Nine West co-founder Jerome “Jack” Fisher, who died last week in Palm Beach, Fla., at age 85, dramatically changed the footwear business during his legendary career. The patriarch of one of the industry’s most storied shoe families built Nine West into a powerhouse brand and paved the way for many who followed in his footsteps, including his beloved children and grandchildren.
“My dad was a incredible man — my best friend, my mentor and best of all, my dad. We loved each other very much,” said Marc Fisher, founder and CEO of his namesake company. “His passion was always shoes, always trying to be the best at what he did, always pushing everyone he worked with to be the best. He was truly a visionary in the ladies’ shoe industry.”
Fisher said his father brought his entire family together and “made magic.” “His wife, kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren meant the world to him,” he said. “I will miss his daily phone calls, his concerns [for me, sister Jodi and brother Jeffrey], his love and support. He was an amazing guy, truly the best.”
The shoe business has been in the family blood for many decades. Jack’s father, Sam Fisher, was a founding member of the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, so it’s no surprise that Jack Fisher became hooked on the business at a young age.
He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1953 with a degree in industrial engineering — and the sharp student’s thesis on the demise of the U.S. shoe industry didn’t stop him from opening a footwear factory in Derry, N.H. Fisher quickly recognized the opportunity to expand by importing shoes.“Jerome’s passion, eagerness and trailblazing ambition to globalize were always in the back of his mind,” said his wife, Anne Fisher.
In 1968, Jack Fisher became a partner with Sumitomo Shoji, a Japanese trading company — where he first worked with Vince Camuto. By 1977, the duo had formed the precursor to Nine West. Fisher and Camuto — along with Wayne Weaver — grew the company into a formidable global player, took it public in 1993 and snapped up rival U.S. Shoe Corp. in 1995. (Nine West was sold to Jones Apparel Group in 1999 for $900 million; the brand is now owned by Sycamore Partners.)
“Getting together with Vince for Nine West was unique at the time. They created this terrific enterprise,” said Dick Jacobson, the former FFANY president, who first met Fisher during his New England factory days.
“When Nine West went public, he said to me, ‘Dickie, I can’t believe this could happen to me.’ He was a humble guy down deep and very open with people who knew him. If you were a friend, he would go to [great lengths] for you.”
Weaver, former co-owner of Nine West, said Fisher was an iconic figure from his factory shoe days. “He was a good man and did good things for it,” said Weaver. “Jack was one of the early pioneers who recognized Brazil was the next major shoe source for moderate-price leather footwear. I had met him in those early days when I was at Brown Shoe, and we bought shoes from him. I had 16 great years working with him and have great admiration for his contribution not only to the industry, but our company.”
As Fisher, Camuto, Weaver and team developed the business, they found a distinct opening in the market — for fashion-style footwear at price points that didn’t break the bank.
“He had a tremendous impact on the shoe industry,” said Scott Meden, EVP of the Nordstrom shoe division. “Jack had a unique knack for developing on-trend product with great quality and fit at an accessible price. He and Vince were truly pioneers in so many aspects of the business as we know it today. Jack’s legacy and our relationship live on with his son Marc.”
In an interview with FN last year, Fisher recalled introducing his son to the business at a young age as a way of spending time together: “Soon my passion was Marc’s passion, and he was off to Brazil to study shoemaking. He was a natural — always listening, learning and becoming fluent in both the art and business of shoes.”
The elder Fisher relished the opportunity to work as a consultant for his son’s business during his retirement years, and he also made a deep impact on many other members of the industry along the way. “Jack advised, supported and mentored me over the many years we worked together,” said Susan Itzkowitz, president of Marc Fisher Footwear. “He was a visionary who forever changed the footwear business. While he was a valued mentor, more importantly, he was a good friend.”
During his retirement years, Fisher was perhaps most stimulated by his far-reaching charity work, which was always a central part of his life. He was a major force in one of the footwear industry’s biggest charity events, Shoes on Sale — which was launched in 1993 by daughter Jodi Fisher, who died in 2009.
Her father, a co-founder of the event, served on the FFANY board, often attended the annual fundraising gala in New York and was a major contributor to the cause since its inception. “When I came to my dad with the idea for Shoes on Sale, he looked at me and said, ‘This is such a huge idea, but I really believe you can do this,’ ” Jodi Fisher recalled in 2007. “He taught me to never give up.”
Jack Fisher — who was honored with Two Ten’s Humanitarian award — was a steadfast supporter of his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1991, he and Anne were the primary donors for the Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library, and he also endowed what became the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology.
In 2002, the Fishers teamed up with former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld to give an $11.5 million donation to Penn to update student dormitories and residential services. More recently, the couple gave $3 million to fund the Jodi Fisher Horowitz Professorship in Leukemia Care Excellence at the university’s Abramson Cancer Center.
The Fishers also made significant contributions to many other hospitals and arts organizations, including the Israel Museum.
Also during his retirement, Fisher — who had a lifelong passion for yachting — decided to build his dream boat, “The Lady Anne,” a 225-foot elegant, modern mega-yacht. “She’s a beautiful vessel, and I’m very proud,” Fisher said in 2007.
But nothing made him happier than to see his family love the shoe industry — and thrive in it. Today, his grandchildren (and Marc’s children) Adam, Amanda and Lauren, fourth generation family members, are all active at Marc Fisher Footwear. Last week, the young leaders saluted their grandfather and his contributions.
“My heart is so broken, yet so filled with all the love and passion my grandfather instilled in me. He lived his life every day for his family,” said Lauren Fisher. “For such an accomplished man, he was so humble, so full of love and support. My grandfather set the bar high in all aspects of his life. At a very young age, we learned the importance of working hard, commitment, as well as being a close-knit family. I will miss him every day, but feel blessed to have had him in my life.”
Adam Fisher recalled daily calls with his grandfather about family, shoes and trends. “He never lost interest for an industry that’s been in our family for so long. I have been blessed to have learned from him in both life and business, and will always try to emulate his incredible successes,” he said.
Amanda Fisher called her grandfather an incredible leader and innovator “whose vision helped transform the footwear industry.” Above all else, she said, he was a family man. “His greatest achievement was in his role as a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. His love and dedication to our family will continue to bring us together for years to come. I am proud to carry on his name and legacy within our business.”
A few years ago, Jack Fisher marveled at his family’s long run. “In a short time, our family will have been in the business for 100 years, dating back to 1919, my father’s time,” Fisher said a few years ago. “We’re all very proud of that.”
—With contributions by Barbara Schneider-Levy