Commentary

Marvin Traub, Retailing Impressario And Nurturer, 87

Marvin S. Traub, who Women’s Wear Daily calls “one of the 20th century’s most visionary retailers, acclaimed for his merchandising and marketing showmanship,” died at home in Manhattan yesterday. He was 87 and is survived byhis wife, Lee, and three children, Andrew, James and Peggy.  

“Famous for his seemingly inexhaustible energy,” as James Covert writes in the New York Post, Traub was still working as recently as late June. He had been battling bladder cancer and was a co-founder (with Mortimer Singer, president of Marvin Traub Associates) of Pin Down Bladder Cancer, which raises funds for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's bladder cancer Translational Science Program.

“He was instrumental in elevating Bloomingdale’s reputation from a mainstream department store to a chic emporium with wide brand recognition,” writes David Moin in Women’s Wear Daily, “building on the groundwork for the upscaling of the business that had been laid by other executives there since the late Forties….”

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Once compared to the influential impresario Sol Hurok by Vogue editor Grace Mirabella, Traub “introduced many of the world’s best-known clothing designers and created a national chain that acquired a reputation for status-conscious merchandising and chic interior moods that dazzled the eye,” writes Robert D. McFadden in the New York Times

“I will miss his hand on my shoulder,” Ralph Lauren told WWD. “Marvin has been part of my life for over 45 years.”

“He was a key figure in retail when it was a fairy tale,” Karl Lagerfeld tellsVogue’s Lauren Milligan, noting his cheerfulness and friendliness. “His innovation was to make a store that was not so noteworthy into the trendiest shop in town."

Giorgio Armani’s observation that Traub “had faith in Armani before Armani was Armani” is among the remembrances running on splash pages on the site for Marvin Traub Associates, which Traub founded in 1992 after leaving Bloomingdale’s a year earlier. It describes itself as “a global business development and strategy consulting firm, focused on working with brands, retailers, developers and related businesses that operate in the upscale retail and consumer goods sector.”

The first two-thirds of Like No Other Store: The Bloomingdale's Legend and the Revolution in American Marketing, written with Tom Teicholz and published in 1993, describes Traub’s “privileged but lonely childhood with his parents (well-know fashion buyers in New York in the 1930's), as well as the gradually changing world of department stores after the end of WW II, when Traub, fresh out of Harvard Business School, joined Bloomingdale's as a trainee in its vast basement bargain floor,” according to Kirkus Reviews.

Traub, who was wounded in action in World War II, rose quickly at the store, which has been headquartered at 59th St. in Manhattan since 1886 and has occupied the entire block between Lexington and Third avenues since the 1920s. He became evp in charge of merchandising and sales promotions in 1962, according to a blog devoted to Traub cited by the AP. He was named president in 1969 and chairman and CEO in 1978.

At the time Like No Other Store was published, Bloomingdale’s was recovering from a wrenching bankruptcy that involved some high flyers of the day -- Robert Campeau and Drexel Burnham Lambert among them. “Predictably (and probably justifiably), he takes plenty of credit for the store's many successes but little of the blame for its recent troubles in the wake of Campeau's disastrous 1989 takeover,” A.G. Wright observed in a Library Journal review excerpted on Amazon. 

“We are not only in competition with other stores, but with the Guggenheim and the Met,” Traub once said. 

“As if Bloomingdale’s had its own foreign policy, he saluted China, Italy, France, Portugal, Ireland and Israel with lavish productions that featured not only traditional furnishings, clothing and gourmet foods but also displays of artifacts from antiquity, glittering dinner parties and guest lists that included ambassadors, business titans, movie stars, presidents’ wives and sometimes royalty,” writes the Times’ McFadden.

When a new chairman and CEO, Michael Gould, disavowed the extravaganzas “in favor of promotions focused more on selling products,” as the New York Times’ Eben Shapiro reported at the time, and an anonymous inside source told him “you don't make any money on presenting culture and art," Traub exhibited his customary equanimity.

"Good retailing always changes," he said. "It's absolutely appropriate that Bloomingdale's change in the '90s."

It would probably be fair to say that no one had had a bigger influence on the changes in the upscale segment of retailing during the past 50 years than Traub –- not only in the aisles but also on the people whose careers he nurtured. 

“We used to call him our ‘Godfather,’” say Ottavio and Rosita Missoni in one of the tributes running on the Marvin Traub Associates site. “Marvin was the very first to trust our talent.”

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