David Tracy, who started working in a Massachusetts mill at the age of eight and became one of the most prominent and influential textile executives for decades as president of Fieldcrest Mills and then vice- chairman of JP Stevens, died Saturday of natural causes at his assisted living. apartment in Manhattan. He was 98 years old.
Tracy brought sophistication, flair and innovation to the home textile industry when it was otherwise dominated by “white sale” promotions and staple colors and styles. He was instrumental in elevating designer businesses – Yves Saint Laurent and Ralph Lauren, among others – from ready-to-wear collections to full lifestyle brands through licensing deals and strategies. marketing bringing stylish, high-quality sheets, towels, pillowcases and comforters into the mix. He is also credited with re-engineering Royal Velvet into a leading premium towel brand.
“He saw what a lifestyle brand could look like, understood the value and importance of brands to the consumer, and was a true risk taker,” said John Idol, president and CEO of Capri Holdings.
Idol was a rookie salesman for sheets and towels at JP Stevens when he met Tracy, who was then vice president. “I knocked on his door, showed up just to say hello, and he immediately took an interest in who I was and what I was thinking,” Idol recalled. “He was a leader who cared about mentoring people.”
“Dave was an original, a disruptor before there were disruptors, a charismatic executive in the home fashion business who lacked such luster,” said Elaine Hughes of executive search firm EA. Hughes & Co., a division of Solomon Page. “Dave defined branding before anyone knew what it meant. He did so by identifying the brands the consumer would gravitate towards and licensing the name, including Ralph Lauren in 1984. The Ralph Lauren license that “He negotiated was brilliant. It was a huge success. He not only developed brands but also talents. A number of executives who worked for Dave went on to build fantastic companies, John Idol being one of them.
“When I started my Home Collection business nearly four decades ago, David Tracy understood my vision of creating quality products in different lifestyles, not just sheets. David helped make that happen. produce and has transformed the home industry in many remarkable ways,” said Ralph Lauren.
Born in 1924, Tracy grew up in Uxbridge, Mass., one of six children in a poor Irish Catholic family. “He started working at the age of eight as a newspaper boy and on weekends he worked in mills, cleaning the looms. They just didn’t have the money,” said Tracy’s daughter, Kellie Goldstein, vice president of Michael Kors, who confirmed her father’s death.
“My dad had a very dry sense of humor and a great personality,” Goldstein said. “He liked to talk. He was talking to anyone, a taxi driver and asking where he was from. He was curious about people. He wasn’t afraid to give advice, whether asked or not. He told you exactly how he felt. He was a tough but extremely loving businessman and truly cared about people and saw the positives in life.
Even after retirement and into his later years, Tracy remained engaged, quick-witted and interested in the industry. Just last week, Goldstein toured stores in the New York metro area, visiting Woodbury Common and Garden State Plaza, among other centers. “My dad wanted to know everything about how the stores operated, what they looked like, what was selling,” she said. “He always loved learning” and conveyed the importance of it.
“He was strict, strict with the school and felt that when you graduate, you have to have a job,” Goldstein said. “He knew the power of hard work, that it wasn’t just about winning. It was more. That was what it did for your spirit and your development as a person, and he really respected women in business. This was quite rare at a time when women were not valued as much as men in the workplace, especially in the male-dominated textile industry.
Tracy has had a long career in the textile and home industries, holding positions at Calvin Klein Home Collection, Fabria.com, working as a consultant and executive at Fieldcrest Mills and JP Stevens. Both companies are no longer in business, as the entire domestic textile industry has fallen victim to consolidations and bankruptcies, and the inability to compete with producers in Asia, where labor costs have been soaring. lower.
“I met Dave as a divisional merchandise at Allied Stores,” said Steve Goldberg, who runs SGG & Associates, a consumer consulting firm. “He became a mentor to me. I was a kid and he was a very senior executive. I had the advantage that he took time out of his day to talk business. He was truly a visionary guy,” Goldberg said, noting that Tracy, among other of her innovations, developed the “color wall” which displayed dozens of different colored towels for maximum visual impact. “He placed fashion in a rather mundane category and understood the power of fashion and the importance of brand.”
Tracy graduated from Harvard Business School in 1948, served in the United States Navy during World War II, and was an avid golfer. He belonged to a handful of golf clubs around the world and had a home in Southampton, NY, where he often played golf. As a consultant later in his career, he has advised retailers, brands, private equity firms and investors. He has also served on a number of boards, including CHF Industries, a home fashion company.
A year and a half ago, Tracy fell and had to have hip surgery. “When he came out of surgery, the doctor said he had the bones of a 70-year-old man,” Goldstein said. “He was a warrior.”
“I had known David for 52 years,” said Michael Gould, the former chairman and CEO of Bloomingdale’s. “I met him when I was a linen buyer at Abraham & Straus,” which years later turned into Macy’s. “David wasn’t just selling products. He was an excellent seller of home textiles. He really understood quality and positioning, and protecting brands for the future. It was one of the great lessons we all learned from David.
Besides business, Gould bonded with Tracy for sports, particularly Boston’s pro teams, since both were from Massachusetts. They socialized with their families. “He always wanted to live,” Gould said.
“In 1969. I was the assistant buyer at A&S in linens when I first met David, who was president of Fieldcrest,” Arnold Orlick said. “Among his biggest traits I would say he loved people and spoke to people. He loved to teach us. He spoke to me as if I were the buyer or the general manager of the goods. He had the same respect for people who had just entered the industry as for those who had been in the industry for a while.
Orlick, who became GMM of cosmetics and home at Bloomingdale’s, CEO of Fortunoff’s and president of the Rich’s/Lazarus divisions of former Federated department stores, said Tracy “really brought designers into the sweet home business, so that designers weren’t into plug design. People thought he was there to protect the brand and make something work on a less promotional basis. Nobody else was doing that. He brought the company to a whole new level for department stores. He was probably the biggest distributor of merchandise at the time. He worked with Ralph and brought everyone of the original Ralph Lauren together. Department stores didn’t know how to do it. It was Ralph’s vision, and David implemented it. At JP Stevens, he created a whole division for Ralph Lauren.
A funeral service for Tracy will be held Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Saint Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, 869 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Besides her daughter Kellie, Tracy is survived by her son Brendan, both from her second marriage. He is also survived by his son-in-law Jeffrey Goldstein; a daughter-in-law, Jessica Tracy, and a son, Shawn Tracy, from his first marriage.