Vince Camuto, the footwear legend behind two of the industry’s biggest success stories, has died. He was 78.
The co-founder of Nine West famously grew that business into a major powerhouse, sold it to Jones Apparel Group in 1999, took a brief break and did it all again in late 2001, launching Camuto Group.
“If you look at the successes of the best companies in America, it was the culture that was built and remained long after the principals weren’t there,” Camuto told FN last year. “It’s never about one person. It’s the teams you put in place. Without the right people, you’re nowhere.”
Camuto was one of the industry’s most revered leaders, hugely respected by friends, colleagues and competitors. He broke new territory on many fronts, including being one of the first footwear executives to develop an export business in Brazil. “The minutes I walked into those factories in Brazil my eyes opened as wide as could be,” he recalled a few years ago. “I couldn’t believe the size of these factories and that they were empty. With some infrastructure and money, I knew there was so much potential.”
“When I think of the people that made a significant impact in my career Vince Camuto is at the top of the list,” said Debbie Ferree, DSW’s vice chairman and chief merchandising officer. “He was a great teacher and mentor since I joined the footwear industry. He remained that individual his whole life. He made a tremendous impact on me personally and professionally.”
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Matt Rubel, former head of Payless ShoeSource and Cole Haan said: “He had the finest taste level of anyone in the American footwear industry. He brought more pretty shoes to women than anyone over the past 30 years.”
Kenneth Cole tweeted: “Hearts out to a shoe industry icon and legend Vince Camuto. A man who consistently defied all odds. A role model for so many.”
The party was hosted by Tommy Hilfiger, a close friend of Camuto’s, and one of his biggest supporters.
“He’s the best product guy in the business. I don’t think there’s a better person,” Hilfiger told FN a few years ago. “He knows how to build a product women love and to offer it at the best possible price. There are style price equations, and Vince nails it every single time.”
Camuto received countless Footwear News Achievement Awards, first appearing on stage in 1991 when Fisher Camuto Group won company of the year. Nine West received retailer of the year in 1994. After starting his namesake brand, he received launch of the year in 2005 and brand of the year in 2011. The most memorable of them all was the Lifetime Achievement Award he received in 2013. (Camuto was inducted into FN’s Hall of Fame in 2001.)
At the time of his Lifetime Achievement Award, Camuto told FN: “[Retire] isn’t in my vocabulary. As people come up through the company, I can do less…We have teams of great people. The greatest thrill is when you see them grow. That’s the greatest accomplishment.”
Camuto died at home in Greenwich, Conn. surrounded by his wife, Louise Camuto, and his five children.