Monday, April 22, 2019

Dawn Mello, Bergdorf Goodman and Gucci

Dawn Mello, the great retail fashion director who revived the staid, unprofitable Bergdorf Goodman and resuscitated the moribund Gucci, is the subject of a new book titled Dawn. Published by Pointed Leaf Press and written by John Tiffany, it includes many remembrances and anecdotes from fashion designers who Miss Mello, as she was called, discovered, cultivated and promoted.

Located at the foot of Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, Bergdorf Goodman had catered to the elite carriage trade of Fifth Avenue but then began to lose its luster. In 1975 Ira Neimark was brought in as President and CEO of Bergdorf Goodman, and he hired Dawn Mello, a colleague, to be the Fashion Director. Together they set about to recreate Bergdorf Goodman. Ira Neimark, 97, just passed away this week. I interviewed him once and he was as charming as you can imagine.

At a time when Pauline Trigere was the top American label in the store, Dawn Mello sought to elevate Bergdorf Goodman and bring energy to the store first with the new Italian designers, including Fendi, Krizia, Gianfranco Ferre and Giorgio Armani. The French followed -- like Claude Montana, Azzedine Alaia, Jean Paul Gaultier and the super-star of the 80's, Christian Lacroix. Then came the Americans including Geoffrey Beene, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Donna Karan. Bergdorf Goodman became the most fashionable store in the world.

From Dawn, Miss Mello with Giorgio Armani who she brought to Bergdorf Goodman in 1980 with the first in-store Armani boutique in America –

In 1989, Dawn Mello left Bergdorf's and went to Gucci in Milan as Creative Director. She was hired to rebuild the over-exposed, once luxurious Italian brand by Maurizio Gucci, who in 1995 was gunned down by a hit-man hired by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani. In New York, Ellin Saltzman from Saks Fifth Avenue replaced Dawn Mello at Bergdorf Goodman. At Gucci, Mello hired a young American designer named Tom Ford. Together they restored the historical brand with a new, modern, clean style. In 1994 Mello left Gucci to return to Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Tom Ford was promoted to Creative Director at Gucci. We know that worked out well!

The other night, Bergdorf Goodman hosted a book party to celebrate Dawn Mello, 86, and the publication of the book. Her legions of fans crowded the fourth floor and stopped by to say hello including Michael Kors –

At the party, Michael told me a good story about when he was a fashion student, which is also in the book. "I was working at the Lothar's store across 57th Street," he said. "I was the display guy working in the window. Dawn knocked on the window and said, 'Who designed these clothes?' and I said, 'I did.' She said, 'Oh I thought you were the display guy,' and I said, 'I am.' She said, 'When you are ready come over and see me.' I did and here we are 37 year later."

"She had great taste but she also had a great empathy and understanding of the woman who was the Bergdorf Goodman customer," Kors said in explaining Mello's success as a retailer. "When I showed her my line, with the third piece, she said, 'We'll take it.' It's heaven when you have someone who understands their customer."
From Dawn, Michael Kors on his fashion show runway in 1986  – 

Linda Fargo, Bergdorf's Fashion and Creative Director, who Dawn Mello hired to work on window displays, was in attendance as well. "She changed the face of American luxury retail and changed the face of Bergdorf Goodman and a lot of the lives of the people who are in this room tonight," Linda Fargo told me. "She really was a divining rod and had an eye for talent and then nurtured it." This book pays tribute to an important retailer who shaped fashion in her time, and was devoted to beauty and style. 


Dean Farris said...


I saw her office when I worked there and it was all Dior grey - and her desk had absolutely NOTHING on it- a true power sign !

Bart Boehlert said...

Dean, Very chic!