Neiman Marcus relaunches its ‘Distinguished Service’ Fashion Award – WWD

After a seven-year hiatus, the Neiman Marcus Group is relaunching its prestigious Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service to Fashion.

The award has a long history of celebrating fashion pioneers, innovators and leaders. By relaunching it, Neiman’s brings another dimension to its luxury strategy, seeks to strengthen partnerships with designers, and paves the way for the launch of a new “NMG Awards” platform next year.

“We have decided that Brunello Cucinelli will be the recipient of the 2023 Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service to Fashion,” Geoffroy van Raemdonck, chief executive officer of the Neiman Marcus Group, told WWD. “It is exciting to bring back the tradition of that award in tandem with the launch of the NMG Awards. These Neiman Marcus Awards are really at the heart of how this company operates and how we want to revolutionize luxury experiences in so many ways.”

Executives are not yet disclosing much about the NMG Awards, its categories or any recipients other than that, along with the distinguished service honor, there will be a Neiman Marcus Award for Creative Impact in the Fashion Field for “outstanding innovation in their creative approach”, among other awards.

NM’s Distinguished Service Award was created 85 years ago by Carrie Marcus Neiman, the late co-founder of Neiman Marcus, and Stanley Marcus, the late and legendary Chairman/President/Entrepreneur of Neiman Marcus. It was last bestowed on Carolina Herrera in 2016, but was cut short as NMG was consumed by financial hardship and management changes, and went in and out of bankruptcy in 2020, then had to deal with the pandemic. Now, after the restructuring that created a healthier balance sheet, the retailer is in a better position to forge stronger partnerships with designers and luxury brands and return to handing out awards.

NM’s Distinguished Service Award has been presented to more than 100 luxury fashion luminaries including Yves Saint Laurent 65 years ago, Oscar de la Renta 55 years ago, Ralph Lauren 50 years ago and Missoni 50 years ago. Among the recipients also Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Estée Lauder, Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld and Miuccia Prada.

From the Council of Fashion Designers of American to Fashion Group International, there’s no shortage of fashion organizations giving out awards and staging awards ceremonies. When asked what makes NM’s Distinguished Service Award different from others, van Raemdonck replied: “I think what is very different with this award, compared to many other awards, is that with the recognition, we are investing hugely in providing platform for Brunello Cucinelli and future recipients to reach our customers. And when I talk about a huge investment, it’s a multi-million dollar investment in open-to-buy and in ‘retail-tainment,'” the CEO said, referring to Neiman’s plan to work with brands and designers to develop more imaginative designs and often complex store experiences and presentations for shoppers that go beyond the usual retail theater.

“It’s about creating multi-sensory in-store experiences, but there are also digital investments that provide award recipients with access to our customers through presence across our social platforms and digital properties, as well as our books. The Distinguished Service Award recognizes brands for their contributions and aims to bring everyone together to celebrate them. But we’re also providing a platform for those brands to really reach out to customers in the U.S.”

Originally the purpose of NM’s Distinguished Service Award was to shine a light on emerging European and American fashion designers. With its revival, it has three main criteria and a broader meaning. As van Raemdonck explained, together with Lana Todorovich, president and chief merchandising officer of NMG, the award intends to honor a creative mind that has made a significant contribution to fashion that has also had an impact from a social, environmental and governance point of view , and thirdly, someone who has “revolutionized” the luxury experience in their own way.

Lana Todorovich and Geoffroy van Raemdonck

Matteo Prandoni/BFA.com

“You will see that when we announce the other NMG Awards, they will also have these three elements. But there will be a different lens on the criteria,” van Raemdonck said. “Obviously with Brunello, we are identifying someone who has built a very big business and aspires to continue to grow their business every year and for decades to come.”

But the new NM Awards, the CEO said, are for those who aren’t as well known, or are perhaps still in the early stages of their career, or with a less developed business in the U.S.

Van Raemdonck often describes the Neiman Marcus Group as a company that “leads with love,” his metaphor for seeking closer relationships with clients, designers and brands. And as such, you “celebrate your brand partners for their contributions and invite the industry to celebrate them.”

By reviving the Distinguished Service Award, “it’s also a way to honor past recipients and the legacy of Carrie Marcus Neiman and Stanley Marcus and how their legacy is still alive today and very relevant,” said van Raemdonck. “It fits our strategy because our strategy is also about revolutionizing luxury experiences.

“When you look at the list of Distinguished Service recipients, it ranges from Christian Dior to Saint Laurent, both luxury brands that exist today with different creative directors who are very in-moment, very relevant and incredible partners for us,” he said van Raemdonck. “He went to [Elsa] Schiaparelli, which is a brand undergoing a rebirth”, and was presented last fall in the Neiman flagship store in Dallas, in a space that evokes the surrealist spirit of the Parisian headquarters of the maison.

“It’s also about the notion of modernity and forward thinking, which you find in someone like Brunello who has achieved so much and continues to achieve so much.”

The NMG Awards (including the Distinguished Service Award) will be presented annually, although the timing may be changed. The 2023 award celebration will be held in Paris during Paris Fashion Week in March. “We think celebrating with industry makes a lot of sense during fashion week, and since Brunello is Italian, I think honoring him in Paris is a really nice gesture that brings the industry together to celebrate him and past recipients,” she said van Raemdonck.

Indeed, the celebration will continue across the United States with Neiman’s clientele through Cucinelli collaborations, personal appearances, “retail-tainment” and online.

In the works, Todorovich cited an exclusive “Icon Collection” by Brunello Cucinelli, saying, “It really is a collection that spans all categories: women’s ready-to-wear, men’s ready-to-wear, shoes, bags. For the first time in history, this will actually be a co-branded collection. Brunello Cucinelli and Neiman Marcus together as a brand will be on all collateral associated with this collection, and each piece in the limited edition collection will be labeled ‘Exclusively designed for Neiman Marcus.’”

“This is going to be quite a large collection,” arriving in April for spring sales and again in August with a fall collection, Todorovich said. Ten Neiman Marcus stores and the Neiman website will sell the spring line.

According to Neiman executives, co-branding the collection was Cucinelli’s idea and a reflection of how Distinguished Service honorees will actively determine strategies and tactics to amplify their partnerships with the Neiman Marcus Group.

NMG has steadily built its business with Cucinelli, which is said to make more volume at Neiman’s than any other retailer. In September, Neiman’s partnered with Cucinelli on a “round-the-clock” campaign called “Muse of the West.” The collaboration, which took six months to put together, included an exclusive 30-piece, multi-category Brunello Cucinelli women’s collection sold in 36 Neiman Marcus stores and on Neimanmarcus.com; marketing initiatives including a look book and video for the first time with Carolina Cucinelli, co-creative director and co-president of Brunello Cucinelli, and her sister Camilla, co-head of the designer brand’s women’s style team. There was also a dinner and fashion presentation for VIP clients and influencers who spent a day at the 100-acre RoadRunner Ranch in Dallas.

Brunello Cucinelli

Guido Gamberdella

“Among Brunello’s many contributions to our industry, he has made a particular impact through his elevated luxury lifestyle design that recognizes the luxury customer’s desire for impeccably crafted and artfully crafted pieces,” Todorovich said.

“What is striking about Brunello and his business is that there is this important balance of profits and giving back with incredible charitable donations to worthy causes,” van Raemdonck added. “There is a focus on human dignity and ethics. I mean, his approach to the business is very tied to our set of values. The two companies find many points in common in these values. So I think it’s made a difference in how luxury brands perform in the world we live in today.

“If you look back, we honored Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, who were honored between the 1940s and 1960s,” van Raemdonck noted. “Looking at their brands today, it’s great that these brands were honored with the creative director and founder who had their name on the door. There are several creative forces there today. And those brands still exist globally. And so we’re really celebrating the journey of the brands and our humble input into their journeys. We feel that, as a multi-brand retailer involved in these relationships, it is something we should continue to do.”

In years past, the Distinguished Service Award recognized figures of fashion, though not necessarily those working in the fashion industry. Hollywood stars such as Grace Kelly and Rosalind Russell were among those honored. Van Raemdonck said future recipients don’t have to be someone whose name is on the brand’s front door or a creative director. He said it could be someone in the beauty industry. (Estée Lauder was awarded the prize in 1962.)

He’s also open to honoring a movie star. “If you want to look forward to the next five years, there are many ways we can express and celebrate the outstanding contribution to the field,” said van Raemdonck.

“The key element for me is not recognizing someone just by their past. It is recognizing someone for what they have done and then helping them project themselves into the future, because everything revolves around the future ”.

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