On Monday evening, some of fashion’s biggest names and heaviest hitters congregated at Country, a restaurant located on Madison Avenue and 29th Street in the Carlton Hotel, to honor Joan Kaner, Senior Vice President, Fashion Director of Neiman Marcus, who formally retired last month. It was a perfect choice because like Joan, the restaurant is chic and understatedly elegant.
It felt like "Old Home Week" for me and a bit like having my fashion life flashing before my eyes because of the interesting and eclectic mix of people, many of whom I had not seen for years, who turned out. Of the 400 invited guests, representing every facet of the industry and spanning all generations, I spotted Ralph Lauren, Ralph Rucci, Diane Von Furstenberg, Rose Marie Bravo, Robert DeMauro, James Mischka, Mark Badgley, Fern Mallis, Ron Shamask, Ruth Finley, Freddy Lieba, Cindy Weber Cleary, Margaret Hayes, Kay Unger, CeCe Cord, Charles Chang-Lima, Anne Kampmann, Tommy Tune, Gemma Kahng, Yeohlee, Sandra Wilson, Hamish Bowles, Patti Cohen, Greg Mills, Dawn Mello, furriers Adrienne Landau, Anne Dee Goldin, and Gilles Mendel and Jerry Sorbara (at least four people in the room who are definitely NOT happy about the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having as of late).
In addition to all Joan’s many friends and admirers, the popular and influential figure can claim quite an impressive resume. After graduating from college, she was hired as a buyer at Henri Bendel, went on to become Director, Merchandise Manager of Fiorucci in the mid 70’s, and from there, Fashion Director/Accessories and Shoes at Macys. In 1979, she landed at Bergdorf Goodman as VP and Divisional Merchandise Manager, Accessories, Fine Jewelry and Shoes; VP, Fashion Director. Afterwards, she was a consultant at I. Magnin where she reported to the then President, Rose Marie Bravo, returned to Macy’s in 1984 as Vice President, Fashion Director, Women’s ready to wear, and in 1989, resumed the same position at Neiman Marcus.
When I spoke with Joan about her imminent retirement at FGI’s International Night of Stars, several weeks ago, she expressed her excitement about this new phase of her life and finally being able to move into the house she and her husband are building, in Sarasota. Since Hurricane Wilma had just hit southern Florida the day before, and we have recently had more than our share of devastatingly destructive hurricanes here and abroad, my initial thought was, hmmmmmm though Sarasota is beautiful, how brave- perhaps it’s not the best choice for building a home. But I quickly realized, “silly me”… Joan has spent the better part of her adult life immersed in the competitive, vicious, and dog eat dog worlds of fashion and retail. She has not only survived, she has flourished. If this hasn’t prepared her for whatever life holds in store, and automatically qualify her as THE Ultimate Survivor, I don’t know what would.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that she achieved her success while retaining her dignity, remaining elegant, engaging, open, friendly, and approachable, not to mention smart, eloquent and highly quotable (I’m hardly the only one who has relied upon her for her astute observations and words of wisdom). She is an anomaly and rarity. It’s rare to find a woman (or man) in this or any business, who rises to the top of their profession without having made ONE enemy along the way, and doesn’t have an associate or two or three who can dish some dirt and cattily unearth some unattractive skeletons somewhere along the line. And though she’s a star, she’s not a diva and she’s not a snob. There are no airs about her and no artificiality. Not Joan. She is one of the most influential and talented executives in fashion and also, one of the most respected and beloved. A true class act.
By the way, not only was she valedictorian at her high school graduation and co-president of Arista Honor Society, but she was voted “most likely to succeed.” Boy, did they get that right!