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2011 April 27

The Executive Files, Vol. 7: Tommy Fazio, Simon Spurr

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(NEW YORK) You probably know Tommy Fazio as the former men's fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman--the charmingly upbeat exec who's transformed countless budding designers into household names worldwide. But! Did you know he telephones Calvin Klein for advice, hobnobs with Donna Karan in the Hamptons, spends holidays with Simon Spurr, and has secret rendezvous with one of fashion's most mysterious gents? The Daily tells all! MARIA DENARDO

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A landscape architect—that was my thing. While I was in high school, my father thought it was time I got a job, because they owned a restaurant and I was really bad at the restaurant business.

So you found a landscaping job?
No, I went to work for a sweater company in Station Square mall in Pennsylvania called Constables of Bermuda that only sold Icelandic sweaters. Why its name was Bermuda, I still don’t know. Then I went to school at UCLA for landscape architecture but quickly switched back to fashion when a new brand launched in the Beverly Center called InWear Matinique, a Danish contemporary brand back in the '80s. (I’m not going to say my age.) I came to New York to really start my career in fashion. I began working with Lorenzo Russell at Diesel Jeans when they hadn’t launched in America yet. After two years, I met Donna Karan, and she screened me with a handwriting test. I had to write answers to questions like 'what inspires me?' or 'what drives me?'--while she was watching. We launched DKNY Men's together. She’s incredible—one of the two great mentors of my life.

Does she analyze your handwriting in front of you?
No, it’s just one of those things. She hires you or she doesn’t. I don’t think it’s only based on your handwriting, but this was the late '80s.

Did you hang out with Donna when you weren’t working?
Very seldom—only traveling in Europe when we did the first Donna Karan-DKNY Men's fashion show in Florence. It was one of the first big American men’s brands to do a fashion show in Italy.

Do you still chat?
Only when I see her socially in the Hamptons.

What was your experience like joining Calvin Klein?
I was head of the men's collection and I worked very closely with Calvin. We built the men's collection in the United States and took it global. He’s probably my biggest mentor; I still bounce things off him and talk to him quite often. He taught me how to grow a brand and how the persistency and consistency of a brand makes it successful. That drives my inspiration today for Simon Spurr.

How are Donna, Calvin, and Simon different as managers?
Donna was very emotional. She’s passionate and encompassing. She wanted to touch and smell and feel. Calvin was very much the pragmatic minimalist. It’s a very different point of view, but it's two great people that drive both brands. Simon has a unique combination of the two.

What did you do after Calvin Klein?
I took a sabbatical for a half a year. I remodeled a house in East Hampton with two hands and a little help. During the project, I was approached by Hickey Freeman to start a young, fun brand called Little Hickey. Shortly after we launched that brand, I was approached by Bergdorf Goodman to be the men’s fashion director.

What was your experience like at Bergdorf?
It was a launching pad for the rest of my life. Instead of being brand specific, it was all about how to bring the nuances of a hundred brands to life with one point of view and grow a business at the same time. Jim Gold, another exquisite mentor in my life, gave me the leeway to do that. I’ve met, dealt, and worked with some of the best brands in America right now.

What skills did you carry over to Spurr?
Patience and consistency. Prior to working with Simon Spurr, I expected things to happen quickly. When I’m not feeling patient, I think back to my Donna days—breathe and count to ten. You have to remember it all doesn’t have to happen today. There’s always tomorrow.

What was your first meeting like with Simon?
While I was at Calvin Klein, Simon was the design director for CK Calvin Klein. The day he started, he walked into the office with a big blonde mohawk. Our first reaction was, ‘Who’s that?’ We quickly became friends and had a synergy in the way we worked. In my first six months at Bergdorf, I got a call from Simon. He came to my office and showed me three pairs of jeans in a bag. He told me he wanted to launch a jeans line called Spurr. I thought it was a great name. He showed me the jeans—there were three washes, three different fits. Within the first eight months, it became the number one selling jean at Bergdorf Goodman. The power of Bergdorf to build a brand really showed. Eventually we asked him to make the quintessential pea coat and some shirts. They became the best-selling shirts at that price point on the third floor. Little by little we were noticing this guy was evolving into the new American menswear designer. When I felt that my time at Bergdorf Goodman was done, the next step was going to one of the brands I worked with or believed in. There were a few upset designers because I didn’t approach them.

Anyone in particular?
I can't say, but it just made sense for me to work with Simon Spurr. We were out to lunch one day and we were talking about the brand. At that point, we both thought, Why don't we work together?

Where do you like to go for business lunches?
I always like to stop for a moment, even if it’s 15 minutes. It’s never a long lunch unless it’s for business, but everyone needs a period where they stop midday, take a breather, nourish your body, and read a magazine. Bottino and Cookshop are our usuals. I happen to live a block away on 23rd Street, so we meet in my living room a lot because in the loft there’s very little privacy in terms of places to talk. Some of our best ideas have come from that neighborhood. We order in, though. Cooking is one of my passions, but I don’t have the time.

Who do you hang out with in the industry?
I have a lot of interesting friends--Thom Browne and Michael Bastian are a few in the building. Simon and I are not only business partners; outside of the office, we’re always doing something fun together. 

How much do you manage each other?
It’s pretty equal. I call him boss and he calls me boss. The two of us together really finish off each other’s work. I couldn’t do this without him, and I hope he couldn’t do this without me.

What do you wear to the office?
I’m kind of wearing my uniform: Spurr khaki pants or jeans and a sweater or t-shirt. I wear our navy three-piece suit for meetings--that’s a staple.  My wardrobe is about 50 percent Simon Spurr.

Did that change after you came on board?
Yes! It was a very political move at Bergdorf Goodman—what you were going to wear on what day. You had to represent the brands, but I wore Simon Spurr a lot even then.

Do you and Simon share any hobbies?
We always say we’re going to go surfing, but we can’t find the time. One of Simon’s biggest hobbies is darts and not being a Brit myself, I find it very funny. They’re quite serious about it. There’s a league! He goes on Monday nights. I think I’m going to dabble in it this summer—give it a whirl. Why not?

Do you spend holidays together?
We do. We spent Thanksgiving together because his wife wasn’t in town.

Does he teach you British slang?
I just found myself saying, ‘Hello, mate.’ We say ‘oil and water’ here; they say ‘chalk and cheese.’ That’s my new favorite. Sometimes he says things that I have to look up.

Do you ever gain a mysterious accent?
If I spend a weekend with him in the country and he has four British friends around, it'll stick. When I get back to the city, my friends often ask what’s going on with my voice.

Are you Facebook friends with Simon?
I’m not on Facebook. I like being present, one-on-one. I think Facebook limits our ability to communicate soulfully to each other.

Is that different when it comes to brand marketing?
Social media for a brand is the number one growth potential. If you don’t believe in that, it’s not going to work for you. I wholeheartedly believe in it for a brand. We just hit 2,000 followers on Twitter.

What challenges is the brand facing right now?
Having the manpower, knowledge, and ability in infrastructure for international distribution. Brand awareness is different in Europe, and specifically in Asia—once it happens, it sticks. 

Is Asia more celebrity-driven?
Very much, but more with Korean celebrities. We have a very large young Hollywood following, but it's different there. Korea is a big challenge for our growth, and getting our product on a Korean celebrity is very important. We need help—more than Google—to find those celebrities. That’s where Starworks comes in. I’m not plugging them, but it’s true!

Tell us about your dog, Henry.
He’s a one and a half year old English cocker spaniel, and he’s been with us since he was eight weeks old. I brought him home from Wisconsin, and he’s endured every growth spurt this company has had. He sits at my feet with every major decision that’s made. When Simon comes in the office in the morning, Henry runs right to him. Sometimes Simon brings his dog to work as well, a large Rhodesian Ridgeback, but Henry is the boss. He’s all our bosses, really.

What’s your weirdest office essential?
Doggy bags when Henry is being walked.

What’s a virtue every CEO should have?
Listening. It’s what you do with that information that’s most important.

What's the strangest thing that’s happened to you in your career?
My first meeting with Tom Ford when we launched Tom Ford for Bergdorf Goodman. It was like 007. I was going to see this fictitious man at this fictitious location about some fictitious project. They called me out of a fashion show in Milan, and I got in the car, having no idea where I was going. I walked in the door and who was standing there? Tom Ford. He was so charming, so articulate and so on point for his brand. Exactly what he told me that day, a year and a half later is exactly what we opened with at Bergdorf Goodman. It never varied.

What's the most rewarding part of your job?
Knowing that I’ll walk out of the office every day with a smile on my face, believe it or not. That’s a really big deal coming from where I come from. I leave the office with a smile, my dog, and only a block to walk home.

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