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.!
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.