Retail dynamo virginia mainiero dies at 59

by Karen Alberg Grossman
Virginia Mainiero (left) with Karen Murray

MR magazine is saddened to report the passing of Virginia Mainiero, fashion industry executive and friend to so many. She was a dynamic leader and always a bright light in our industry. She was 59 years old.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Virginia for the April 2007 issue of MR magazine when she was a menswear VP at Macy’s. She showed incredible humility, always crediting her successes to various mentors. She also showed a delightful down-to-earth sense of humor. When asked how she managed to juggle her many responsibilities (high-pressure job, wife, mother, constant travel, non-profit work, etc.), her response was “Ask my shrink!” She then confided that she gives up the unimportant stuff like going to the gym and coloring her hair.

Virginia grew up in the Bronx, earned good grades in high school and won a state scholarship to FIT. After graduating in 1980, she started her career at B. Altman and then moved to Chess King, a red-hot young men’s chain with 500 stores across the country. In three years, at age 27, she rose from assistant buyer to vice president. Soon after, she became a top menswear exec at Macy’s.

Her insights on leadership remain incredibly valid today. “From Stuart Goldblatt at Macy’s, I learned to manage by empowerment. It’s about having the confidence to surround yourself with passionate people who are smarter than you and let them do their thing.”  From Allan Zwerner, she said she learned how to negotiate without bullying: “It’s about treating vendors like partners, not adversaries. It’s about going into meetings with a goal, stating your needs, listening to their side, and coming to an agreement that works for both parties.” On Macy’s current chairman Jeff Gennette, she noted, “The way he’s able to inspire people to achieve is absolutely amazing, as is his candor and passion.” And on industry exec and good friend Karen Murray: “She’s the quintessential example of a woman who brilliantly balances a senior corporate position with her number one priority: her son.”

Of course, Virginia’s many industry friends are heartbroken. Says her aforementioned close friend Karen Murray, “Virginia was truly a ‘retail dynamo,’ always a great business partner and friend. Strong, confident, opinionated, with a quick wit and exceptional taste level, she called it the way she saw it. She was so much fun to be with, with her great sense of humor, ability to laugh at herself and a smile that lit up the room. She worked hard, played hard, ran a great business and understood menswear like no one else. I hired Virginia while I was at Nautica and the team loved her! She gave it her all. But the love of her life was her daughter Ali: nothing or no one brought her more happiness.”

Industry exec Paul Rosengard agrees. “Virginia was a great merchant, a great friend, and most importantly a great mother. Her love for children of all ages and her passion for our industry naturally led her to the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund. As a past president and consistent supporter of this great charitable organization, her leadership and mentorship impacted hundreds of students, particularly at her alma mater FIT.”

Says her dear friend Eden Richman, “Virginia was one of a kind: brilliant, beautiful inside and out, with a heart that profoundly felt others’ pain. She was the first person to reach out to offer kind words and resources. She was honest and authentic: if you wanted the truth, she was willing to help you see it. I met Virginia on my first day at FIT in 1978. I was blessed to have such a friend and will miss her every day until we are together again.”    

Notes another longtime friend, Jeff Raisen, “I met Virginia in the early ‘80s when she was a DMM at Chess King; our friendship continued through her jobs at Federated/MMG. In every position she held, Virginia was extremely professional, classy, talented and pleasant to work with. She supported me at almost every company I owned or worked for. Loyal and kind doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the charitable things she did for her friends. She fought a long battle and finally succumbed to her health problems but I will forever cherish the memory of our friendship.”

From Doug Jakubowski, “We started our careers together at Chess King; I was 22 years old. Virginia was a trusted business partner and friend and together, we figured out how to navigate the industry, whether we were working on the same side of the table or across from each other. Virginia combined her creative spirit with business savvy, always with a passion for product that’s been sadly lost in our industry over the years.”

And from Jeff Kantor, “She was one of the class acts in our industry. No matter the situation, she was always thoughtful and professional. She will be missed.”

Concludes another great friend, Karen Castellano, “I met Virginia when she was VP of men’s at Federated and I was president of men’s at Claiborne. She immediately impressed me as a strong, confident, tough but fair negotiator who didn’t suffer fools. As I got to know her, I discovered her wicked sense of humor. We became more than colleagues when we both had daughters at about the same time. Virginia loved her daughter fiercely and would assume ‘Momma Bear mode’ if she needed to. She had a huge heart and I believe Ali helped her open up and share that love with all of us.”

In addition to her beloved daughter, Alexandra Protter and her husband Allan Forgione, Virginia is survived by her loving mother Lucy Fratino, her sister Cathy McCarthy and Cathy’s husband Gene McCarthy, and her adored nieces and nephews Brian, Kerry, Erin, Clare, Lauren, Kevin, Maggie, Thomas, and Sean.

A Celebration of Life gathering will be held in NYC on Saturday, November 23rd (come and go as you please between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm) at Home Studios Inc, 873 Broadway (between 18th and 19th Streets), suite 301. For those so inclined, a contribution in Virginia’s memory can be made to the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund or to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

Rest in peace Virginia. We hope you know how greatly you are loved.

6 Replies to “RETAIL DYNAMO VIRGINIA MAINIERO DIES AT 59”

  1. I personally want to send my deepest condolences to the entire Mainiero family.
    It’s so sad that she died very young.
    May she RIP

    1. My heart truly hurts that my close friend of 40 years is no longer with us all.
      RIP Virginia, I love you

  2. I am so saddened by Virginia’s passing. She was a great presence in the Men’s business. I worked with her when she was the DMM at Chess King and we became fast friends. I’ll never forget selling her masses of garment dyed tees! We remained friends all these years. She did have quite the sense of humor. My condolences to Al, her daughter, and her entire family.

    1. My prayers goes to Virginia’s family and friends who knew and loved her. I meet Virginia when she was with chess king then again Macy’s, she was one of our best merchants and friend, she will be missed by many, Rest in Peace.

    2. Virginia was a tremendous businesswoman…one of the brightest & sharpest I’ve ever met. And always fair & honest. She was a great friend too, with open ears to all, genuinely concerned. And I knew she was a great mother: nothing came before her Ali. My condolences to the family. Virginia will be missed.

  3. Virginia was one of the finest people I ever worked with in our industry. Smart, fair and trusting in everything she did. My deepest condolences to her family, and those that loved her.

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