Our talk with Bloomingdale’s VP of Fashion Direction KEVIN HARTER on Kal Ruttenstein, looking outside fashion, playing offense, and discovering what’s next.
BY KENNETH RICHARD
Kevin, Bloomingdale’s has come a long way from the Bloomingdale brothers selling hoop skirts in the 1800s. How did you and Bloomingdale’s come together?
It was all by accident. I had been traveling Europe one summer and needed a job out of school. Bloomingdale’s was opening a new store in Chicago so I applied, thinking I was only going to be there a few months, and here I am, 27 years later.
That’s quite a loyal relationship. How did you transition from Chicago to New York and then to fashion direction of men’s?
After about six months on the sales floor, they asked me to go into the training program, and I became a department manager. Then I went through the buying program at Bloomingdale’s, and about 18 years ago, Kal Ruttenstein asked me to join the fashion offices and the men’s fashion directory.
Kal was quite the industry icon. What type of influence was he on you?
He was a great influence on me. He taught me to look at things in a different way. I really feel like he was ahead of his time. Twenty years ago, he was talking about looking out at the street, looking outside the fashion shows as opposed to what’s on the runway, and about the importance of culture, whether it’s going to museums or being at restaurants and just looking at what people are wearing walking by.
I think that if he (Kal Ruttenstein) were alive today, it would be interesting how he would have reacted to the social media phenomenon. He would have either loved it or hated it, but he would have taken credit for it!
He was a front row institution and would have led the way for social coverage of the shows, for sure. So on the subject of technology and changes, how has your role changed over the last five years?
I think it has changed a lot. I also cover home for the company, so it’s really much more about a lifestyle, it’s incorporating what a guy likes to put in his home, what a guy likes to drink from, as well as what a guy is wearing. And the industry has changed so much in the last couple years. It’s really taught me how to learn, how to be nimble and react quickly to things.
On the subject on nimbleness, how has Bloomingdale’s evolved over the last couple of years as well?
I think we are still evolving right now. Right now is a critical point for the company, based on what’s going around; but we’re certainly evolving, we’re changing up our marketing, our online influence, and we’re looking for more animation in the stores. We recognize that we are at a turning point in retail, so we’re doing our best to play offense as opposed to defense.
Good to hear. Has New York Men’s Fashion Week helped you on your offense?
Yes, I love that there’s New York Men’s Fashion Week because often during women’s, men’s takes a backseat. I like that men get to be the stars for a week. It really showcases the young designers, which I think is the most beneficial element of the week, because they really get a chance to shine and be put out there, whereas they would be a little more eclipsed during September Fashion Week.
Who are you looking forward to this year?
I’m obsessed with John Elliott, so I’m anxious to see what he’s going to show on the runway, and Stampd, and a lot of these new guys, just discovering what’s next out there. It is all about the discovery.