Thanks to meeting Jerry Chasen, founder of Liz Claiborne, I set up the first ‘working woman’s shop’ with Liz. She and I became lifelong friends, and I was known as ‘Jerry’s second daughter, Louise.’ I was even profiled in an article in the Rochester newspaper called ‘A Retail Tale of Two Cities.’ I kept an apartment in New York, as I knew I’d return after my husband got his master’s. I came back to the city as the buyer for Liz at Lord & Taylor, and soon rose to VP of Couture, Designer, Contemporary and Sportswear.
After L&T was taken over by the May Company, I realized that I understood the department store business but needed to grow in the specialty store arena, which was hot at the time. I was recruited by Herb Mines, himself, to leverage a buyout of six stores from Max Rabb (JG Hook). I developed the business plan, raised the capital, and ventured forth with the six stores, and bought the Mickey Mouse Factory in PA, which then became our corporate office. The concept we developed was a vertically integrated updated clothing offering for working women. It was not unlike like Anne Klein II, but at better sportswear pricing. We opened 38 stores in less than three years and were one of the earlier adapters into discount stores in New England towns from Freeport to Lenox. We formed a group with Ralph Lauren, Anne Klein, and Ellen Tracy to accomplish this. I got a call one day from Les Wexner who said that, given its amazing real estate, he wanted to buy the company. My investors (all Wharton grads) were thrilled. Unfortunately, the names of the stores varied so they wouldn’t be recognizable today, as it was so short lived.
Les asked me to come with him to Columbus to work, but I insisted that I was a New Yorker, suggested he do something with Bendel’s and that I was the one to do it with him. So I went to Bendel’s as SVP. We closed the 57th street store and opened the new 5th Avenue location. We found the building’s boarded up Lalique windows, brought back designers like Zoran and Stephen Burrows and recreated Annick Goutal’s Paris boutique. We opened the first Aveda spa and Garren uptown hair studio. We opened the MAC 57th Street store, where I introduced RuPaul for Viva Glam, and raised the first million dollars for AIDS. I also gave Trish McEvoy her first retail opportunity and helped introduce many new and recognizable designers. I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I had a plane and went to Europe monthly to find new design work in every category imaginable. We recreated the Street of Shops and relaunched the “Open See” days, initiated a decade earlier by Gerry Stutz.