Obituary: Don Robbie

by Karen Alberg Grossman

When MR last interviewed Don Robbie, for our November 2010 issue, he was feeling great and planning to live to 100. Sadly, MR has learned that he passed away this week. He had been living in Minneapolis and still shopped the stores regularly, always in hopes of once again discovering “the next big thing…”

A brilliantly talented industry executive who designed for Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Cardin, Robbie was as well known for his tremendous style and eccentric personality as he was for his merchandising acumen and visionary insights. It is said he was the first to bring in fabrics from Italy, the first to predict washed denims and the era of Walmart and Target, and, most notably, the first to bring the Ivy League look to menswear in the 1960s. Yet despite these myriad accomplishments, he was most proud of inspiring retail greats like Murray Pearlstein, Derrill Osborn, Barney Pressman and Phil Miller.

“Don was a treasure,” says friend and colleague Miller Harris. “With great taste. Ebullient. Witty. And delightfully, excruciatingly catty…”

“He was a designer’s designer: so talented and so damn funny!” says another colleague, Pamela Altman Brown.

Says friend and colleague Barry Wishnow, “The men’s fashion business today would not exist were it not for Don Robbie. He was smarter, more creative and more in touch with what young people wanted than anyone out there today. His cutting wit was genius. His creative advertising was brilliant. His ability to sell through intimidation was masterful. He literally launched the designer menswear business.”

Concludes Stan Tucker, formerly of Saks and Burberry, “A legend has passed. A talented, crazy and wonderful person with a personality one could never forget.” Adds Charles Patterson, “R.I.P. Don. You will be missed by those who knew and loved your wonderfully wild style.”