Louise Evins


A series of conversations with Fashion Group members
What they do, how they do it and why it matters.
 
by Wendy D'Amico
 
 
Louise Evins
 
 
 
It was once written that "the world doesn't need a good woman who is meekly obedient to the uncivilized norms that advocate female inferiority...the world needs those bad women who can think for themselves..."  women defined by character; who stay true to their beliefs; take responsibility for their actions; whose work ethic and personal life are founded in the loftiest ideals - trust, commitment, loyalty, integrity and generosity. 
We sat down with Louise Evins, and you will see, as we did, that aside from being a woman of beauty, grace and charm, she embodies the true and absolute meaning of the word character.

And we started with this:
What did your parents do?
 
My father was the president of the Italian Shipping Lines, started by my grandfather who designed and captained the ships and was among the first to use Marconi's ship-to-shore radios. And, looking for the ideal spot from which to watch the ships as they came into the harbor, he founded the Whitehall Club in downtown New York.  My mother didn't work and stayed home to raise her daughters. She enjoyed  traveling and was a lover of flowers and gardens. Her father and family started G.B. Raffetto, in Little Italy in 1888, developed the first domestic vermouth, Tribuno Vermouth, and partnered to begin "21"Brands and "21" Club.  

 

Do you have siblings:                    

 
Yes, two sisters and I'm the middle sister.

 Where were you educated? 

Buckley Country Day School in Roslyn, NY;

Marymount Secondary School, Tarrytown, NY;                    

Bradford College Bradford, MA;                 

Boston University Boston, MA;  Harvard University, Boston MA

 
                         
What's your favorite childhood memory?
 
When my father said, "Pal (my nickname), would you like to come to the office today?" That meant I'd  go to a liner - the Leonardo Da Vinci, the SS Michelangelo or the SS Raffaello - that had just sailed  into New York harbor. I'd get out of the car, shake hands with the longshoreman, meet the captain and spend the rest of my time with the chef, eating!
 
How did you earn your first dollar?
                          
My older sister and I put on yearly carnivals with games and challenges. We sold raffle tickets, which my parents got for us, for the theater and trips on the Circle Line. We promoted and executed the carnivals in our yard, and raised a few thousand dollars for St. Francis Hospital.
 

                  

What were your first thoughts about a career and what did you think you were cut out for?

 

Since my degree was in Art History, I wanted to go into the art field as a critic, but that was not to happen. My parents instructed me to volunteer for a year after college, which I did at the Pleasantville Cottage School. It was there that I met a hat buyer from Altman's who had retired and was 'giving back'. She said she thought I would do very well in retailing and that's how I became interested in the industry.
   
What was your first full-time job?
                              
My first full time job was at Casual Corner in Victor, NY, as assistant store manager.
  

So how did your retail career evolve?

The president of Casual Corner flew into Rochester, where I was living because my husband-to-be was getting his Master's degree at Rochester Institute of Technology. The president asked me to come to the corporate offices in Connecticut to be trained and when I told him that I was about to be married and couldn't move, he suggested that I get into the training program at Sibley's which was, at that time, a part of Associated Dry Goods, which included Lord & Taylor. I went through the training program and thereby hangs the tale of my retail career. There was a new president at Burdines and,  after we had our first meeting, he said, "I am going to make you a star!" He brought me to New York and introduced me to every CEO from Anne Klein to Bernie Chaus. He taught me how to see at the designer level, interpret for the contemporary market, then knock it off for mass and margin. 
 Thanks to meeting Jerry Chasen, founder of Liz Claiborne, I set up the first 'working woman's shop' with Liz. She and I became lifelong friends, and I was known as 'Jerry's second daughter, Louise.'  I was even profiled in an article in the Rochester newspaper called 'A Retail Tale of Two Cities.' I kept an apartment in New York, as I knew I'd  return  after my husband got his master's. I came back to the city as the buyer for Liz at Lord & Taylor, and soon rose to VP of Couture, Designer, Contemporary and Sportswear. 
 After L&T was taken over by the May Company, I realized that I understood the department store business but needed to grow in the specialty store arena, which was hot at the time. I was recruited by Herb Mines, himself, to leverage a buyout of six stores from Max Rabb (JG Hook). I developed the business plan, raised the capital, and ventured forth with the six stores, and bought the Mickey Mouse Factory in PA, which then became our corporate office. The concept we developed was a vertically integrated updated clothing offering for working women. It was not unlike like Anne Klein II, but at better sportswear pricing. We opened 38 stores in less than  three years and were one of the earlier adapters into discount stores in New England towns from Freeport to Lenox. We formed a group with Ralph Lauren, Anne Klein, and Ellen Tracy to accomplish this. I got a call one day from Les Wexner who said that, given its amazing real estate, he wanted to buy the company. My investors (all Wharton grads) were thrilled. Unfortunately, the names of the stores varied so they wouldn't be recognizable today, as it was so short lived. 
 Les asked me to come with him to Columbus to work, but I insisted that I was a New Yorker,  suggested he do something with Bendel's and that I was the one to do it with him. So I went to Bendel's as SVP. We closed the 57th street store and opened  the new 5th Avenue location. We found the  building's boarded up Lalique windows, brought back designers like Zoran and Stephen Burrows  and recreated  Annick Goutal's Paris boutique. We opened the first Aveda spa and Garren uptown hair studio. We opened the MAC 57th Street store, where I introduced RuPaul for Viva Glam, and raised the first million dollars for AIDS. I also gave Trish McEvoy her first retail opportunity and helped introduce many new and recognizable designers. I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I had a plane and went to Europe monthly to find new design work in every category imaginable. We recreated the Street of Shops and relaunched the "Open See" days, initiated a decade earlier by Gerry Stutz. 
   
Retail has changed so much since then...what are your thoughts?
 
Every industry goes through change. For many years now, the fashion industry has been ripe for change. Aiming for higher gross margins left stores without trained and adequately paid sales professionals.  To maintain those higher goals, buyers had to make deals at the expense of quality and craftsmanship. Stores, buyers and designers ran the show, but weren't connecting with their customers. When the customer moved into e-commerce, designers and retailers were afraid to take the 'online' leap and continued to spend solely on advertising until, unfortunately, it was too late. Retailers hesitated to invest in technology as they should have done 10 to 15 years prior. The advent of technology left them lost and outdated very quickly. 
 Personally, I love the change and have always felt that the customer wants to be led in the right fashion direction, but wants things available seasonally, on time, and to make their own choices. I also believe that retailers have been slow to see the potential reach and power of technology. From fashion shows, which I still think are the footprint of the brand, to the retail store, the consumer wants excitement, immediate fashion immersion and gratification. I truly believe that 3D technology will be the customer's, and hopefully the retailer's, best friend.
How did you get into public relations?
                                    
In  the mid '90s, I met Mathew Evins who had a public relations firm and that's how I got into PR. His father, who was a shoe designer and one of the five founding members of The Council of Fashion Designers of America, actually owned Bendel's for a period of time.  Mathew represented multiple designers and helped me, along the way, with the European couture shows. When we married, we decided that we didn't want to spend the rest of our lives on separate planes, never seeing each other, so the decision was simple. We joined forces and, both having come out of family businesses, we wanted to build something together.
  
Given that Evins has a focus on the luxury market, it would be interesting to know what, in your view, constitutes luxury?
                                      
In my opinion, luxury is personal. It can make a visceral change in one's life. I think it means different things to different people based on their life experiences and interests. It's not always about money, but it is always about quality. It captures one's imagination of what can and should be, and what is.
 
 
As well as being your business partner, Mathew Evins is, of course, your husband. What are the benefits of a 24/7 relationship? Pitfalls, if any?
 
The biggest benefit in business is a trusted business partner. I can't say enough about trust, commitment, and communication in a family business. It's not always easy to dance together and know who should take the reins, but you do learn your strengths and weaknesses and you learn who should lead and who should follow as each situation arises. You also need to learn how to "turn it off" as well as to develop your own interests that separate you from your everyday work routine together. It's not always easy, as your company is your life, so you need to understand that both the company and your life have to be fed to flourish. You also need to surround yourself with good people who will challenge both of you and push you to think, grow and collaborate.
 
Would you talk a little about Mathew's parents - your in- laws - both of whom were fascinating individuals and extremely accomplished...what did they do?
 
David Evins, dubbed the "King of Pumps" and the "Dean of American Shoe Designers" was America's first shoe couturier.  He began his career as a sketch artist at Harper's Bazaar and, while he went on to start several shoe companies such as Delman, he always designed under his own name for Hollywood elite including such luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Princess Grace and Elizabeth Taylor to name a few.  His roster of clients also  included some of  Broadway's brightest stars and  all  the first ladies, from Mamie Eisenhower to Nancy Reagan. In the earlier part of his career, he hired an out-of- work sketch artist named Andy Warhol who created all of his advertising sketches as well as the famous Shoe and Boots artwork collection. Mathew's mother, Marilyn Evins,  was a socialite and a member of the Best-Dressed List Hall of Fame.  She collected Impressionist paintings and fine jewelry, and organized many events for charity before going to work as an adviser to Allan Johnson, then the chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, followed by her role  as PR director for  Bonwit Teller, finally opening her own PR firm, Marilyn Evins. Marilyn and David Evins frequently visited the White House during the Reagan years, and Marilyn counted Nancy Reagan and Betsy Bloomingdale among her closest friends at the time. She worked with John Loring who devoted many pages in his books. Tiffany Style  and  Tiffany Parties, to her style of entertaining.  When Valentino first came to the U.S., she transformed the Pierre Hotel into scenes from "The Arabian Nights" for a fete. She was considered a PR powerhouse in her day.
 
 What would you say are the three qualities that got you to where you are today?
 
*   Determination & Passion

*   Integrity & Fairness

* Seeing The Possibilities 
 
One thing you are exceptionally good at? Bad at?
 
 I'm good at seeing the potential and possibilities in people and in businesses. I'm always passionate to learn and experience.

 I can be stubborn and impatient, and unfortunately that can mean inflexible. 
 
 How do you lead? How do you persuade people to embrace your ideas and directives-especially those who may be hard to convince?
 
I have always believed that you can either hit people over the head and tell them what to do, or show them the path and have them choose, for themselves, the direction in which to go.  I've gotten better, over the years, at being more patient, but also more direct so that the message I'm trying to communicate is clear. Usually people embrace an idea if you know how to present it, and they can recognize the facts and the passion of your convictions. It doesn't always work and you have to keep going at it until you win. I am persistent, so I will revisit a topic in multiple ways until it is resolved.
 
Let's talk about Fashion Group. You've been on the Board of Directors for some years now. What is the importance of the organization and why has it flourished for more than 85 years - a lot longer than many companies we can think of?
 
The Fashion Group is an organization that allows anyone who has an interest in fashion, and related industries, the opportunity to meet their peers and to become a part of a community that supports growth, perpetuates knowledge, and shares industry intelligence. I am proud to have been a member of the Board for many years and feel that I represent the entrepreneurial constituency, whose voice can be heard. It has been such a privilege to have grown with FGI, and I hope to have helped others along the way as much as the organization has helped me. I'm honored to be a part of a community I can call on for support and education. 
 
 Finish these sentences:
 
 I wish I had.........become a professional singer.

 Nothing gets on my nerves more than.........apathy, complainers and those who speak of problems without solutions.

My parting advice is.........Be fearless, passionate and tenacious, despite the challenges; know when to respectfully say "no" to someone or to graciously walk away from something; and learn that a dream unfilled is a loss that cannot be reclaimed.
 
 Tell us something about yourself no one else knows
 
When I was 14, I composed songs on my guitar, which the nuns at Marymount brought to the Vatican. Subsequently, my music became the foundation of the People's Hymnal for the Catholic church, the Unitarian church thereafter, and I became referred to as the Founder of Religious Rock.