Marvin Traub died this week. Never heard of him? No doubt you heard of some of his discoveries and proteges; Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Halston, Fendi, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent to name a few. And if you’ve ever shopped at Bloomingdale’s, or any department store for that matter, then he has touched your life. It was Marvin who brought international merchandising to the masses, created celebrity designers Ready-to-Wear lines, and invented the “little brown bag” and “big brown bag” (so clever to make something iconic to your brand without even printing your brand name). He was a retail legend, a marketing genius and a visionary. He has also been floating in and out of my life for years.
I was aware of Marvin Traub long before I met him. As a young girl, my mother, sister and I would make our regular pilgrimage to view the unveiling of the Bloomingdale’s 59th Street “Model Rooms”. They were my first introduction to interior design as theater and fantasy. And it was Marvin Traub, along with Barbara D’arcy White (who coincidentally died in May of this year), who made it all possible. Click on the images below to see larger versions.
I first met Marvin in 1990. After years of admiring Bloomingdale’s as a consumer, I left my job at a high-end interior design firm and secured a position in the Furniture Buying Office, designing furniture and negotiating production costs. At the time, Marvin was transitioning from Chairman and CEO of Bloomingdale’s where he rose from the bottom of the ranks over 19 years to his own consulting firm, Marvin Traub Associates. As a young 20 something, I was in awe of the way his entourage hung on his every word, aspiring to one day to be as respected and as innovative.
Several years later, I found myself planning a golf outing for Marvin, who was consulting for Men’s Health Magazine where I worked (how I got there is a longer story for another time). He did not remember me from Bloomingdale’s, of course. I was an insect and he was a god. But I’ll never forget my first lunch with him at The Four Seasons Restaurant. I was easily the youngest person in the room and the only woman, having lunch with Marvin Traub! I had arrived. He was not easy, but creative, brilliant people never are. With two full-time secretaries, Marvin was the most energetic man I ever met, perpetually thinking of ways to do everything better, smarter and with greater style. We worked on three tournaments together before I left to join Marie Claire’s team.
Over the years, he has consulted on businesses for friends and family. Always a mentor, always seeing a way for everyone to win and come out ahead.
And only a few month ago, as I was leaving a site inspection at The Four Seasons Restaurant, who should I see slowly making his way up the stairs? Marvin Traub himself. He was older and frail, using a cane. I could see he was struggling, but still, he took the time to say hello and ask how I was doing.
He changed the face of fashion and retail forever, and without even knowing it, he gave me something to aspire to. I am forever indebted. Good-bye, Marvin, and thanks.