by Brian Lipton

Roopal PatelFor Roopal Patel, who joined Saks Fifth Avenue last Thursday as its new fashion director, there was no doubt in her mind about joining the venerable retailer when the offer was made.

“What most attracted me is that now is such an exciting time to be part of this company, which is in a great state of change already. There’s really an opportunity to move this iconic brand forward, and I so much want to be a part of that,” says Patel, who spent the last three years as president of her own eponymous consulting firm, and whose prior fashion experience includes stints as senior fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, senior accessory market editor for Neiman Marcus and executive fashion director of e-tailer Moda Operandi.

“Retail has changed so much in the past 10 years, and what’s become so important is the need for each retailer to differentiate their voice and get their own message out,” says Patel. “I think Saks is in a great to position to establish themselves as a real leader, and what’s great is I also feel that the fashion community really wants Saks to shine.”

To accomplish that task, Patel is determined to elevate the fashion mix in both the men’s and women’s department. She stresses that Saks will strengthen its ambassador brands, work on cultivating new designers, bring in new talent and increase its number of in-store events. “I think in-store events are so crucial for designers to connect with their customers and spread their message, and I think many of those designers find them very gratifying,” she notes.

While Patel declined to specify which brands might be added to the store’s collections, she shared with MR some of her current favorite menswear lines. “Thom Browne still leads the way for me, because he has such an innovative voice,” says Patel. “Orley is the best within the knitwear world; I just saw Public School’s menswear collection and it was fantastic; Thorsun Swim is such a great brand; and Thaddeus O’Neill’s first presentation was really remarkable,” she notes. “I love that men now have an option of experimentation that women always had. We also hope that our younger customers realize they can find whatever they need in our assortment. My goal is to see a grandfather, father and son to all shop at Saks.”

Patel’s appointment comes on the heels of Saks’ announcement of a thorough renovation of the Fifth Avenue flagship, which includes new “lifestyle” sections on the sixth and seventh men’s floors; the relocation of beauty and skincare to the store’s second floor and the creation of a “champagne bar” that will be connected to a patio that overlooks Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the ninth floor, where Café SFA will also now be located.

“There is no question that our Fifth Avenue store is the jewel in our crown. Over the past few days, I have loved hearing people’s memories of everything from childhood memories to recent experiences of being in that store,” she says. “And this renovation is very important to show the world the blueprint of what the new Saks will be. But every store, including those we plan to open in the U.S. and Canada, will be unique and special, and part of sharing our new, elevated message. Someone said to me recently that they felt Saks was the ‘people’s store’ and I want that to continue.”