Menswear industry remembers sunny diego

by Karen Alberg Grossman
Sunny Diego / Getty Images for Saks

MR magazine is deeply saddened to report the passing last week of Sunny Diego, a much-loved merchant at Saks Fifth Avenue who died from stomach cancer at a very young 51.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Sunny received an MBA from the University of Chicago before starting at Saks in 1994. Over the years, she held numerous positions at the store including fashion director in both the men’s and women’s divisions, VP of men’s product development, and, most recently, VP of contemporary and designer menswear. In between her two stints at Saks, she was senior VP of Li & Fung (overseeing Nautica, Dockers, Ben Sherman, Geoffrey Beene, and private label) and chief merchant at PR firm Lividini & Co.

Eric Jennings, a colleague at Saks, was a close friend. “Sunny was a force of nature who lit up every room she entered. I had the privilege of working side by side with her for almost ten years,” he tells MR. “We called each other ‘work husband’ and ‘work wife’ because of the many hours spent together: in the office, in designer showrooms, and traveling worldwide for business. She always dressed glamorously and was always ready to do business. Her mantra ‘Always be Closing’ served her well.”

“I loved Sunny’s direct honesty, sense of humor, and fierce loyalty,” he adds. “She made an indelible impression wherever she went: from the hostess at the local restaurant near the office to the Maître D at the trendiest bar in Paris, they all knew Sunny’s name and would immediately stop what they were doing to take her to her favorite table.”

“But most importantly, she was a devoted mother,” Jennings continues. “When she brought her daughter Gemma to trade shows, Sunny made sure she had personalized business cards to exchange with vendors. And she’d be sure to introduce Gemma to strong, smart female business leaders to show her daughter that with hard work, anything is possible for young women.” 

Peter Harris was a mentor to Sunny at Saks and readily recalls her signature style. “Sunny reminded me of a lot of the great brands in our industry: they have visual signatures and calling cards. Sunny’s sunglasses and assertive gait were her calling cards. Like the great brands, she had an unbelievable ability to adapt to changing circumstances. I knew her best when she was my Assistant Buyer in Classic Tailored Clothing at Saks. The arc of her career was remarkable: from an MBA from the University of Chicago to Vice President of Men’s Designer at Saks, her passion, energy, and drive helped her navigate myriad changes in the industry. She was a larger-than-life character with loads of personality who lit up the room. She intrinsically understood the art of ‘making an entrance’ and will be greatly missed.”

Tom Ott, founder of Retail and Fashion Solutions and a 24-year veteran of Saks, describes her as caring and loyal. “Sunny was always pushing us forward and finding great new brands for Saks. She was the one who drove our Saks Fifth Avenue men’s collection to designer status. She taught me so much. She built great teams around her but perhaps her proudest moments were being a mother. We will miss her and are forever thankful for all she did for us.”

Shawn Howell worked with Sunny at Saks since 1998. “She was the same person as a VP as she was as an assistant buyer: lovely, kind, unpretentious, driven to learn, and always in the know. She was the consummate merchant: exceptional taste level, highly competitive, fierce in negotiating with vendors. Her ultimate goal was always to create a better brand for Saks. She was personally responsible for making Saks’ private label a destination for men’s sportswear, on a par with the best luxury designers. She was a force in the industry and will be greatly missed.”

Saks’ chief merchant Tracy Margolies also recalls Sunny’s passion for the industry.“Those who had the privilege of working with Sunny were fortunate to experience her fierce attitude, caring nature, dedication, and strength – and her undeniable love of fashion. Her passion for the industry was infectious to everyone from her Saks team to our vendor partners. She was an inspiration to us all, and her incredible legacy will continue to live on.”

Louis Digiacomo, Saks’ Men’s GMM, was another colleague and friend.It was an honor to have known Sunny for 25 years. She was a caring, beautiful person who possessed amazing energy, passion, dedication and, most of all, generosity. Sunny was more than a colleague or friend, she was family. Like so many who were lucky to be part of her life, I will miss my sister.”

Andrea Grilli, CEO of New Guards Group, considered her a close friend and incredible business partner. “I don’t have proper words to describe what my team and I are feeling. Sunny played such a fundamental role back in 2015, when she believed in our newborn company. She had the vision to trust in our strategy, giving us space in multiple doors, supporting our creative directors before we were known in the U.S. The world has lost a truly great person.”

Paul Rosengard, EVP at True Religion who worked with Diego at Li & Fung, noted her elegance. “Sunny defined style. In business, she could always spot the winning styles. In her relationships, she personified style. She was elegant and beautiful inside and out. Sunny could move through any social circle, captivate any audience. She lit up the room just by entering and always used this gift to lift others. She will be missed by all whose lives she touched.”

Robert Barbara, a buyer for men’s advanced designer at Saks says: “I’ve known Sunny for 16 years as a colleague, as a mentor, and as a dear friend. I know I’m not alone in thinking how fortunate I am to have worked with one of the best…a strong and fearless industry leader, whose generous and nurturing spirit left an indelible mark on my life.”

And, Wynn Smith, a buyer for men’s advanced contemporary and outerwear at Saks adds: “Sunny was a fearless leader whose passion was infectious and could light up a room like no one else. Sunny was more than a mentor — she was like family. She was thoughtful, generous and loyal, and was always a champion for her team and for the business. I will forever cherish the feeling of pride knowing that Sunny was in my corner.”

Alan Victor from Jack Victor is also feeling the loss. “I am heartbroken to have lost a dear friend whose business and personal advice and insights I valued so much. When I think of Sunny, I will always remember her wonderful smile, as well as her enormous energy and passion for our industry. I send my deepest sympathies to her family and all her colleagues at Saks.” 

Nelson Suriel from Jack Victor adds an anecdote: “When Saks moved their corporate offices downtown, Sunny would often work from our offices near Grand Central. (In fact, she called it Saks’ midtown office.) One day I had an appointment with Scott Polworth, men’s DMM from Bloomingdale’s; since the two had never met, I advised Sunny that he was coming at noon. Of course, he shows up before me so Sunny, in her ever-charming manner, answers the door, takes his coat, settles him in the showroom, brings him coffee. When I arrived, Scott commented on what a great new assistant we hired, having no idea who she was. When I introduced them, he was of course embarrassed but Sunny loved it, always showing a terrific sense of humor!”

Sunny is survived by her sister Suzy Kim, her 13-year-old daughter Gemma, and her parents, Hong and Hyok Kim. We at MR magazine will be forever inspired by the positive energy and generous spirit of this amazing fashion icon, merchant, and friend.

RIP Sunny Diego: know that your light continues to shine.

10 Replies to “MENSWEAR INDUSTRY REMEMBERS SUNNY DIEGO”

  1. Sunny was a fantastic merchant and a wonderful person she will be missed dearly.❤️
    Sending my deepest condolences to her entire family.
    May she RIP
    🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻❤️❤️❤️🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻❤️❤️❤️

  2. So sad for the industry and tragic for her daughter. A nice thing about this is industry is the comradery among the few of us that run in the same circles every market. Sunny was one of the friendliest of all and a happy encounter in NYC or Europe. We may be competitors to a degree, but we are people with a lot in common in a small industry and I am grateful to have known Sunny. Very respectful and loving words from her admirers from S5A and suppliers as she deserves.

  3. Sunny brought her love and energy into everyone, a gift of sunshine every day. Sunny will be greatly missed and she never be forgotten. RIP Sunny Diego 💔

  4. While I only worked with Sunny for about a year, many years ago, I still vividly recall the wit and joy she brought to oftentimes challenging situations, and the confidence with which she met those challenges. These things alone made her an inspiring force to work with, but there was much more as well. Even years removed I was happy to think she was out there inspiring others. Her passing is profoundly sad, but I know she will be remembered by many for the bright star she was. RIP Sunny.

  5. During my 12 years at Saks, Sunny was one of my favorite people to work with, what I remember most about her, was her generous spirit and nature, not only in collaborating, but she never walked into a meeting without a treat to share with everyone attending. After we both left Saks and Sunny went on to Li & Fung and I was consulting, she hired me for projects with her. She was a special persons and will be greatly missed.

  6. I also worked in the men’s division at Saks for about eight years while Sunny was there and have a Sunny story to share. A group from Saks Men’s , including Sunny, Eric Jennings and I, were visiting Scotland’s iconic tweed and cashmere mills as guests of a Scottish trade organization. At a presentation given to us by the managing director of one of Scotland’s most famous brands, he mentioned that their design team was “Quite capable”. The designers themselves were present at the meeting, and the American visitors were surprised at this typically self-effacing Scottish tone. In the US we would have described the design team in more hyperbolic terms, like “the best in the industry”, rather than “quite capable”. At the end of the presentation, our hosts asked us if we had any constructive feedback. “You’ve got to zhoosh it up!” Sunny immediately and enthusiastically advised. And that became our go-to saying for the remainder of the trip.

    1. Thanks for sharing that story, Justin! Such a memorable trip. Like you shared, it seems like everywhere we went, Sunny told the Scots presenting to us to “zhoosh” it up and give it a little sex appeal. Also, remember how sick Sunny got as we flew through the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland on our way to the Isle of Lewis in that tiny plane to visit the Harris Tweed Mills? I laughed so hard when Sunny described how she ran off the plane when we landed because the turbulence had been so severe! Ah, so many good memories…

  7. Sunny was quite the merchant. I have worked with every major dept store in North America and it is rare to find someone as talented as Sunny she pushed the vendor community to be the best you can be for her and the assortments we offered. She was a gem a great spirit and full of life. She will be missed by all of us such a tragic loss.

  8. Sunny was the best and represented the industry: cool, stylish with attitude on the outside; but with a warm caring heart on the inside. She would give you the shirt off her back if you needed help. I had the pleasure (and fun times) of working with Sunny at Saks in he 90’s. Decades later while at Barneys, we arrived at Paris for fashion week while there was an intimidating taxi strike on Uber at the airport, and no way to get into the city. Sunny escorted us to a small adjacent town by train with her driver, then gave us a ride into Paris central. As a competitor in the industry, she saved our %#*&. A beautiful, confident, kindhearted move; that was Sunny.

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