Louis DiGiacomo, SVP/GMM of Men’s at Saks Fifth Avenue, admits he fell in love with retailing from the first college information session he attended at SUNY Albany, where he studied marketing and accounting. “I hadn’t considered retailing, but I did love shopping, having spent virtually every weekend of my childhood at the mall with my mom, three sisters, and a handful of friends. After that first info session my senior year, I landed an internship over Christmas break in the gift department of the Fifth Avenue store. From the first moment on the selling floor, I fell totally in love with it: assisting customers, merchandising assortments, just feeling the energy. Not only was it exciting and constantly changing, but it combined my two passions, finance and fashion. I knew right away that this was for me!”
Over the years, his initial passion only intensified. “The leadership and culture at Saks inspire me to excel, both personally and professionally. Our CEO Marc Metrick and I have been working together for almost 25 years; we started within a year of each other and the way he’s led the recent transition is truly admirable. (Editor’s note: Metrick was responsible for Saks spinning off its digital business last year, a move that allows Saks to “win additional shoppers and cater to them differently.”)
“Marc leads by example in everything he does,” adds Louis. “Anything he suggests to us, he does himself. His passion and enthusiasm are infectious: when he talks in meetings about our strategy, I actually leave with goosebumps. He always makes us feel that Saks is number one and encourages excitement about our future.
“Saks’ Chief Merchandising Officer Tracy Margolies has been another powerful mentor. She’s always challenging me to aim higher, to take more risks. She’s taught me that sometimes you go with your gut, rather than strictly by analytics. What’s more, she’s a big proponent of work/life balance, always checking in and offering support. I’ve learned so much from her.
“And, of course, I’ve learned from Tom Ott, a colleague and great friend for 25 years. Since the beginning, Tom has always told me to ‘be a partner in our business, be yourself, and have fun.’ These three simple principles have guided me through my career.”
Humble and unpretentious, personable and approachable, Louis finds nothing unusual about sticking with a company for 27 years, through several administrations and numerous ups and downs. “It’s my personality: I’m very dedicated,” he explains. “I’ve always felt grateful for the opportunities Saks gave me early on when I had no retail experience, and for the consistent core of Saks’ execs who continue to inspire me. Even during the toughest times, I never considered leaving because I felt a responsibility to stay. I’ve always looked at Saks as my company; I could never give up on it.”
His dedication and work ethic most likely comes from his dad. “My dad (who still has no idea what I do) owned a fish store on the Upper East Side. As a kid, I used to work there during school holidays. My dad would sleep at the store during the week since he had to wake up at the crack of dawn to place orders at the Fulton Fish Market and then do all the cleaning, gutting, and fileting early in the morning. I surely inherited his work ethic and learned from his frequent reminders that nothing in life would be handed to me; I’d always have to earn it.”
And earn it he has, gaining tremendous respect from menswear colleagues, both retailers and brands. Reflecting the thoughts of many, Jim Shay from Isaia praises Louis’ decisiveness and consistency. “Louis understands how to maximize partnerships in ways that ensure Saks’ business goals are achieved while honoring the vendor’s brand identity. He is decisive and has a consistent level-headed approach that inspires confidence. He builds loyalty both inside his organization and within the vendor community.”
Louis proudly talks about his current menswear business, which has been very strong. “I believe it’s grown since Covid because of the strategic investments we made before the pandemic. Essentially, we repositioned men’s with a greater focus on fashion, on categories we believed offered growth opportunity including designer ready-to-wear, footwear and accessories.”
In addition to all the classic sartorial (mostly Italian) brands on the sixth floor, Saks devotes the entire seventh floor to more advanced designer collections and luxury streetwear. “It’s not an easy business,” he says of luxury streetwear. “This customer changes quickly: his preferred brands, his influences, his shopping behavior. As a retailer, you need to read the pulse of what’s happening so you can act before the customer does. At luxury price points, mistakes can be costly.”
Apparently, Louis has all his fingers on the pulse. He describes the luxury streetwear customer as younger in both age and mindset. “He follows fashion trends, runway shows, and social media; he shops both in-store and online; he knows what he wants. He’s influenced by many factors, especially sports and music. What athletes wear on game day, on draft day in Vegas, as they step onto a podium; what musicians wear for concerts and award shows, these messages are as important as runway shows and help us decide which trends to emphasize.”
He also explains how Saks’ classic customers and luxury streetwear customers are moving closer together. “Our classic/traditional sixth floor has evolved considerably these past few years. From a pre-pandemic highly penetrated power suit/shirt/tie offering, we’ve infused that business with more soft tailoring and elevated sportswear, a mix of sportscoats, fine-gauge knitwear, and outerwear that could comfortably take a guy from the office out to dinner and events. We’ve devoted considerable effort to communicating this new look, not just with catalogs and digital messages but also with high-impact presentations on selling floors and well-versed style advisors. We realize this new look is very different from the old Business Casual, when guys all wore khakis and polos. This sophisticated new mix of easy tailoring and elevated sportswear is truly an art form, which needs to be communicated visually.”
Louis, in fact, loves wearing this modern mix. “I always wear sportcoats; I don’t feel complete without one. But my current sportcoats are much less structured than what I wore three years ago. And I’m mixing them with dress trousers, clean denim or elevated cargo pants, a sportshirt or knit polo or cashmere tee. I’m also loving nice, clean, soft leather loafers: after so many years of sneakers, it’s time to embrace all the new dress shoes and boots.”
Louis confides that what’s surprised him most is how dramatically the luxury collections have rebounded from peak-pandemic. “This classic luxury customer was the first to stop shopping early in the pandemic and the last to return. But he’s now refreshing his wardrobe completely differently, with comfortable but extremely sophisticated softly tailored and elevated sportswear pieces. He’s also buying lots of made-to-measure, not just suits but also trousers and sportswear. Formalwear is also selling well, thanks to the well-publicized return of weddings and events.”
He also shares that at the same time the sixth floor was trending more casual, the seventh floor (renovation to be completed by fall) was trending dressier. “There’s a definite shift from joggers, hoodies, and tees to dressier models, fabrics, colors, and patterns. This customer is fashion-driven and likely to seek out whatever’s new, including the more gender-fluid fashion seen on runways. He’s going out more—vacations, dinners, events—and his wardrobe is changing accordingly. By connecting our sixth and seventh floors via a central staircase and relocating a fabulous 8000 sq ft footwear department to the sixth floor, we’re seeing more customers shop both floors. This connectivity and cross-shopping is super exciting to watch.”
Louis admits, however, that this newly intense focus on designer can keep him up at night. “I worry about how to keep evolving this business,” he says. Other sources of sleepless nights: how to keep his menswear team as highly motivated and excited as he is. “I love Saks, I love what I do, and no matter what else is going on, I wake up every morning supercharged and motivated. I hope I’m passing this on to my team…”
And speaking of his team, although Louis says he is extremely “honored, delighted and amazed” to receive this year’s Retailer of the Year award, he’s not comfortable taking credit for recent successes in Saks’ menswear. “It’s my team that deserves the credit: I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without them and I’m extremely proud of their many achievements. Although it’s wonderful to be honored, the award does not define me.”
What does define him, emphatically, is his large and close-knit family. “I was born and raised in Staten Island, where I still live. We’re super connected with both my family (my dad still lives down the street from me) and my wife’s family.”
He describes a typical day. “No day is what I’d call typical except for
waking up at 4:15 a.m.; doing my little exercise routine and leaving the house at 5:00. The office is quiet at that hour so I get a lot done (and our European vendors love it because we talk at 6:00, mid-day for them.) Later in the morning, things get crazy, and I end up running in many directions. But because I start early, I’m generally home in time to have dinner with my family and participate in my kids’ activities. I jokingly call myself a Dance Dad because I’ve been to all my 13-year-old daughter Chloe’s dance competitions; I also love sharing my son Dylan’s activities but he’s now in college studying electrical engineering. My personal hobbies include cooking (I’m famous for my meat sauce: I’m happy to share my mom’s recipe but without exact quantities, you might need a few tries to get it right), gardening, and rooting for the NY Jets, NY Mets, and NY Knicks.
My wife Melissa and I enjoy travel and lately: visiting wineries and going to wine tastings. Melissa is the one who keeps me grounded, putting life in perspective when I’m overly focused on business…” Which, of course, is often inevitable. At this writing, Louis is traveling in Milan and Paris, scouting out menswear trends for Spring ’23, and sourcing for the very successful Saks Fifth Avenue private label men’s collection. Says friend and former boss Tom Ott: “Louis is a merchant’s merchant — always in the market looking for the best product, spending weeks at a time in the finest showrooms and factories. He was instrumental in building Saks private label collection, designer sneaker dominance, and growing Saks’ men’s into a designer headquarters. But of all of Louis’s strong points, most notable is his intense devotion to the growth of his team, to his family, and to the industry he loves.”
The MR Awards is the largest and most prestigious event on the better menswear calendar, attended by the industry’s leading retailers, brands, and menswear insiders. In addition to new honorees, more than 50 Lifetime Achievement and Hall of Fame members are invited to return each year. The awards will be held at the Edison Ballroom on Sunday, July 17th, 2022, during New York menswear market week.