results, which taken together with the Stylyze acquisition reflect renewed financial stability in the company, according to Neiman’s executives. They see demand for luxury goods on the rise so far this year.

A Neiman Marcus style advisor using the retailer’s Connect clienteling system. 
Courtesy Photo

NMG emerged from bankruptcy on Sept. 25, 2020, with its senior lenders — Pacific Investment Management Company LLC, called PIMCO, Davidson Kempner Capital Management LP and Sixth Street Partners LLC — swapping debt for equity and becoming the new owners. The reorganization plan eliminated $4.4 billion of debt and about $200 million to $300 million in annual interest payments. There’s now $1.1 billion in debt on the books, compared to $5.1 billion previously, and annual interest expense of around $80 million. The new capital structure is enabling investments in technology and other areas such as upgrading stores. NMG said developers are contributing $100 million for renovations at eight or so stores.

“Over the past year, we’ve been strengthening the foundation of our business. We knew the rebound was coming, and we’ve been experiencing the return of luxury as it accelerates,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, NMG’s chief executive officer.
The Stylyze acquisition, van Raemdonck said, “allows us to deepen our relationship with our customers through the use of technology. NMG is perfectly positioned to capture the growing interest of luxury customers as we develop essential digital capabilities that ensure we drive profitable and sustainable growth.” Stylyze, he added, “is a keystone in our commitment to be a leader in digital and personalization technology in luxury retail.”
“This is one of many examples of how we are building our digital ecosystem that will enable differentiated ‘only at NMG’ luxury experiences for customers,” added Bob Kupbens, NMG’s executive vice president, chief product and technology officer. “Customers today are looking for seamless and unique experiences that improve their shopping journey when it comes to discovering and engaging with fashion.”
Kristen Miller, CEO and cofounder of Stylyze, said, “Our company and team have been working with NMG for over three years, and we are ready to rapidly power, accelerate and elevate unique and distinct digitally enabled service models.”
NMG executives said comparable sales in the company’s fiscal third quarter, which runs through February, March and April, rose 43.8 percent compared to the fiscal 2020 third quarter. Compared to the third quarter in fiscal 2019, comparable sales were down 6.6 percent, but in March and April, comparable sales were relatively flat to the 2019 period.

The Dallas-based luxury omnichannel business has been dogged by speculation of declining support by certain vendors and being outperformed by competitors. But according to Neiman’s executives, the sales numbers indicate a rebound in the company’s performance and “significant” sequential improvement from the second quarter. Van Raemdonck told WWD that NMG’s top 20 luxury brands were up about 35 percent in the fiscal third quarter compared to the pre-COVID-19 period.
Neiman’s did not characterize last February’s comparable sales, though it was an extremely difficult month for business largely due to the severe snowstorm that pounded Texas.
Online comp sales in Neiman’s third quarter were down 0.6 percent compared to the year-ago quarter, and up 1.6 percent compared to the 2019 period. E-commerce accounts for about 35 percent of NMG’s total revenue.
“We saw real strength in men’s, shoes and handbags,” van Raemdonck said. “All were up double digits. In some geographic areas, mostly in the West Coast and New York where there have been more restrictions, we have not recovered as quickly. Mostly women’s apparel and formal have not recovered. But we have significant growth ahead of us when all geographic areas are open.”
He also said inventory in the fiscal third quarter was purposefully reduced “double digits” and relatively flat to two years ago, leading to increases in full-price selling. Gross margins were up significantly, the CEO added, without specifying.
Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization came to $116.2 million in Neiman’s fiscal third quarter. Neiman’s considers adjusted EBITDA the most valid indicator of the health of the company’s operations. Adjusted EBITDA figures for the third quarter of fiscal 2020 was a loss of $49 million and for the third quarter of 2019 was $126.5 million. Bottom line net profit figures were not provided. A more detailed financial picture was disclosed privately to investors and lenders on Tuesday in a business update and conference call.
As previously reported by WWD, for its last fiscal year ended Aug. 1, 2020, when many retailers selling nonessentials were deeply impacted by the pandemic, NMG lost $2.47 billion, versus losing $531.7 million in the prior fiscal year. Adjusted EBITDA came to $51.2 million in the year, versus $436.3 million in the prior fiscal year.

NMG’s total revenues for its last fiscal year were $3.65 billion, compared to $4.66 billion the year before. For the 12 months through Jan. 30, NMG generated $2.86 billion in revenue.
NMG currently has available liquidity of more than $850 million versus $132 million a year ago and has no borrowings outstanding on a $900 million revolver. The new liquidity “gives the company the capability to remain flexible and agile during this time and strategically invest in the business,” van Raemdonck said.
NMG began its partnership with Stylyze in 2018 and in 2020 integrated it into NMG’s Connect clienteling tool used by NMG’s 3,000 plus sales associates to access greater information and photos to provide more personalized service and make more informed fashion recommendations to customers to lift sales. The Stylyze platform provides product attribution data and curated content.
Buying the Stylyze business keeps the technology out of the reach of competitors. “This technology has a lot of applications. That’s why we wanted to buy it,” said van Raemdonck, stressing that Stylyze furthers the company’s efforts to “capitalize on our momentum and reimagine how we look at omnichannel.…We’re focused on creating an integrated luxury retail experience,” across stores, e-commerce and remote selling like NMG’s Connect clienteling tool.
NMG plans to take Stylyze’s technology to another level and explore integrating its functionality into additional digital tools, including e-commerce, mobile apps, messaging channels like text message, chat and phone calls, or in other words, enable Stylyze to provide personalized fashion recommendations and photos direct to shoppers.
NMG has already implemented technology and digital solutions from more than 25 companies to elevate the customer experience.
“When you think about data and technology, Stylyze allows us to scale engagement with customers. Stylyze has a platform of machine learning that takes data from customers, what they’ve bought and what [merchandise] we own, and matches the two. Stylyze shows sales associates on their Connect app, a look — perhaps two handbags, a pair of shoes and a dress, or maybe six pairs of shoes. It pulls the photos and knows Mrs. Smith doesn’t like red. So red gets removed from the look. It’s very user-friendly. It literally goes into our inventory and pulls photos of products to create a look. It’s very visual.” With Stylyze, sales associates make better informed recommendations, van Raemdonck said. “They use their own judgment on top of that.”

With the integration of Stylyze into the NMG’s Connect tool, which was rolled out in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, “No one has 3,000 sales associates who can engage with customers the way we do,” van Raemdonck said. “We want to make sure whenever we use technology we have something others can’t replicate, and increase the applications of it.”

Neiman’s Recasts Fantasy Gifts and the Whole Holiday Approach

Neiman’s Recasts Fantasy Gifts and the Whole Holiday Approach

It’s a different kind of holiday season — a defining one — for the Neiman Marcus Group.

Those fantasy gifts, a holiday tradition at Neiman’s for more than 60 years, are back, but the character of the array and the general message behind the program are unlike past years. They’re still extravagant, but not quite so fantastically priced.
Within the fourth-quarter assortment overall, according to executives, a large percentage of the inventory is “buy-now-wear-now.” There’s less spring fashion, which heretofore would have surfaced in stores and online during the holiday selling season. And there’s a greater emphasis on items and categories such as electronics and epicure that lend themselves to gifts. To that end, Neiman’s has introduced “gift lounges” in its stores.
“The gift lounges have a collection of great gifts and products we don’t usually carry — electronics, epicure, holiday sweaters, decor, a lot of things for the home,” Geoffroy van Raemdonck, chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, told WWD. “There is one gifting lounge in each store, each organized by our merchant team [in Dallas], and our local teams because they know the customers best.” The gift lounge assortments must have an element of surprise, van Raemdonck noted.

Neiman’s has “gifting advisers” this season, a variation of Neiman’s stylists equipped with technology tools to sell better, online and off-line, and have more information on clients and their purchasing histories. They all communicate with customers via video calls, e-mail, text, chat, or in-store, as well as with product photos, to help customers make selections. Neiman’s has added an online “gift finder quiz” asking shoppers who they are buying gifts for and how much they want to spend. Based on the responses, Neiman’s sends out “curated” gift recommendations.
In addition, Neiman’s has a calendar of virtual events with designers. “We’ve created a lot of special moments for customers where they can hear from top designers,” said van Raemdonck. “Brunello Cucinelli really shared his vision of the world and his philosophy of what the holidays mean, and Wes Gordon [creative director] of Carolina Herrera literally shared the story of his new horse and how life continues” amid the pandemic. Other designers, such as Victoria Beckham, have or will make online appearances. “These online meetings become extremely personal,” with designers revealing what’s on their mind, van Raemdonck said.
The 2020 holiday season is a major test for Neiman’s and van Raemdonck’s strategy to transform the retailer into what he calls a “luxury customer platform” with new types of services and products — fashion and nonfashion — so Neiman Marcus Group is no longer considered primarily a department store business with the Neiman’s chain and the two Bergdorf Goodman stores. The strategy seeks to sharpen the focus on digital selling, full-price selling, personalization, use of data, and to make the shopping experience easier for customers and more on their terms. Van Raemdonck said the assortment is adapting to reflect shifts in consumer demands spurred by the pandemic and changing lifestyles.

Exotic rings with gems from Oscar Heyman are among Neiman’s fantasy gifts.  Courtesy of Neiman Marcus

Neiman’s filed for Chapter 11 reorganization on May 7 this year and emerged from the bankruptcy proceedings on Sept. 25. The retailer is now debt-free, under different ownership and has new life.
Yet emerging from bankruptcy is no guarantee of long-term survival. It’s widely believed that Neiman’s still has a place in the retail landscape but needs to further modernize, gain relevance and streamline its store count while maintaining the high service levels for which it’s known. So far, five stores have closed this year and two additional locations have been scheduled to also close permanently. Neiman’s Manhattan flagship in Hudson Yards already closed for good, and Neiman’s streamlined its headcount to 9,000, from approximately 12,000 earlier this year. There’s still lingering talk of a possible merger between Neiman’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, owned by Hudson’s Bay Co. Inc., though no deal is close.
In the wake of the bankruptcy, winning back the support of designers and luxury brands, some of whom are pulling back from wholesaling, has been crucial for NMG’s survival. Neiman’s had to reach settlements on pre-bankruptcy orders, and had the debtor-in-possession financing to keep ordering. During the pandemic, Neiman’s and other “nonessential” retailers canceled or put orders on hold because stores were temporarily closed, and consequently, vendors had to adjust production. Certain fall goods, normally received well before the onset of fall and cooler weather, arrived in-season.
During the bankruptcy, “We always had the right level of deliveries,” van Raemdonck told WWD. “We have the inventory we need.”
Van Raemdonck said Neiman’s has continued to work with brands to hold back deliveries, generally 30 to 45 days later than in past years. “Often we’d bring in a lot of spring during holiday. Spring 2021 will come later and will give more life to ‘wear now.’” That could also lead to greater full-price selling since products won’t be in-store or online for as long.
“The bulk of spring will literally arrive in February, March and into April. Normally, spring would start in early December and ramp up in January and February,” van Raemdonck said. Deliveries adjusting to buy now, wear now, “I think it will be a permanent.”
Through its 113-year history, Neiman’s, with its luxury, high-price image, has not been as aggressive in its holiday campaigning as Macy’s or other retailers, though for the last several years the company has expanded its holiday assortment to include inexpensive products like candles or honey-dipped spoons.
“We have always been known for gifting and conveying the magic of the holidays. We don’t think we need to scream the magic of the holidays,” van Raemdonck said.
Neiman’s fantasy gifts certainly add excitement and some distinction to the season, though this year they are not as over-the-top as in past years. None are priced in seven figures, like the $7.1 million, 74-foot, Serenity solar-powered yacht offered in 2018, but they’re still extravagant, priced in the five- or six-figure zone.
For those ready to splurge, the 2020 fantasy gifts are:

• A customized home library replete with books, furniture and one-of-a-kind objets d’art, curated by Prosper Assouline and his wife, Martine, and son, Alex, priced $295,000.
• A Bowlus bespoke RV trailer with yacht-grade finishes and a state-of-the-art electrical system to remain off-grid from Los Angeles to Miami and back on a single charge, priced $255,000.
• Seven nights for two at Canyon Ranch with individualized programs; three week-long checkups to affirm your new path, daily virtual consultations, and unlimited services during stays, priced $345,000.
• Rings with exotic gems from the Oscar Heyman collection, including an opal and diamond ring for $130,000; a star ruby and diamond ring for $160,000, and an Alexandrite and diamond ring, $190,000.
• A five-night escape for six to Montage Healdsburg including a meeting with vintner Jesse Katz, and 12 months of wine curated by Katz, with a one-of-a-kind gold Coravin wine system, priced at $215,000.
• A trip to  Perini Ranch in Buffalo Gap, Tex., with  rancher/chef Tom Perini and a year’s supply of beef tenderloin, for $185,000.
• Five nights for six at the Sheldon Chalet Mountain House in Alaska with a private chef, a glacier exploration and meeting with Robert Sheldon, son of pilot Don Sheldon, who discovered the remote location, for $345,000.
• Jonathan Adler transforms a room in your home into a game room with hand-beaded art piece, decor and games, for $145,000.
• Keith & James custom-made hats designed with Run-DMC and street artists Paul Gerben, PixelPancho, Man One, Risk,and Leroy Campbell that come with signature hatboxes and custom display case, priced $95,000.
“Fantasy gifts is an amazing marketing campaign,” said van Raemdonck. “This year, we’ve made them a lot about experiences. It’s all about you and your loved one experiencing something special. The gifts are themed around discovery, a sense of adventure and taking care of your mind or body.…None are in the seven figures, but it’s not price that drives what we offer as fantasy gifts.”
With each fantasy gift purchased, $5,000 to $10,000 in donations are made to The Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation, supporting Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The fantasy gifts are among the more than 400 gifts featured in Neiman’s 2020 Christmas Book, which emphasizes the importance of this year being home for the holidays and has a broad range of categories and price points, including Missoni throws priced $450; the La Mer Genaissance Collection, priced $1,235; Versace men’s robes and slippers, priced $750 and $150, respectively, as well as Atelier Cologne candles, $59; a trio of Tula eye balm, $68, and Bedhead dog pajamas, $27.
Regarding what’s selling best at Neiman’s, the ceo cited a continued demand for shoes and handbags, in particular fashion-forward sneakers, designer T-shirts and men’s designer products, though there’s less demand for “occasion-based categories.”

For holiday overall, “We readjusted the whole approach to reflect the environment of 2020 during the pandemic,” van Raemdonck said. “We have brought in newness in gifting and more investment in different categories. We’ve made a lot of investment in things you can enjoy — epicure, and really beautiful comfortable clothes for at home.”

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