Obituaries

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.

Fashion Consultant, Show Producer and Stylist Janet Racy Dies at 69

Fashion Consultant, Show Producer and Stylist Janet Racy Dies at 69

Janet Racy, a fashion and lifestyle consultant, died Thursday at age 68 at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Forest Hills, N.Y.She died from complications from surgery following a long illness, according to her friend Lisa Silhanek. Services have not yet been planned and a celebration of her life will be held at a later date.
Roach worked as a trend forecaster, spokesperson, stylist, designer, visual display specialist, show producer and in other capacities. Many knew her as the director of fashion merchandising at Harper’s Bazaar, a post she held for five years until 1992. Prior to that, Racy served as vice president and fashion director of women’s apparel for the Associated Dry Good Corp., whose members included Lord & Taylor, J.W. Robinson and L.S. Ayres. During her career, she worked with brands and designers including Christian Francis Roth, Karl Lagerfeld, Thierry Mugler, Alber Elbaz and Kleinfeld. Racy also worked in special events, films and commercials.

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Roth said Friday that after designing his first collection, he first met Racy through his girlfriend at that time, who is now his wife. After she called Racy at Harper’s Bazaar, Roth packed away his designs in a garment bag and walked to the magazine’s offices with a model friend to show Racy. “She was just beside herself. It was the first person I had ever shown my work to. Right away she called Marylou Luther and Lynn Manulis, the head of Martha boutique on Park Avenue. She was such a champion of my work early on and made introductions that shaped my entire career,” Roth said. “She put on a headset and called my first show from backstage. She helped calm me down, when I was worried or upset in preparation for the first show. She had a hand in sales, the merchandising, the styling, the model casting, the calling of the show. I just remember her there at all hours, not just for the first show but for the first several.”
Unfailingly positive, Racy excelled at putting people together, Roth said. “If she saw there was a talent, she was genuinely ecstatic about introducing that talent to the people that she knew. Putting people together, launching design careers — she had an outsized role in the industry in that regard,” he said.
Through the years, Racy, who started her own consultancy business in 1992, periodically appeared on television like Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, NBC’s “The Today Show” and QVC, among others. She also lectured and taught classes at universities and corporations. Racy also freelanced for fashion and lifestyle magazines. Well-informed about an array of subjects, Racy was not only smart, but she was nice, according to Luther. “Her major contribution was to prove that there could be goodness in the fashion world. And she was goodness. It didn’t all have to be make believe and let’s do the best we can to make it look good. She was real,” Luther said.
Kleinfeld co-owner Mara Urshel recalled Friday how she hired Racy to produce fashion shows for the bridal retailer with different organizations 21 years ago. ”At that time, fashion shows were more entertaining than just models going down the runway. Janet really worked with us and taught our marketing people every little thing about what has to be done to set up a fashion show — the photographers, sets, lights — everything. Jennette Kruszka, who is my director of marketing, said she learned everything she knows from Janet Racy.”

Describing Racy as “such a sincere, warm, intelligent and honest person, who you just loved being with,” Urshel said their friendship endured after they stopped working together. “You don’t run into too many of them in your life. The ones that you do, you really hold in esteem.”
Racy graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology majoring in apparel design and later went on to earn a BA in textiles and clothing from Queens College, as well as a MA in retail marketing from New York University. A member of the Fashion Group International, The Round Table of Fashion Executives and FIT’s Alumni Association, Racy also served on Kent State University’s advisory board and was a visiting guest at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Manulis’ son Andrew Burnstine met Racy while studying together at NYU in the late Eighties. Racy wrangled clothes from Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and others and produced and created “Clothes Encounters of the Third Kind” for a retail marketing class. “Janet even was so persuasive in those early days in convincing America’s top designers to loa us clothes for the show.” Burnstine said.
In addition to Roth, She also was instrumental in working with Martha’s to feature and promote designers like Josie Natori, Jeanette Kastenberg, Badgley Mischka, Joanna Mastroianni and Zang Toi, Burnstine said.
Racy is survived by her brother John.

Carla Zampatti Farewelled at State Funeral in Sydney

Carla Zampatti Farewelled at State Funeral in Sydney

SYDNEY – Eleven hundred people packed St Mary’s Cathedral on Thursday morning for the state funeral of Australian fashion designer Carla Zampatti, who died on April 3, a week after a catastrophic fall at an outdoor Opera Australia production of La Traviata.
In attendance was a Who’s Who of the Australian fashion and television industries, alongside leaders from business, politics and the arts. Guests included designers Camilla Freeman-Topper and her brother Marc Freeman, Alexandra and Genevieve Smart, Camilla Franks, Melbourne Fashion Festival chief executive officer Graeme Lewsey, Australian Fashion Week founder and Ordre.com co-founder and CEO Simon Lock and ABC chair Ita Buttrose.

Sitting in the front pew section, adjacent to Zampatti’s family and the simple black coffin that was flanked by two arrangements of white Phalaenopsis orchids, was a substantial contingent of Australian political figures. They included NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian; Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women Marise Payne; NSW Governor Margaret Beazley; Jenny Morrison, the wife of prime minister Scott Morrison; two former Governors General of Australia, Dame Quentin Bryce and Sir Peter Cosgrove; former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop; and three former Australian prime ministers, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and John Howard.

Many of the women who attended turned out in Zampatti’s signature tailoring and jumpsuits.
The Archbishop of Sydney Dr Anthony Fisher, led the tributes during the one and a half hour service, nodding to the significance “that a nine-year-old girl could arrive from Italy with no English and limited education and rise to great heights in this country, joining millions of other newcomers in enriching our shores while enjoying its opportunities.”
After founding her label in Sydney in 1965, Zampatti established a chain of boutiques across Australia – 26 at the time of her death – whilst enjoying a parallel board career that embraced companies as diverse as Westfield Holdings, McDonalds Australia, the multicultural public broadcaster SBS, the Sydney Dance Company, the Australian Multicultural Foundation and the European Australian Business Council. Her many accolades include the Centenary Medal, the Australian Fashion Laureate and the Order of Australia, the country’s highest civilian honour.
Readings were given by Zampatti’s grandchildren Brigid and Marcus Schuman, Australian businesswoman Jillian Broadbent, Dame Quentin Bryce and Zampatti’s three children, Alexander Schuman and Bianca and Allegra Spender.
“Mum loved Australia, her adopted home and what she loved most about it were its freedom and opportunity” said Alexander Schuman, the ceo of Carla Zampatti Pty Ltd, who said he and his sisters learned much from working in the family business during school and uni holidays from the age of 10.
“CZ is what we all called the family business” he added. “We referred to it as our other sibling. Sometimes, the favorite child”.
Design, said Bianca Spender, who helms her own successful fashion line, was Zampatti’s “first and true love. She was alive to beauty in any form. Dance, visual arts, fashion, architecture, music. The creativity of others genuinely inspired and uplifted her”.

“She was an incredibly successful, determined person and really put Australian fashion on the map in a big way and it will never be forgotten” John Howard told WWD after the service.
“For me the strongest thing was the example Carla set to women” said Hermès Australia managing director Karin Upton-Baker. “I really felt that she lit the path for so many women, of the combination of working and family, which was extremely challenging, and she showed that there was a way to make it happen. I met her very early in my career at Vogue in the early ‘80s. Her generosity of spirit I think is probably the thing that we all remember most about her, which moves beyond all her incredible public achievements”.
Natalie Xenita, newly promoted within IMG to the position of Vice-President Managing Director of IMG Fashion Events and Properties, Asia Pacfic, said a Carla Zampatti tribute is being planned for the next edition of Australian Fashion Week, which is due to run from May 31 – June 4 at Sydney’s Carriageworks.
The tribute could, moreover, potentially become an ongoing component of the event, said Xenita, and quite possibly connected with emerging fashion talent, of which Zampatti has always been particularly supportive. In 2018 Zampatti launched the Carla Zampatti Foundation Design Award, in collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney, to give fashion and textiles graduates funding to pursue international postgraduate studies.
With a runway show backed by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Zampatti closed the last Australian Fashion Week on May 16 2019 – the 2020 iteration having been cancelled due to COVID-19.
“It’s such a nice memory to have” said Xenita. “I think we’ll all remember that show as one of the key moments in the event’s 25 year history”.

Takeshi Osumi, Designer of Mistergentleman, Dies at 47

Takeshi Osumi, Designer of Mistergentleman, Dies at 47

TOKYO — Takeshi Osumi, one half of the design duo behind the Japanese men’s wear brand Mistergentleman, died late last month at the age of 47. His brand announced the news Wednesday via an Instagram post.
Osumi was admitted to the hospital on Jan. 24 and passed away of sepsis on the same day. The brand plans to present its fall 2021 collection during Tokyo Fashion Week in March, saying that the designer was working on it even from his hospital room. The collection will be dedicated to Osumi’s memory, and a farewell party is being planned for a few days after the collection launches.

Osumi started Mistergentleman in 2012 together with his co-designer Yuichi Yoshii. It has frequently been a highlight of Tokyo Fashion Week, and is currently carried by stores across Japan and elsewhere in Asia, including Hong Kong, China, South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Prior to launching Mistergentleman, Osumi helmed the brand Phenomenon, which also began as a men’s brand. It eventually grew to include a women’s line before filing for bankruptcy in 2013. Earlier in his career his also designed a brand called Swagger.

Osumi was known for his imaginative collections marrying expert tailoring with street style and outdoorsy influences, often incorporating pops of bright color and bold prints. He blurred gender lines, and even though he designed mainly for men, he attracted many female fans of his collections. One of his chief sources of inspiration was music, particularly hip-hop.

Fashion Designer Heidi Weisel Dies

Fashion Designer Heidi Weisel Dies

Services will be held Sunday for designer  Heidi Weisel at Mount Sinai Simi Valley
Weisel died Thursday at age 59 at a relative’s home in Los Angeles, according to Tom Handley, a Parsons School of Design professor at The New School, who previously worked with Weisel.
The cause of death was not specified.
Born in San Francisco, Weisel grew up in New York City, where she continued to be based until last spring when the pandemic prompted her to relocate to the West Coast. Her parents Rachel and Shlomo were both Holocaust survivors. As a youngster, Weisel learned to sew from a neighbor, who lived downstairs.
At age five, Weisel got her first dose of designing by making basic wraps for her doll “Skipper.” The designer considered that the starting point for what would be a lifelong interest in fashion and Manhattan remained an inspiration source throughout her life.

Effervescent, direct and straight-talking, Weisel was a mainstay New York designer in the Nineties and Aughts.  After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1984, she started her career by working as an assistant designer for Agatha Brown. She later worked for Occhio Coldo in Italy before starting her own signature line in 1990. As an up-and-coming designer, she was recognizable for her all-black ensembles and oversized black doctor’s bag. The heft of the carry-all suited the designer, who liked to keep a measuring tape and collapsible cigar-cutting scissors on hand for any swatches.

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In 1990, her collection caught the eye of buyers at Henri Bendel, Linda Dresner and Martha’s. A chiffon tent dress with a fitted dress underneath was among her designs. The original fabric was purchased from Geoffrey Beene, who had more than he needed, according to Handley. But some retailers, like Lynn Manulis of Martha’s, needed a little convincing to buy the five-piece black chiffon collection. Uncertain about the all-black choices of dresses, the retailer had a change of heart after Weisel explained she chose one color to save money. “That’s when we knew we would want to work with her,” Manulis said at that time.
Her experience in Europe led to Weisel choosing fabrics from France, Italy and Germany for such looks as a bell-sleeve dress, and velvet pants with a vest and a chiffon blouse. Participating in a Cotton Inc.-sponsored fashion show in 1995 helped to further catapult her career. She also introduced a diffusion line made of matte jersey. But it was her combination of cashmere and other fabrics – a sporty, elegant twist – that set her apart from what was happening in the industry, Handley said.
The New York-based designer came of age in the Nineties with contemporaries like Eric Gaskins, Orazio Fortuno, Donald Deal, Bradley Bayou, Badgley Mischka’s Mark Badgley and James Mischka, Sylvia Heisel and Emo Pandelli. Over time she ventured into new categories such as eveningwear, although with a modern sensibility like luxurious knits.
After nine years in business, she staged her first runway show in 1999. Duchess satin ball gown skirts, body conscious cashmere dresses and tiny bags in leather and mink contributed to her conservative chic.

Weisel developed such a following that a Barneys New York trunk show she hosted in 1997 in Beverly Hills rang up sales of nearly $80,000, thanks to fans like Natasha Richardson. That year, she added a bridal collection and dressed such celebrity brides as Faith Hill and Brooke Shields.
By 2002, she had come full circle, expanding her eveningwear-centered company to offer sportswear again with two to four-ply cashmere and quilted nylon parkas. While the eveningwear was made in the U.S., the sportswear was produced in Scotland, Italy and Hong Kong.
Weisel was also an early believer in celebrity dressing, taking a suite before the Golden Globe awards in 1997 and then again at The Mondrian Hotel before the Oscars in 2000. Barbara Hershey, Debra Messing and Emily Watson were a few of the celebrities who she dressed for the red carpet. Weisel grasped the global reach celebrities could have before the practice of celebrity dressing became a cost of doing business and in some instances a pay-for-play opportunity. Weisel was most proud of outfitting Vanessa Williams for her appearance with Luciano Pavarotti on “Saturday Night Live,” Handley said.
Recalling how the first go-round led to dressing more nominees than Armani, Weisel told WWD how stylists, actors and musicians wandered through. In 2000, Julianne Moore and Salma Hayek were on her wish list. “But who knows? It’s hard for these girls to stay loyal to a designer the way that Audrey Hepburn was to Givenchy. Coming out for the Oscars for us is like an athlete going out for the Olympics. But it is always worth it,” she told WWD at that time.
In 2015, Weisel was among the designers who created collaborative lines with Dress Barn to offer more affordable options under the Mixt by Weisel label. In a video for the program, Weisel spoke of her inspiration: “I love New York. It’s this great big city. It has everything you could possibly want in terms of culture. There is such diversity, photography, the arts, architecture. Everything inspires me – great food, great music, great people.”
Weisel said she loved designing dresses because it involved creating an experience or a memory for a woman. “Every woman deserves to have clothes that she feels great in and at the price that she can afford,” she said.
The designer continued to sell custom clothes and sportswear under her label. in late August 2020 Weisel started an initiative to help women and families dealing with breast cancer and ovarian cancer in the U.S. Through a partnership with Standard Textile, Weisel gifted her company “Rachel” robe to members of Sharsheret’s “Embrace” community. Her philanthropic efforts included a collaboration with Neiman Marcus to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
In recent years, Weisel and Handley reached out to different colleges and universities to donate pieces from her collections. The designer wanted students to see beautiful product and to see her “amazing” ability to combine cashmere, satin, chiffon or organza, Handley said. The aim “was to place the entire archives so that others could really learn from it.”
Weisel is survived by a brother Jack. Sunday’s service will be a virtual one.

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