Threading the Needle ~ Back Where I Belong
My farewell at J. Press five years after the sale of the family business in 1986 was orchestrated by Norbert Ford.
Norbert was a charismatic entrepreneur who began his career dressing windows at the original Abercrombie and Fitch safari, rifle and menswear emporium on 45th and Madison. He was a scrappy senior executive, and when Abercrombie faded, Ford became a partner of menswear clothing manufacturer Gordon of Philadelphia, changing the name to Gordon-Ford. He made the seersucker, linen, poplin, and corduroy outfits for J. Press, originating the “suburban suit,” an amalgamation of the rustic country club/company signature regularly advertised in New Yorker Magazine. After his original partner bought him out, he became an international fashion consultant and corporate director squiring a palace ruin on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland.
A man for all seasons, he counseled me during the sale of the business to our Japanese licensee Onward Kashiyama. “I think you’re going to feel restricted in your new situation and I’m going to keep my eye on you,” I recall him saying. After my first five years as part of an international business I felt the budding time for change.
Norbert encouraged me to consider working for Hartmarx, where he was a board member. “How would you like to take the ball and run? Come on over to Tripler and let’s see if it can be a turnaround.” My prospective destination, FR Tripler, was a funereal, declining remnant of a bygone era. It boasted four floors and 10,000 square feet of fine men’s and women’s wear, and since World War I had been a cathedral of dignity on the corner of 46th and Madison, laid to waste by incompetence and neglect and virtually abandoned by its Midwestern conglomerate ownership.
An anticlimactic meeting took place the following week with my Kashiyama boss as I thanked him for his courtesy to both me and the Press family offering my resignation. My bags were packed on Friday and on Monday I walked into FR Tripler, where an enormous banner was hanging from a ten-foot balustrade in the back of the store, “Tripler Welcomes Our New President, Richard Press.”
Re-invigorating FR Tripler indeed worked well — for three exciting years — until that day the cloud burst when parent company Hartmarx Retail went belly-up broke, prompting my retail farewell to arms.
- Press contacted me after my serving a long spell as Contributing Editor and Columnist for the blog Ivy Style. One hundred plus columns, two published hardcover books and multiple store events thereafter I am once again pridefully in the J. Press fold.
Reflecting upon the song from Hello Dolly, “It’s great to be right back where you belong.”