Our MR series, Women in Menswear, concludes with the dyanamic Katie Liu, partner in Black Dog Showroom for the past 17 years. Here, she talks about changes since the old “Boys Club” and whether a business partner and life partner can be one and the same.
Let’s start with a little personal background.
Michael Kreiman founded Black Dog Showroom almost 20 years ago and I joined him almost 17 years ago. Prior to his very wise suggestion that we work for ourselves, I had the privilege of working for several internationally celebrated designers.
As a female at the time, what were some of the obstacles to success?
The ‘Boys Club’ was a society norm long before I started my career, so of course I experienced small injustices like being the one expected to take the food orders for lunch meetings even though there were three men of equal age and rank in the room. Then there were the bigger obstructions: for example, in order to be considered for a prime project, I’d have to work harder and be more outspoken than the guys, only to be labeled a hard ass.
I’m happy to say that men of my generation and younger are far more enlightened and evolved. The new generations of women in menswear are fortunately on more equal playing fields these days.
Do you prefer working for men or women? Who have been your key mentors?
I’ve worked for highly skilled bosses and for those who were not equipped for their positions. My preference never depended on their gender, just on their brilliance.
I’m lucky to have had many great friends who supported and applauded me throughout the years, and who kicked my ass when necessary. First and foremost: my partner in life and in business Michael Kreiman. Michael has given me more sage advice than I can list. One of his suggestions now ingrained in me is to take a step back in uncomfortable situations, understand the other person’s perspective before giving an answer I might regret. I’m a gung-ho broad-stroke doer; Michael maintains a calm cerebral approach. I’ve learned that this combination creates a strong partnership and an unbreakable bond.
Then there are my many wonderful retail advisors like Riccardo Dallai from Riccardi, Chuck Spiegel from Charles Spiegel, and the late Sunny Diego of Saks Fifth Ave, whose motto “Get Shit Done” is my constant mantra. The list is long of friends and colleagues who inspire me without even knowing they do; how great is that?
What would you have done differently if you could start your career over?
For sure, I would have lived in Milan and Paris for at least a year each. If only I knew then what I know now! My suggestion to any young person coming into this industry: travel as much as you can to learn about different cultures. The more we understand our differences, the better equipped we are to negotiate resolutions on many levels.
What have you learned from the pandemic? Have you changed goals as a result?
I believe the pandemic has forced many of us to recalibrate what’s truly meaningful in our lives. I hope to share my new goals within the next year.
Could you give us some insight as to how business has shifted since the pandemic?
The independent stores we work with have had super sales these past 12 months. We’re surprised by how many directional stores are now looking for timeless, high-quality product. The biggest surprise is their eagerness for upscale hybrid sport shirts for FW22, a category that took a nose dive before the pandemic. Another change is the amount of specialized tailoring our retailers are selling. A clear universal trend among our retail accounts is their quest for new, emerging brands. It seems consumers are coming out of the pandemic looking for products with more limited distribution.
What in your career are you most proud of?
Surely, it’s that fact that I’ve been able to work with my business and life partner for 17 years without a criminal incident, LOL!