L’Chayim! His taste level, wisdom and joie de vivre combine to make David Glazer more than an industry icon.
He’s a professional ballet dancer who’s performed on Broadway and with numerous dance companies across the country. He’s an ordained rabbi who officiates at weddings. (Among them: Sophia Coppola and photographer Peter Kaplan’s atop the Empire State Building, the only wedding ever done there!) He’s been known to conduct Purim services dressed as Queen Esther in drag. He’s a scholar, an oenophile, a linguist (Hebrew, English, Yiddish, German, Italian, French), a gourmet cook, a real estate investor, an art collector, a world traveler, a fashion maven, a salesman, a teacher, a philosopher and a passionate lover of life! Bottom line: David Glazer is not your typical garmento, and to spend time with him is to be enchanted.
Just back from a few weeks in Italy (Florence, Rome and Tuscany) and Israel (where he visited the house he grew up in that his father constructed himself in 1951), Glazer looks tan, rested and far more youthful than his 66 years. (His secret, he tells me, is having fun and finding the joy in life.) We are chatting in his magnificent East 12th Street loft filled with fine art and fabulous furnishings. But his pride is most apparent, not when showing me the Kafka portrait by Andy Warhol or the private elevator adorned with Chagall sketches, but his closet filled with beautiful Italian-made scarfs and shawls. He carefully unfolds a few, describing in detail the artisanship that makes them works of art.
Born to Polish parents (from Chelm, the “city of fools” according to Jewish folklore) in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany after the war, Glazer still views every day of life as a precious gift. “Growing up, if I could get a drop of jam on my bread, it was an incredible treat,” he recalls. “Having nothing gives you a tremendous appreciation for everything.” At age two, Glazer moved with his parents to Israel, where both his mother and father performed in Yiddish theater and where he was exposed to music, dance and a strong sense of community. At age 11, the family moved to the States. “We lived in an all-black neighborhood in Baltimore, and I think I cultivated an interest in fashion from a neighborhood kid with a sharp sense of style who would share his GQ magazines. But my dad, who was an actor as well as a cantor, a tailor, a builder and an entrepreneur (my parents opened a little grocery store when they first arrived in Baltimore; we lived above it), wanted me to study dance. I started off taking tap lessons but then switched to ballet. The moment I saw all those girls in tights, I was hooked! But in the end, I left professional dance: it was too many women talking about their feet…”
Along with the dancing, Glazer worked in a clothing store in Baltimore and later on, while attending seminary school in Cincinnati, he took a job at Dino’s, a swanky menswear store where players from the Cincinnati Reds would shop. “Prior to the late ’60s/early ’70s, clothes were just body covering, so I caught the transition to clothing as self-expression. It stayed with me.”
He became an agent in 1977 and built his business to $70 million in sales, without department stores. “I had 35 employees and they all had health insurance and retirement benefits; many of them still thank me for that, which is a wonderful feeling…”
Those who’ve worked with him speak of his exceptional fashion sensibility and innate understanding of quality. Says Debi Greenberg of Louis Boston: “When I first came into the business he was so gracious, making sure I understood everything, going out of his way to teach me. Like my father, David was always on the cutting edge of discovering and developing the right collections. You soon trusted his judgment, knowing that the brands he brought in would be special. Unfortunately, not all his vendors appreciated him as much as he appreciated them. But inevitably, without David Glazer, these lines became too commercial, too mundane, often taking the easier (and cheaper) route of simply repeating what sold last year. David made sure they stayed exciting, working with their designers to constantly reinvent the product, develop new fabrics and yarns, always keeping it fresh.”
“David is a visionary,” agrees Greg Eveloff of The Clotherie in Phoenix. “He seeks out quality lines that no one’s ever heard of. I’ve known him for 35 years and it’s mind-boggling to think about how much fashion he’s brought to the States: Lorenzini shirts, Brunello Cucinelli, Versace Jeans Couture, Incotex, Sartoria Partonopea, Agnona, Allegri… He operates like a specialty store: forming relationships with both his manufacturers and his customers, worrying less about today’s sale and more about building relationships.”
For his part, Glazer defines his talent as helping vendors focus based on his sense of what can sell. “In 1986, Cucinelli was making basic inexpensive sweaters, garment dyed, not even full fashioned. I came up with the cashmere sweatshirt. I also created a scarf and shawl business in stores that insisted they couldn’t sell scarves and shawls.”
Glazer is justifiably proud of the longevity of several of these relationships: “Cucinelli for 10 years, Incotex for 14, Loro Piana for 12, during which time I built their U.S. business from $20,000 to $3.5 million, just in accessories. (It just sold for $2.7 billion; don’t you think I deserve 10 percent?)” That said, he’s now on the verge of changing his business model and reconfiguring for the future. “I’m closing our permanent NYC showroom in favor of temporary space during markets so that my daughter Samantha (who runs the showroom) can spend more time in the stores.”
Clearly, spending time with the merchants is the main reason that Glazer so thoroughly loves this industry. His favorite retailers, he quips, are those who pay. “Murray Pearlstein was a good customer ($1 million a year) and a great friend. He called my showroom ‘The Chutzpah Shop.’ When the dollar sank in the late ’80s, Murray was the only merchant to stick to his guns and not cut back. He came in that season and asked to see a particular cashmere line that I knew didn’t do well in his store. ‘Hell yeah I want to see it!’ he insisted when questioned. ‘I love their product! Just because my customers didn’t buy it doesn’t mean I won’t bring it back if I like what I see!’”
Another reason he loves the business, Glazer tells me half jokingly, is the Biblical connection. “If you look at the history of fashion, Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. So we are, in a sense, doing God’s work by providing clothes. And think back to the stories in the Old Testament: cities were built by rivers so that people could make cloth. In the end, it’s all about the clothes.”
His message to merchants, however, is more practical than Biblical. “Today’s specialty store merchants need more guts, more vision, more risk-taking. They need to go out and discover new designers (and there are some magnificent brands out there) rather than simply copy what’s in Neimans and Saks. Then they need to stand behind these new names, and not for just a season or two, since it takes time to nurture something new. Most importantly, they need to merchandise creatively rather than by brand, which will ultimately bite them in the ass…”