For Saks Fifth Avenue’s Roopal Patel, Senior Vice President and fashion director for both men’s and women’s, being female has always been an asset in her career. Here, she shares what she’s learned from her many mentors, and reveals how men can elevate their personal style with the right key items.
What first piqued your interest in fashion.
I always loved fashion from a young age. My parents would take me shopping and I remember being fascinated by the clothes, the mannequins, the designer shops, and the experience of the stores. I bought Vogue every month and tore my favorite looks out to wallpaper my closet with the images, and I also watched “Style with Elsa Klensch” every Saturday at 10:00 am. This is where I learned about designers like Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein, and Yves Saint Laurent, which furthered my fascination with the fashion world.
Your career path? Was being a woman an asset or liability on your journey? Explain.
My journey within the fashion industry has been primarily based in luxury retail. I started my career in the fashion office at Bergdorf Goodman, where I returned later as Fashion Director, and have also held positions at Neiman Marcus, Moda Operandi, and Club Monaco. Prior to joining Saks, I had my own consulting company and worked with clients such as Farfetch, JOOR, CFDA, JCP, and Loewe. I think being a woman has always been an asset to my career path, especially in the fashion industry.
Your mentors and lessons learned from them?
I am so grateful to have many incredible mentors and have had the honor to work alongside them throughout my career.
Marc Metrick has been a great support and influential mentor, and he is one of the main reasons that I joined Saks. He has such a strong, transforming vision for Saks that has established the company as a fashion authority. He leads by example – if he says he is going to do something, he will. Marc has been a champion of mine from the start and I appreciate his accessibility and availability to connect at any time.
Robert Burke is another mentor who has made a big impact on my career. He took a chance on me when he hired me to be the Fashion Director of Bergdorf Goodman in 2002. I was 27 years old and it was a major turning point for me in my career. I learned from Robert how to look at the full picture of the customer’s experience from start to finish.
Tracy Margolies is another one of my mentors. We’ve known each other for several years since we were assistants starting out in our careers. She always tells me to go with my gut, to trust my instincts, and to take chances. She is not afraid to take a risk, whether it be with new designers, new ideas, or new concepts
Linda Fargo has been another positive influence on my career, who I worked with for many years in the fashion office at Bergdorf Goodman. I consider her to be my fashion sister. Linda taught me to think outside the box, and I find her curiosity and ability to see things in a unique way so inspiring.
Candy Pratts Price was another mentor for me during my time at Style.com, which is now Vogue.com. She taught me how to make the impossible become a reality by bringing amazing creative ideas and concepts to life. If I ever came to a dead end, Candy would tell me to “build a door”. She encouraged me to explore my imagination and figure out how to make my visions become a reality even if I was told they weren’t possible.
Biggest career mistake and what you learned from it?
I have had many growth opportunities along my career path, and I think making mistakes can be a gift because it has allowed me to learn and grow. For me, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to not get stuck focusing too much on the details. Sometimes things don’t happen as planned, or something falls through, or a vision does not translate the way I anticipate it will. It’s important to reflect, but only for a minute, and to pivot and keep moving forward.
Your job responsibilities? What do you like best/least about your work?
I love being a witness to all of the creativity, beauty, and magic of the fashion industry. Seeing the designers’ visions unfold each season is so inspiring, and I truly enjoy meeting new designers and nurturing new talent.
Is there such a thing as work-life balance? How do you manage it
Work life balance exists, but there needs to be a conscious effort to create it and maintain it. I learned to find this balance later in my career shortly after I broke my ankle while surfing. During my recovery, it was clear that I needed to slow down and be mindful about having more balance in my life. Now, I make it a priority to have time just for me during each day. It can be whatever it needs to be, whether that’s working out, meditating, declining events that are not a strong priority, or spending a quiet evening at home cooking and chilling out.
What would you change about yourself if you could?
Patience has never been my strong suit. I am conscious of this and make an effort to let things unfold as they may. Daily meditation has helped me ground myself and stay in the moment. It’s a work in progress, but I am evolving.
It’s 2022: why does it seem that so many American men are still clueless about men’s fashion? What are your top tips to men about dressing well?
The Saks customer is pretty fashion savvy and tuned in. Men’s fashion has expanded in the last decade and now there is something for everyone. My suggestion to customers looking for something new is to find something that works with and is a compliment to their own personal style. For the man who is looking to add a twist to their everyday look, I suggest looking for a pop of color, an animated accessory, or an update to a classic style with a twist. Classic styles I recommend investing in include an iconic watch, a quality pair of shoes, a tailored coat, a well-crafted suit, a luxe wallet, or chic shades. These are closet staples that will last for a long time and are go-to pieces for everyday life.