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An incredible business partner who redefined the luxury market. A valued mentor who “knew everything.” A kind-hearted soul and true friend. For decades, George Malkemus played a huge role in the lives of so many people across the fashion industry.
Here, top retail and footwear players remember the executive, a singular force who died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer.
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Josh Schulman, CEO, Michael Kors
“George was one of a kind. He was a consummate gentleman whose warmth and charm belied a shrewd tenacity and fierce competitive spirit. While at Jimmy Choo, it was great fun to compete against George as he set the bar high. And while I was at Bergdorf Goodman, I loved getting to know him better as a business partner and friend.
He could always see one step ahead. He was at the forefront of transforming the luxury shoe market from being dominated by conservative factory-based brands to one based on design and personality. Dominating the New York runways before ready-to-wear brands made their own shoes was a precursor to today’s era of collaborations. His close relationships with wholesale customers and adoring clients who would flock to trunk shows defined customer centricity well before an algorithm. And he was a pioneer in how to harness the power of celebrity.”
Tracy Margolies, Chief Merchandising Officer, Saks
“George was a bright light not only personally, but also professionally. He was a true gentleman who cared deeply about people and their families. He welcomed me into the footwear world early in my career and we spent hours on the floor together reviewing buys and getting to know each other. He was a kind-hearted soul and a true friend, not just a business partner. He will be deeply missed.”
Jeffrey Kalinsky, Founder, Jeffrey
“I met him around 1987. I had just been made ladies shoe buyer at Barneys, and Bonnie Pressman told me we were going to have lunch with George. That was a very big deal for a new shoe buyer. Manolo Blahnik was still coming into its own, but it was our most important brand at Barneys already. George was a role model for me right away. He was a fantastic businessman, he had amazing taste, and he was living out and proud as a gay man, which meant the world to me because I was still struggling with all of that. George became one of my heroes.
In 1990, when I left Barneys to open my store in Atlanta, it was paramount I carry Manolo Blahnik. I knew the store wouldn’t be valid if we didn’t — and that was because of George. For a lot of people in the U.S., George really was the Manolo Blahnik brand.
George knew everything. He taught me so much, even things like who to call for flowers. I learned so much from him. I was just so lucky.”
Anne Egan, Nordstrom VP and DMM, Designer Women’s Non Apparel
“The news of George Malkemus’ passing was heart-wrenching for all of us at Nordstrom that had the pleasure of working with him. George was more than a partner in our business, he was a friend.
George was elegant and interesting. He was curious and brilliant – and I often wondered if he could look into the future. George was kind. I treasured so many of our conversations where we talked about more than just shoes – always wanting an update on my family, discussing politics, new developments at the farm, and his wonderful Tony.
George was a real partner in our business. We trusted George – and he trusted us. We enjoyed growing the Manolo business and launching SJP together. It was always a bit magical when at the conclusion of our appointments, George would review our final selection. He was the authority, and we listened – knowing he not only cared about our business, but that he understood what women would best respond to. I learned so much from George – and I always appreciated his honesty and counsel. The conversations that would follow his review of our assortment allowed a glimpse into his brilliant mind. George was a beautiful human being and we will miss him very much.”
Julee Butler, VP and DMM, Ladies Shoes, Neiman Marcus
“George was an incredible business partner and friend. Those of us who were privileged to work with him recognized how truly special of a man he was. His impeccable taste, elegance, love for the product, and most importantly the deep-rooted relationships he nurtured have made him a legacy in the industry. Some of my fondest memories were our market appointments with George, his team and Neiman Marcus merchants, where we all were sitting on the floor in the showroom for hours with hundreds of shoes, materials, and color swatch cards, creating beautiful exclusive products. Looking back, those were such fun, magical and treasured times with our beloved George.”
Ken Downing, Chief Creative Officer, American Dream; Former Fashion Director, Neiman Marcus
“Gregarious and charismatic, George was a big personality that filled a room with great stories and laughter. Showroom appointments were always more than writing orders with George. I’m heartbroken this dear, wonderful man has left us. But what a legacy he leaves behind: George redefined the designer shoe market, bursting onto the scene with Manolo Blahnik and building a monumental business that would become the ultimate ‘it shoe’ of all time. George was as passionate about his beloved Arethusa Farms as he was about the shoe empire he created with Manolo, and later with Sarah Jessica Parker. Our industry has lost a legend, a visionary and a true icon.”