An incredible business partner who redefined the luxury market. A valued mentor who “knew everything.” A kind-hearted soul and true friend. For decades, George Malkemus played a huge role in the lives of so many people across the fashion industry.
Here, top retail and footwear players remember the executive, a singular force who died on Thursday after a long battle with cancer.
Josh Schulman, CEO, Michael Kors
“George was one of a kind. He was a consummate gentleman whose warmth and charm belied a shrewd tenacity and fierce competitive spirit. While at Jimmy Choo, it was great fun to compete against George as he set the bar high. And while I was at Bergdorf Goodman, I loved getting to know him better as a business partner and friend.
He could always see one step ahead. He was at the forefront of transforming the luxury shoe market from being dominated by conservative factory-based brands to one based on design and personality. Dominating the New York runways before ready-to-wear brands made their own shoes was a precursor to today’s era of collaborations. His close relationships with wholesale customers and adoring clients who would flock to trunk shows defined customer centricity well before an algorithm. And he was a pioneer in how to harness the power of celebrity.”
Tracy Margolies, Chief Merchandising Officer, Saks
Jeffrey Kalinsky, Founder, Jeffrey
“I met him around 1987. I had just been made ladies shoe buyer at Barneys, and Bonnie Pressman told me we were going to have lunch with George. That was a very big deal for a new shoe buyer. Manolo Blahnik was still coming into its own, but it was our most important brand at Barneys already. George was a role model for me right away. He was a fantastic businessman, he had amazing taste, and he was living out and proud as a gay man, which meant the world to me because I was still struggling with all of that. George became one of my heroes.
In 1990, when I left Barneys to open my store in Atlanta, it was paramount I carry Manolo Blahnik. I knew the store wouldn’t be valid if we didn’t — and that was because of George. For a lot of people in the U.S., George really was the Manolo Blahnik brand.
George knew everything. He taught me so much, even things like who to call for flowers. I learned so much from him. I was just so lucky.”
Anne Egan, Nordstrom VP and DMM, Designer Women’s Non Apparel
“The news of George Malkemus’ passing was heart-wrenching for all of us at Nordstrom that had the pleasure of working with him. George was more than a partner in our business, he was a friend.
George was elegant and interesting. He was curious and brilliant – and I often wondered if he could look into the future. George was kind. I treasured so many of our conversations where we talked about more than just shoes – always wanting an update on my family, discussing politics, new developments at the farm, and his wonderful Tony.