by Karen Alberg Grossman
Wilkes Bashford
Wilkes Bashford, courtesy of Facebook

The passing of Wilkes Bashford, as reported last week in MR-mag.com, generated many beautiful tributes on Facebook. From Michael Luther, former editor at DNR: “Back in the ‘80s, when I was at DNR, Wilkes and I became friends and both the paper and the magazine covered his store as one of the most influential in the country. Wilkes himself was the most personable guy I knew in the business: witty, smart, ahead of the curve and a great success. It was a pleasure to have known him, and I’m saddened by this loss.”

Other comments kicked off philosophical discussions on what it takes to be a great merchant these days. See the below Facebook exchange for more comments and reflections as we celebrate the life of Wilkes Bashford.

Barry Wishnow, designer: The passing of Wilkes Bashford made me think a lot about the fashion business. Words such as visionary are nice, but at the end of the day, Wilkes was a great seller. Great sellers were the visionaries because they knew their customers. Murray Pearlstein sold by making his customers think they needed him more than he needed them. They probably did. It was selling through intimidation.

Fred Pressman of Barneys did something extraordinary, turning 7th Ave and 17th Street from Calling All Men into an exquisite store that became a destination for the best-dressed men, and later women, in NYC. The Mitchells remain the last of the Mohicans. On the floor of all their stores and constantly communicating with customers.

Ours is a buying and selling business. Where have the merchants gone? Most to their graves, but a few remain, and they will survive because they understand the fundamentals of selling goods. That’s it. The rest is B.S.!

Wilkes Bashford Facebook
Courtesy of Facebook

Derrill Osborn, former VP Neiman Marcus: Let us not forget, as Wilkes always said, that when Barry Wishnow comes to town, I always hide my wallet! Because Wishnow is the greatest seller I know. Guess it takes one to know one…

Ron DiGennaro, journalist: However I would argue that short-sighted merchants often pay coolie wages to the young salespeople they hire for the selling floor. Once upon a time, a season tailored clothing salesman made a hefty living. Today, selling clothes has lost its luster as a career, or even as a job. This must change or the Internet will put everyone out of business forever.

Stan Tucker, former fashion director Saks Fifth Ave: There are very few merchants left. It’s all about numbers, meetings, and buying into “what are your best-selling styles…” The real merchants reside mostly in specialty stores like Mitchells and Wilkes Bashford. They knew their customers and were on the floor every day, seeing collections in the evenings.

Sam Malouf, retailer: Like the Mitchells, I am still here on the floor every day and on weekends. There are many of us out there, tuned into our clients, leading instead of following. Wilkes was one of the greats, as was my father who passed in September. They set the standards. I learned so much from my dad: his legacy continues…

Stan Tucker: Sam you are right! I remember your father fondly.

Steve Levitan: Think about another great clothing statesman: Martin Greenfield.

Barry Wishnow: Love Martin but a whole different ballgame. But definitely a seller. Except one thing, Steve: selling “make” doesn’t do it these days. The more you try to educate people about make, the more you lose them. People love and trust Martin because of who he is. They trust he’ll make good clothing.


  1. I’ve read the comments that many respected people in our business have said here. And like the owner of Maloufs, I whole-heartedly agree that the merchants who own their stores are still on the selling floor. It’s just that today you have to be small. My father, Vincent P.Ferrucci and I are a 2 man band. Actually we’re an orchestra! My father is one of the last of the talented master tailors and merchants. I would go on many a buying trip to the city and he would tell our manufacturers what they were doing right and sometimes what they were doing that was wrong. Talking to foremen in the shop or to the owner. Correcting models, pointing out coat lining issues or poor buttonhole workmanship on a suit jacket. Today the owners or their sales directors are either deaf or ignorant. They don’t realize when you’re trying to help them build a better mouse trap. They only look at the numbers and what the “Big Boys” have to say- which is usually nothing more than how good a deal they can get on the merchandise.

  2. I have been in the menswear retail business for 50 years.I started at 17 years old,right out of high school. I am what I’ve always wanted to be. A merchant,old school. Know your customer,know your merchandise. Show your customer you care about him,not making the sale.
    I have been at my current location since 1993. My salesman ( yes! salesman,be proud) make new customers every month and the customers that started with me keep coming back. And it’s not because of price,it’s because we have beautiful goods, not sold in department stores,priced fairly,but most importantly we care.
    I believe Mr. Bashford took the same approach. I think all the best ,successful merchants take the same approach.

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