Visual merchandising is an integral part of the business of fashion. While it’s spreading its global wings to different places and diverse cultures, it remains a small and intimate industry. We all know one another and we share our experiences, challenges and successes. This time of the year in particular is spent sharing and celebrating. A few weeks ago, we danced at the PAVE Gala, and rendezvoused at various industry events and gatherings. And yet as we mingled, there was a void. An important member of our community was not there.
In my 30-plus years in this industry, I’ve had amazing experiences and inspirational moments and met wonderful people. When looking back, one experience that always lingers in my mind is my visits to the Adel Rootstein showroom. Yes, it was always inspirational: the incredible mannequins, the showroom that magically transported you to another place and another time, the aesthetics, the atmosphere and the art.
But it’s the people who really made it stand apart. One in particular, whose charm, wit, humor and grace was simply the icing on the cake, was Michael Steward, the executive vp at Rootstein, who passed away in early December. In his passing our profession lost part of its soul. He was an icon, an advocate and a friend of the industry. His passion and aesthetic sensibilities helped to raise the bar, setting the standard for what this industry should be.
Last Saturday, Rootstein held a service at its showroom on 19th Street in memory of Michael. The space was packed with those who were touched by this remarkable man. Family, friends and colleagues from all corners of the industry were there to pay their respects and to once again be in the environment that Michael created and so loved.
Michael Southgate gave a touching testimonial at the service. In it, he made us reflect and, in the end, smile. He reminded us that this is what Michael would have wanted: a party. After all, he was a gracious host and we were in his space. So we all lifted a glass knowing that this wasn’t a somber event, but rather a celebration of an incredible life, an incredible talent and an incredible friend.
Michael, you will be missed, but never forgotten.
Eric Feigenbaum is VMSD's New York editor.
Here's a Q&A with Michael Steward from VMSD's March 2004 issue.