Father’s day tribute: mr’s editor remembers her dad

by Karen Alberg Grossman

I’m certain my passion for men’s clothing came from my dad Max Alberg, a gentle and caring man from humble beginnings who worked his way up to EVP at Macy’s. His parents were immigrants from Poland—his father a barber, his mother a talented seamstress—who settled in Middle Village, Queens where Max was born. As a schoolboy, Max contributed to the family income by watering graves at a nearby cemetery and riding a pre-dawn truck route to deliver bottles of milk. With no money for college and three younger siblings to help support, Max enrolled in the U.S. Army just in time to join the Allied invasion of Normandy.

Returning from the war, Max learned of a few rare job openings at Macy’s. Dressed in his only suit, he joined a long line that encircled Herald Square to submit his application. Years later, he confided that the only reason he got this highly coveted position (writing prices on price tags!) was that his interviewer happened to be a woman who happened to admire his necktie.

How distinctly I remember Max leaving for the bus each morning, dressed in a perfectly fitting suit, crisp white shirt, classic tie, and wool felt fedora; in winter, the outfit included a natural brown vicuna scarf, a gift from one of his vendors. I remember like yesterday all the frigid mornings he’d walk me to my school bus, pulling off this scarf to wrap it around my neck. (I hope he never found out how quickly, as the bus pulled away, I’d unwind the scarf and stuff it into my book bag!)

To me, my dad was Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and Henry Fonda, all rolled into Teaneck, New Jersey’s most dapper dad. In later years, I’d try to gift him a colorful cashmere scarf for his birthday. He never accepted it, preferring to wear the vicuna and insisting I return the cashmere and buy something for myself.

At some family celebration, my dad left his vicuna scarf at a restaurant. My thoughtful brother-in-law offered to retrieve it, driving a half-hour back to the restaurant to pick it up. “This is what we drove all the way back for?” he asked my sister, incredulously holding up the threadbare piece of fabric.

For his 70th birthday, my siblings and I set out to buy Max a hand-crafted Italian suit, something he deserved but never owned. We dragged him to Bloomingdale’s and made him try on a classic Canali, then $1,000 retail. He walked out of the fitting room and nearby shoppers gasped in admiration. We assured Max that with all five kids chipping in, this gift would hardly break the bank. But his depression-era mentality prevailed and he told us that if we insisted on buying him the suit, we should wait until his burial; that way, he could wear it for all eternity without stressing about the price.

Around this same time, a regime change at Macy’s had Max applying for a new job (which he got, and where he stayed for the next 20 years). Years later, I asked the owner of that company why he hired a merchant already in his 70s. “At our interview,” he told me, “I couldn’t get over the precise way he took off his coat, gently folding it over the back of the chair and meticulously positioning his scarf and hat on top, all done with such respect for the clothing. I never saw anything like it! This was a man who clearly loved clothes.”

My dad died several years ago at age 93. My most cherished possession: a very frayed and tattered dull brown vicuna scarf that I still keep close to my heart.

Editor’s note: This piece was written for M Penner’s spring 2020 magazine, produced by Wainscot Media – the parent company of MR.

20 Replies to “FATHER’S DAY TRIBUTE: MR’S EDITOR REMEMBERS HER DAD”

  1. I was very lucky to have Max as a friend.
    He was a fantastic person and I loved spending time with him.
    What a talented merchant.
    I think about him often.
    Karen this is a wonderful tribute to a great man.
    I really enjoyed reading this.
    All the best

    1. I am proud and fortunate to have known your dad. And respectful of the friendship he had with my dad.

      1. What a great man he was. I’m very lucky that I got to know him over many years. He always had time for me and I miss him very much. Thanks Karen for keeping his name alive

        1. What a beautiful story. You left one thing out: He was a great teacher to you about fashion. D

  2. Thank you Karen for this most beautiful story. My heart swells with emotions as I see Max smiling down to you with great pride. Proud knowing you have his strong etiquette in dress. Max is truly the ultimate gentleman. So wonderful you still have the scarf! xxo

    1. Hi Karen…..As you know I first met MAC Alberg as the DMM of Macy’s Men’s in 1290. After years of not seeing him due to all my travels I bumped into him on Broadway 30 years later and he was pushing his sample case. I asked him why he was still at it and I was not surprised by his answer:
      He said simply “I still love the business “ I could only smile and relate…. He was a great guy and a great Menswear role model. We all used to treat our wardrobe like he did….. now, not so much !
      He probably would be saddened by our business these days but he
      had a great run in his time . You deserve to be proud of him !
      Best Regards,
      Barry Bonder

  3. Karen,
    A truly touching tribute to your father. He was lucky to have you as a daughter.
    This is an inspiring story for all the fathers out there.
    sending you my best.

  4. Karen,

    What a wonderful tribute to your father. Must tell you that your description of your father and the obvious love and admiration you had for him , brought tears to my eyes. I loved every part of the his journey in menswear as you so beautifully told. I will save this article and read it many times.

  5. Karen great tribute to your dad and a Fathers Day Gift.
    Legends like your dad is the reason why we still have a menswear industry.
    Thanks for Sharing your heart and soul in all your writings.

  6. Wonderful story, Karen. Easy to see the source of your elegance and taste. I know he must have been as proud of you as you we’re thankful for him.

  7. A wonderful story about a beautiful man… Karen; thanks so much for introducing us at Pitti!

  8. Dear Karen
    We are a kindred spirit- as women influenced by their loving, elegant fathers. Your piece was so touching and rang so true. Thank you for sharing your father with us.
    love

  9. Hi Karen,
    I really enjoyed the story, thanks for sharing. He was quite a guy!

    Love the line “This was a man who clearly loved clothes.” I think we all do and that’ s why we are in this business.

  10. 🙏 To Dad Max Alberg in Heaven, Thank you so much for you and Mom making Karen. 💖 You do amazing work Sir.. Xxx-ooO 😎 Happy Father’s Day Dad

  11. Karen-
    What wonderful memories! Max was always the perfect gentleman whether we were able to do business or not. His knowledge and advice was always appreciated. As a Senior Professional Lecturer of Fashion Merchandising at Marist College, I always tried to mention Max in my Retailing and Buying lectures. Thank you for the memories!

  12. Karen
    This was a beautiful tribute to your father.
    Although I’ve been in this industry over 50 yrs
    I never had the pleasure of meeting you dad.
    Glad I had the good fortune to meet his daughter.
    I’m sure he was very proud of all you accomplished, he surely is smiling down on you.
    All my best

  13. What a wonderful tribute. Doing business with Max was a pleasure. I true merchant but more important a true mensch. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

  14. Dear Karen,

    The timeless devotion to work and family you and your father share is finessed with so much incredible love, ambition, generosity and style — you have my head and my heart beaming — this is the true meaning of success. Xo

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