MR is saddened to report the passing of industry legend Derrill Radcliff Osborn, a much-admired menswear exec known for his personal warmth and flamboyant style (bold eyewear, wide-brimmed hat, colorful tailored separates worn with cowboy boots, and always a fresh boutonniere in his lapel!)
Born and raised in West Texas (the British accent remains a mystery), Derrill served in the U.S. Army and then took a job at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1964. He worked at Saks for ten years, graduating from sales person to buyer. After a short stint running a boutique in Beverly Hills, he joined Neiman Marcus as a buyer for six years before being named VP of men’s tailored clothing. He was instrumental in introducing upscale Italian menswear collections to the American market in the 1980s, luxury brands like Zegna, Brioni, and Kiton.
After an illustrious career at Neiman Marcus, throughout which he was often quoted in publications from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to GQ and Esquire, Derrill retired in 2002 but continued to influence the fashion world on social media. If you were lucky enough to be Derrill’s Facebook friend, his hand-painted birthday cards were highly coveted works of art! His kindness and thoughtfulness were as legendary as his eclectic style.
In an interview with Ari Seth Cohen (photographer and author of Advanced Style), Derrill discusses what’s wrong with men’s fashion today. “I find the void is that the fellas in the stores are not very good. They don’t really know what to do. I also think there’s no father-to-son teaching. Where is the son learning anything today? Well, he’s not learning anything because his daddy doesn’t know how to dress either. There could be two, three, four generations of no style! I also think you have to talk about price: can one really afford a quality wardrobe today? If you want a good suit, especially if you have one made, it’s $5,000, a very big investment…”
In this same interview, Derrill spoke of his career. “Listen, I loved what I did for such a long time—I had a good time and a good life. And it made me something that, whatever I was then, I continue to be today. And now there is an interest in old fogies like me… they’re the ones you’d like to invite to cocktail parties. Developing your own character through your clothes is part of it—I’m not sure in the final analysis that clothes are the most important part: it’s what you say, where you’ve been and what you do with your life that matters.”
At a 40th anniversary celebration of the New York chapter of the IACDE that I was fortunate to attend a few years back, Derrill (host for the evening) passed the baton to a new generation of clothing designers and executives by encouraging them to reach for new heights, think out of the box, get more young people involved, and do whatever it takes to re-think the tailored clothing business. “My mentor Stanley Marcus, who died in 2002 at 96 years of age, always felt fortunate to have lived in the Golden Era of Retailing. I didn’t live in the Golden Era but I caught the tail end of it and I’m hoping you, the next generation, can help bring it back.”
And the love from our industry keeps pouring in.
Eton Chief Sales Officer Erik Wilkinson worked with Derrill for many years at Neiman Marcus and considers him the original influencer. “Mr. Osborn will, of course, be remembered for his incredible style and larger than life personality,” he says. “But his real legacy will be the hundreds of young people (like me) who he mentored during his career. He taught us all that the details are everything and that the way you treat people will be remembered long after the business is forgotten.”
Says former Hugo Boss exec and menswear consultant Frank Schipani, “The most eccentric well-dressed man I ever met and so very well mannered. Derrill will be remembered for a long time…”
Notes retailer Bruce Liles, “I had the pleasure of meeting him at a party only once but he was gracious enough to carry on quite a long conversation with me. A truly elegant and special gentleman. A dandy personified indeed but it suited his larger than life personality. May he rest in peace.”
Writes former Texas retailer David Rubin, “When I first left my store in San Antonio and moved to Dallas, he was the only guy in the industry to reach out. Took me to lunch. Told me to get into photography. He will be missed.”
And from former Brioni exec Joe Barrato, “I met Derrill when he was the buyer at Saks’ University Shop in the ’70s. From that moment on, I always felt I was in the presence of a unique individual spirit. He carried the torch of elegance personified for our industry and I will never forget how he helped Brioni become an important name in America.
Not enough words can express my love and admiration for Derrill except to say that I am very grateful that I knew him.”
The date of a memorial service will be announced shortly. For this occasion, Derrill’s family asks that men wear dark suits, white shirt, white handkerchief, black or grey tie. Women are encouraged to wear couture red or black. Red rose boutonnieres will be presented to all guests.
RIP our wonderful friend Derrill Osborn, who has touched so many lives and made this a brighter world. And as his good friend Mary Sue Brown wrote on Facebook: “Derrill Osborn is surely sprucing up the angels’ wardrobes in heaven.”