On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Footwear News will host its 2016 Achievement Awards in New York, honoring the best and brightest in the industry, including Hall of Fame winner Linda Fargo. Read on to learn more about her accomplishments.
For Linda Fargo, retail is all about theater.
As Bergdorf Goodman’s longtime director of women’s fashion and store presentation, she is credited with creating the unmistakable aura of glamour and fantasy that has defined the venerable New York department store and placed it in a class of its own.
“I’ve always had a dramatic streak. As a child, I loved costumes and dressing up — I was fascinated with the transformative power of clothing and accessories,” said Fargo, who is celebrating her 20th anniversary with Bergdorf’s, considered the crown jewel of owner Neiman Marcus Group’s portfolio. “For me, luxury retail is about creating a beautiful dream, a sense of theater.”
Fresh from art school in 1981, the Milwaukee-born executive landed her first job as a window dresser for Macy’s 34th Street flagship. “It was a crash course in learning how to work in this very cosmopolitan, ever-changing business. I loved the speed of it all,” she recalled.
Eventually promoted to visual director, Fargo spent 12 years at Macy’s before moving on to visual merchandising roles at I. Magnin and Gap. Then in 1996, she “knocked on the window” at Bergdorf’s — as she likes to put it — armed with a portfolio of design ideas. “Dawn Mello, a retail legend who was president at the time, hired me, and it was a big moment. When I was younger, I fantasized about one day working here,” she said.
Today, Fargo serves as Bergdorf’s supreme tastemaker, reigning over the fashion office and every detail of visual presentation, from interior design to the store’s traffic-stopping window displays. Over the years, she has had a creative hand in more than 1,000 of those fanciful windows, a part of her job she continues to relish.
“The world is moving so fast and a lot of our attention has shifted to screens, so there is still something very special about this real-time experience of a window,” she noted. “And I’ve always loved the idea that there is just a thin sheet of glass separating you from this incredible fantasy on the other side.”
Most recently, Fargo has been helping to stage-direct an expansive, five-year renovation of the women’s store that includes the first major remodel of the main floor in 30 years. Unveiled in September, it’s a project that Fargo said has been a highlight of her colorful career.
“A bit like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bergdorf’s has almost institution status in that it really belongs to the history of the city and to our customers. We’re just the custodians here, so it was a tremendous privilege to be entrusted with the redesign,” she explained.
Joshua Schulman, Bergdorf’s president, said Fargo nailed the challenge. “I gave Linda a seemingly impossible brief: to reconfigure the space with more capacity and a modernized selling ceremony, while still retaining the rich historical character. She delivered with a brilliant design,” he said. “She is a one-of-a-kind visionary for a one-of-a-kind store.”
Bergdorf’s renovation comes at a time when competition is heating up among Manhattan’s major department stores. Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue both opened second locations in the city this year, and Nordstrom is set to move into the market in 2019. “Everyone is upping their game, so there is certainly pressure,” Fargo noted. “But it’s also exciting because it makes you sharpen up and work even harder.”
Celebrated for her own daring style, Fargo has become a recognizable public face for the store. She’s often stopped on the street by eager fans, and each year Bergdorf’s creates a Christmas ornament in her stylish likeness. And it’s no surprise that she has the fashion community at her feet.
“Linda’s style and unique sensibility are legendary. She’s chic, elegant and witty — the ultimate triple threat — and she’s brought that and more to Bergdorf’s,” commented designer Michael Kors. “Her passion for fashion keeps designers on their toes.”
“Linda is truly one-of-a-kind,” agreed Italian shoe designer Gianvito Rossi. “She has affirmed the identity of Bergdorf Goodman as the worldwide home of fashion and luxury.”
Stuart Weitzman praised Fargo’s masterful shaping of Bergdorf’s image and creative vision through the years. “One does not need to know Linda personally to recognize and greatly admire how Bergdorf’s became the ultimate temple of fashion [during] the 20 years of her reign,” he said. “When consumers return to a store time after time, knowing they will find great merchandise to buy, I tip my hat and say, ‘Bravo, Linda.’ ”