Friday, May 9, 2014

Edwin A. Goodman

Edwin Goodman in the offices of his venture capital firm, Milestone Venture Partners, surrounded by family photographs.
Edwin A. Goodman
by Delia von Neuschatz

Edwin A. Goodman is that rare and much-sought New York creature — the perfect dinner guest. Handsome? Check. Gracious? Check. Entertaining? You bet. Named after his grandfather, the founder of Bergdorf Goodman, Ed grew up in a rarefied world which most can only dream of. His parents were the glittering Andrew and Nena Goodman and much of Ed’s early life was spent at what arguably was, and still is, the best luxury emporium in the world. Sure, Ed has met some of the most glamorous women in existence (Jackie Kennedy, Barbra Streisand and the Duchess of Windsor among them), but his life has taken some unexpected turns which put the retail industry scion first, at the center of 1960s counterculture and then, at the forefront of Wall Street’s rise and rise.
Bergdorf Goodman in the 1960s.
What was it like spending time at Bergdorf’s as a young kid?

The store had this glamorous image, but behind the scenes, it provided a glimpse into a different world. There was an African-American woman named Mary Douglas, for instance, who worked in the fur department. She was gorgeous and had a really good eye. She’d go to these junky stores, buy something and then clip off the cheap stuff and re-design the dress. She always looked so chic. There was an alcoholic Cuban refugee. There was a lesbian model. These were all my buddies. There was this view of New York you’d never see at that time.

Did you ever live in your grandparent’s 9th floor, 17-room apartment?

I didn’t live there. I grew up in Rye. My father lived there. Interestingly enough, he was a bachelor and was 30 and still lived there. But, I think at that time, in European culture, that was quite common. It’s inconceivable now that a 30-year-old would want to live with his parents. So, when I came along, we would visit our grandparents there and sleep over. After they died, my father and mother used the apartment during the week and they would go to Westchester on the weekends. When I met my wife, we would meet them for drinks at the apartment. We would always meet at the apartment as a family.
The Goodman’s ninth floor penthouse apartment, 1965. The apartment was occupied by the family until the 1980s. The sprawling space is now the John Barrett salon. In the Bergdorf Goodman blog, Joshua Taylor, Andrew and Nena Goodman’s grandson, recalls visiting his grandparents: "There was always a secret feeling of going there. You entered from the street through a gold door and went down a long marble hall. There was not a breadth of air in it. You buzzed for the private elevator, which only made two stops — the seventh floor, where my grandfather's office was, and the penthouse.”
What were your parents like?

They were bon vivants. They lived life to the full. My parents were very entertaining people — great storytellers. They lived a different lifestyle than people do now. They drank too much. They smoked too much. And they lived to be quite old. My father smoked two packs of Camels a day, maybe more, plus cigars and my mother also smoked at least two packs of cigarettes a day.

And they lived quite well. Every night, we’d have drinks in the library [in our home in Rye]. And we almost always had a multi-course, two-hour dinner served by staff which was always Cuban because my mother was Cuban. Dinner conversations were wide-ranging covering politics, art and fashion, always fashion.

But, although my parents were in this elite world, they were actually democrats. They taught us to judge people as they were. If my parents liked you, that was it. It had nothing to do with your credentials, your bank account or your social position.
Andrew and Nena Goodman in the 1940s.
How did your parents meet?

They met in Cuba. My mother [Nena Manach] had a tumultuous, exciting youth there, especially when you consider the times. She met a young man from Italy who was on a world tour. She got pregnant. This was in 1933 and it was very awkward especially in a Roman Catholic country like Cuba.

Andrew and Nena Goodman in later years.
So, they flew to New York and got married in a Catholic church. And then this young man went back to Italy and promised to send for her. We have these incredible letters that are all about “Come and do your duty … you must uphold your honor … come back.” But, he never did.

My mother at that point was confined to her home for two years due to the shame of it all. And finally her friends came around one day and said, “Come on, you have to get out.” And my father was on vacation in Cuba and that child — now my sister Vivien — was 3.

My parents had an international romance. Letters were flying back and forth. My mother eventually moved to New York and took a job. And they courted and when they married, it was a scandal. Walter Winchell wrote “Roman Catholic Cuban divorcée with a child marries New York Jewish playboy. Give it 6 months.” They lasted 56 happy years.

Did you grow up Catholic or Jewish?

Neither. We were ecumenical. Our view was “It didn’t matter.” In our family, it’s all about how people look. No, just joking! But, my parents would often criticize my sisters’ outfits and their makeup when they went out on dates.
The Goodman family in 1951 celebrating the store’s 50th anniversary with a black tie gala at the Plaza. The gala was attended by society, fashion and entertainment luminaries including Elsa Schiaparelli, Ethel Merman and members of the Whitney, Rockefeller and Hutton families. Here, fourteen-year-old Edwin stands in front of his aunt Ann. His grandparents and parents are to his left. His eldest sister Vivien and middle sister Mary Ann are seated in the front.
As a young man, you went into the family business. How old were you when you started working at Bergdorf’s and what did you do there?

I was 24. I had been at Yale, then joined the Marine Corps for a six-month program. When I came back, I went to work [at BG] and got married within six months.

My father was concerned that he would spoil me, so he had me start in the receiving department in the basement. At that time, all the merchandise came in by trucks right there on 58th street and was brought down a ramp. I wore a smock and opened the boxes with a box cutter. I took out the merchandise, checked it against the bill of lading and delivered it to the marketing room where they took off the manufacturers’ tags off and put on Bergdorf Goodman tags.

Bernard Newman (1903 – 1966) was head designer for Bergdorf Goodman and head costume designer for RKO Pictures. He designed costumes for dozens of movies, dressing the likes of Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball. He is pictured here on the left with Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott in 1935.
Then I worked in shipping — also in the basement, where I took the orders and wrapped them up. And then I began working with buyers in various departments. I worked with a handbag and accessories buyer, I worked with a better dress buyer, I worked with a junior dress buyer. I worked in the credit department. There were no computers. Everything was handwritten on cards.

The thing I did that was most memorable was that we started a new department at that time called BiGi which was a junior dress dept. We had never had dresses which appealed to the Seventeen Magazine crowd. I was very much involved in the conceiving of that. I used to go around to all the stores all over New York and pretend to be shopping, but I’d be looking for things I liked and then found out who the manufacturer was. I made a list and that’s how we started.

Who were some of the memorable people you met at Bergdorf’s?

I met a lot of the fashion stalwarts of the time like Pauline Trigère who became a friend. And there was Bernard Newman who was my father’s friend since they were teenagers. He was gay, living with his sister. I remember to this day going to dinner at his house in the East 50s. He had paintings everywhere. You couldn’t see the wall at all. There must have been hundreds of them in a small apartment. Oil paintings, watercolors, everything were all piled up from floor to ceiling. It was fantastic. For a kid like me from the suburbs, it was like a fantasy world.
The groovy BiGi shop on the 6th floor played rock and roll.
Pauline Trigère in the 1960s. Trigère (1912–2002) was a French-born American designer known for crisp, tailored cuts. She is cited for designing Patricia Neal’s wardrobe in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, although some attribute Neal’s wardrobe in the film to costume designer Edith Head.
An ad from the March 1970 issue of Cue magazine.
And then there was Ethel Frankau. She ran the custom dress business. At the time, she was 85 and she practiced yoga every day. When she was about 80, she fell and broke her hip and her doctor said “You’ll never walk again, let alone work.” In four months she was back at work. She looked like the head of a Nazi prison camp. She never wore anything but black, had glasses and her grey hair was pulled back tight in a bun. She was very soft spoken and had impeccable taste. Jackie Kennedy was a big client of hers. Jackie would come in and Ethel would say: “This is right for you. This is wrong. Get this in this color.” When my father was 16, my grandfather sent him to Europe with Ethel so she could teach him about fashion and take him to the collections. She was just a formidable person.

And then, Eliet Roux came when Ethel retired. She had been with Dior. Eliet was quite beautiful and charming. When I met her she was 48 or 50 and I was 35. I was to meet her in Paris. “How will I know you?” I asked her. In her French accent she said, “Oh, I am blonde, I am very beautiful, I have a black dress. Pas de problème.” And, there she was. And she ended up marrying my father’s best friend. This particular man — charming guy, Wall Street guy — had married many times. It didn’t last too long, but I think he had a lovely time for a while. It was quite a world.
Ethel Frankau joined forces with Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Diana Vreeland to design Jackie Kennedy’s inaugural ball gown.
Any other memories?

Christmas was huge. After the store closed on Christmas Eve, there would be a lot of parties. Each department would compete to have the best party. Things got kind of wild.

My grandfather would start at the bottom — the receiving room — and work his way up and end up at the apartment. So, he would attend maybe 15 or 20 parties, having a drink here, a drink there.

Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro, an aristocrat by birth, was one of the most celebrated Italian fashion designers of her time. In 1969, “the first lady of Italian fashion,” abandoned her rarefied world however, preferring to follow her guru to Rishikesh, India to live in a leper colony.
So, one Christmas Eve, my grandmother comes back to the apartment and goes into the bedroom and there’s my grandfather passed out on the bed with a model. Clothed. But still, it was disconcerting. The parties got much smaller after that.

I also remember going to Europe with my parents as a kid. I grew up in a pretty conventional suburban American environment. I remember going to visit Simonetta. Simonetta was a dress designer in Milan. We went to her apartment and it was all green velvet — the walls, carpeting, couches — everything was covered in green velvet. And she had this silver collection and this soft lighting. And I thought I had gone to some heavenly planet. She was quite charming. And then, she became religious and moved to India and took care of lepers for some 20 years!

What was Jackie Kennedy like?

She was very elegant and charming and soft-spoken.

What about the Duchess of Windsor?

She was nothing like Jackie. She was materialistic and not very interesting.

How long in total were you at BG?

Five years.
Duchess of Windsor with Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, as she is being fitted in a Sarmi gown.
Why didn’t you stay?

A few reasons. First of all, the world was sort of falling apart and I was a rather young and idealistic guy. Newark was burning down. Watts was burning down and I was selling lingerie. And I thought this doesn’t seem right somehow. Also, I felt that my future was very much determined. It was riskless and I wanted to go out and see what I could do on my own.

Another reason was that I had two brothers-in-law in the business and they were not really suited for the business and I saw trouble ahead. Of course, my mother was very eager for my sisters’ husbands to do well there. This put my father in a terrible position. So, I thought it would be good to get away from this situation. I could have tried to stay and fix all that, but I was young and it was a very difficult and daunting task to deal with my sisters and their husbands. One marriage lasted a long time, but the husband never had much of a career and the other husband was an alcoholic and that marriage ended in divorce.

It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we sold the business and kept the real estate which has been very good for the family. And we sold it to people who built the brand in a wonderful way which was important to my father. He didn’t want to see Bergdorf’s cheapened. The business was sold in 1972 to Carter Halwey Hale which became Neiman Marcus.

Founded in 1967 by Senator Robert F. Kennedy (pictured above), the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation is the oldest community development corporation (CDC) in the US. CDC’s are nonprofit, community-based organizations focused on revitalizing the areas in which they are located. They provide a range of initiatives to low-income underserved neighborhoods, including affordable housing, education and social services.
Mayor John V. Lindsay meeting with prisoners at the Manhattan House of Detention for Men. Barton Silverman/The New York Times.
Where did you go after you left?

I got the opportunity to go work for Senator [Robert] Kennedy and took it. He had started this project in Brooklyn — the Bedford Stuyvesant Development & Services Corporation — trying to renew the community. It came to be known as the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and it still exists today.

In the '60s you had a white liberal establishment and a black community trying to work together to try to solve some of these social problems and it was a hopeful time. But then, you got a rising black power which was about independence and self-realization and acting alone. They regarded white assistance as condescending. So, what began as a rather amicable joint effort became more and more difficult. I was there when Martin Luther King was assassinated and I remember going to work that day and we all sat around and discussed race for eight hours and just couldn’t work.

In any case, I left to establish an experimental college where I was in charge of developing internship programs. And then, when Bobby Kennedy was shot, the blueprint we created for this college was disemboweled. It became part of the CUNY system and the reformist elements were washed away.

What happened next?

I got a phone call from a friend who worked for a radio station, WBAI FM, which featured a lot of left wing, aggressive, interesting politics along with music and news. I became the station’s manager. We were the first to have consciousness-raising programs. We had the first lesbian shows, the first gay shows. We had the Agence France-Presse [the oldest news agency in the world] covering Vietnam. We had experimental music. It was pretty exciting.

And then, I had 10 minutes of fame. I was arrested for withholding some tapes. It was one of the original press cases. I was sent to jail. They made a big deal of it in the papers. For a short while, I was a controversial first amendment champion. And then life went back to normal.

This was a very demanding job. There was a lot of craziness going on – feminists, racial issues, employees, volunteers. After three years, I had decided that was enough. I was 34 with a wife and two little girls at home and I hadn’t made any money.

So, what did you do?

When I was in Brooklyn, I had worked with entrepreneurs, developing and supporting their business efforts and getting guaranteed SBA loans. I had really enjoyed that.
Alan Patricof, one of the early pioneers of the venture capital and private equity industries. His firm, Apax Partners is one of the largest private equity firms in the world. Ed was the firm’s third employee. One of Apax’s most prominent deals was a $250,000 investment in the final financing round raised by Apple Computers in the summer of 1977.
I thought I would love to work with entrepreneurs as a general rule. So I went out and started looking for work, but it was difficult because of my checkered career. After nine months of cold calling looking for a job in the financial industry, a guy named Alan Patricof took a chance on me, giving me a six-month trial at his venture capital firm. I started working there in January 1974.

Edwin Goodman with his wife, attorney Lorna Bade Goodman. The couple will celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary in June.
The firm became the private equity firm Apax Partners which today has $18 billion under management. But, at the time it was tiny with a $3 million fund. I was there for seven years and learned a lot. Al and I still do deals together.

During that time, I enrolled in Columbia business school, going there at night. A couple of years after I graduated, I went to work for a British bank, Hambros, running their venture capital activities in New York. I started in January of ’81 and was there for 17 years. I had a wonderful time working there. In 1974, it was the largest bank in London and very sadly, by 1997, it was bankrupt.

Two years later, I started my own venture capital firm, Milestone Venture Partners, with the purpose of investing in internet companies. I didn’t have any Googles, but I’ve done pretty well. It’s been a lot of fun.

You know, New York is incredible. All these crazy things I did, I did in New York — the fashion business, the anti-poverty program, the radio station, venture capital — all that happened in New York.

Going back to your roots, when you walk by Bergdorf Goodman today, does it stir up any feelings, emotions?

Yes, it does. Nostalgia and pride. I still meet women all the time who tell me how much they love the place.
Bergdorf Goodman, founded in 1901, has occupied its present 5th Avenue and 58th Street premises since 1928.