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  • In conversation with

    Linda Fargo

    A trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the iconic department store Bergdorf Goodman. When Wardrobe ICONS hit the Big Apple recently, a private tour and chat with Linda Fargo, its Senior Vice President Of Women’s Fashion and Store Presentation Director, was the perfect opportunity to take a look behind the opulence of the Fifth Avenue establishment and its infamous windows.

    Edited by Petro Stofberg Words by By Deborah Brett
    Photographs by Eva K Salvi

    Linda Fargo, with her glacial hair, red lips and love of leopard, is almost as iconic as the store itself. Having worked at BG for over 20 years, she has designed over a thousand window displays (which fill two books: Windows At Bergdorf Goodman and Dreams Through The Glass) and helped shape its identity. Her remit has expanded exponentially over the years, to casting her well-honed eye over important trends and the very latest designers, as well as updating its shop-floor design. As Barneys, another iconic department store, gets acquired by Saks following financial turbulence, Fargo talks about how important it is to stay relevant and inspiring in the internet age, and about the artists and inspirational women who have helped her to do so.

    You started your career as a window dresser at the department store Macy’s. How did this idea crystallise as a career option?

    I was always involved in creating a fantasy world – I can trace that one way back. When I was young I would surprise my family with a Chinese or Italian dinner, and when they opened the door the whole room would be set in a theme. Then when I studied fine art, as a found-object artist, many of my pieces, as it turned out, were under glass. They would be built within glass boxes, so in a funny way I think I manifested this idea of working in windows. Isn’t that strange? The windows were really just a bigger canvas, they were these complicated little worlds built under glass.

    What influence did growing up in Wisconsin, in the Midwest, have on you? 

    I’m a first-generation American. My father was Hungarian and my mother Norwegian – she was very creative, kind of an artist herself, and had a very beautiful Scandinavian style.

    Growing up, was there a store near you that inspired you?

    Growing up, if I’d had a Harvey Nichols or Liberty near me, I would have fainted. When I started visiting New York, I remember seeing the windows at Bendel’s and Bergdorf Goodman. It definitely resonated with me. It was something I was dying to do.

    How would you sum up the store?

    There is not a single answer to that. Bergdorf is best-of-class in fashion and style, but we are also playful. I think it’s our job to puncture the seriousness of fashion and make it approachable and enjoyable. And the windows very much express that – the ego and the ID of the company itself.

    How much has the landscape of the classic department store, and retail in general, changed since you started?

    It’s changed so much. I mean, every year in retail is like a dog’s year – retail is very fast. I started at Bergdorf in 1996 and I think it’s become increasingly bottom-line focused. It is much more technological, and online channels have changed the industry significantly, it’s made everything much more competitive. It’s made products almost flood people’s lives. I think when there is saturation, it’s our job to become even more arresting. You have to dig deeper on how to distinguish yourself and do it in a way that is irresistible.   

    Finding new ways to engage with your customer can be a creative challenge. Tell us about your new series ‘Designers Off Duty’…

    The word ‘experience’ is a buzzword that has been bandied around with great frequency, and we’re putting extra effort into it. ‘Designers Off Duty’, in particular, was a way to be playful and personal. We made spring rolls with Phillip Lim, and played Pictionary with Michael Kors. For a handful of clients, just getting to be with Michael as a person, you make friends one at a time, it makes it personal. We did a drawing masterclass with Jason Wu – we all had easels and markers, it was really fun. Fashion needs to be fun. It’s a serious business, but that’s not how it should feel.

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    One thing is I rarely look back

     

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    With so much fashion newness, what is your signature style that never changes?

    My haircut is pretty constant, and my red lips. Chanel has the perfect red called Pirate. 

    Describe your personal style…

    I think I walk the talk. I like pieces that have personality. Anyone who knows me knows I am a leopard-anything person. I like things that have a lot of strong character to them, but I also love things that are very workhorse. I have a wardrobe of black jackets, and as you can see by my fascination with Noir, I can’t tell you how many different black trouser silhouettes I have – slim, flair, cropped, stretch, high-waisted…

    What’s your secret to dressing with confidence?

    I try not to overthink what I’m going to wear, and instead try to stay responsive to how I feel that morning. I put things together in a way I haven’t worn before, and I like to have a nice mix in my wardrobe so that I can kind of shuffle the pieces and come out with something that feels fresh. I like to do things that are borderline fashion fabulous/fashion faux pas. Almost ‘Are you really going to wear that? Is it maybe too much?’. The risk in that is what makes it exciting. One thing is I rarely look back, though.

    And you’ve ended up at Bergdorf Goodman! How did you go from staring at those windows to creating them?

    I first started working at Macy’s when I moved to New York in the 1980s, and I worked my way up to being their Window Director and then Store Director. Then I moved to the west coast to work at the department store I. Magnin. But I realised New York was home, so I put together a collage of myself outside Bergdorf Goodman, with my face pushed up against the window, along with a portfolio of ideas of what I would do if I worked for them, and I sent it to the President, Dawn Mello. As soon as I dropped it in the mailbox I thought that is the most embarrassing thing, and I actually tried to put my hand in and pull it back out. 

    You had an inspiring boldness and conviction in knowing what your dream was and going for it. Are you always so clear-headed about your path?

    It’s not often in our lives that we are very clear about something. Often, given the choice of door No.1 or No.2, we are very indecisive, but every once in a while it’s so clear where you should put your energy, and if you do, life tends to follow.   

    What a way to get your dream job as Window Director. You’ve since designed over 1,000 windows for Bergdorfs, can you pick a favourite?

    One of the very early windows I did, I literally started to break through the glass. Which, when I look back, was a bit of a metaphor for breaking through something that hadn’t been done before. I stacked up seven chairs and had a mannequin in a red Valentino gown teetering on the top of them. Our windows are very high, about 12-14ft, so she’s balanced up there, one hand forward and one back, then I took her hand off at the wrist and reattached it on the outside of the glass, as if she had literally reached through it.

    Tell us about your curated spaces ‘Noir’ and ‘Linda’s List’…

    Each of them has a very different spirit, but I want them to appeal to all your senses. We make sure there’s a playlist for each of them, we serve champagne and each has a special tea for that season. ‘Linda’s’ is right where the elevators open on our fourth floor, loosely speaking a kind of couture floor, and Noir is adjacent to our shoe salon. ‘Noir’ is all about the baseline of fashion being black. It’s very dark and smoky looking, wonderfully intense. ‘Linda’s’ is definitely more playful. What makes the cut are things with a lot of personality. I look for items that are a little road-less-travelled. It’s a great place for people to touch on lesser known brands. 

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    It’s not often in our lives that we are very clear about something…, but every once in a while it’s so clear where you should put your energy, and if you do, life tends to follow

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    You are friends with the fashion editor Giovanna Battaglia and hosted her book launch Gio_graphy: Fun In The Wild World Of Fashion. What quality attracted you to her and to the other women you have collaborated with?

    Giovanna and I became friends just out and about. I loved her style, she’s somewhere between uptown, with her gold earrings and bead necklaces, it’s almost like proper jewellery, then she wears things like a red high-top, and it’s all in the mix for her. Everything is tongue-in-cheek chic. Also, she just happens to be a very nice person. I had always wanted to do something with her and was waiting for the right moment. When her Gio_graphy book was coming out, I said, ‘Hey Giovanna, would you like to launch it at BG during Fashion Week and I will give you all the windows? Consider this like your paint box.’ It was the perfect fit, as she embodies everything we admire in fashion and what fashion should be.

    Similarly we did another, also prompted by a book launch, for my friend Iris Apfel. We had come together in various ways over the years, nothing on a very important scale, but she had a book coming out. We borrowed a lot of the pieces she had donated to a museum in Boston, then brought in pieces from her home and had T-shirts made, I developed product with her – we really went all-out as a celebration. 

    As Senior VP Of Fashion at Bergdorf Goodman as well as Store Presentation President, how would you describe your different roles?

    There is a misconception I buy everything for the store – I do not.  We have a very accomplished, confident buying team that covers each of the areas. I sift through what’s happening for the season and try to underline to the teams what is bubbling, and where we stand from a marketing and advertising point of view, which are the seminal pieces. It’s a very dynamic job, left brain and right brain thing. You have to remain intuitive and at the same time you have to be a classic executive. I’m also a store design person. I’ve probably touched and redesigned 95% of this store. I redesigned the main floor a few years ago. So although everyone thinks of me as the fashion and window person, I really have a much broader view. No two days are alike, which I love – it’s a mix of serendipity and planning. 

    Talk us through a typical buying season…

    We have focused buying seasons, but we are always looking for new brands. I think it’s become a more strategic effort to look for them – it’s a way to differentiate yourself in a world that is flooded with sameness. There is a lot of travelling, a lot of market appointments. I can’t underline how important relationship building is, and giving the time and showing the respect for all the effort that has gone into the creation of each of these collections.  

    What are the pieces that have caught your eye for next season?

    I’m pretty gaga over the Dries Van Noten x Lacroix collaboration. Their abstract puffy shoulder added to a T-shirt, the leopard pieces too. I also am really in love with the new accessories at Bottega Veneta – the puffy bags and shoes. I have a personal thing for Junya (Watanabe), his abstract trench pieces. And I can’t get the Valentino white poplin pieces off my mind. We also have a new brand that I’m looking forward to bringing in called Noir. You can guess where that’s going to go in the store. Noir in ‘Noir’!

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