Dorothy Roberts interview, 2018 September 13

Dorothy Roberts interview, 2018 September 13


DILLON: FIT Talks is the oral history program
of the Fashion Institute of Technology, directed by Karen Trivette, Head of Special Collections.
Today, September 13th, 2018, we are taping in the library of the university in New York
City with Mrs. Dorothy Roberts from Echo – from the Echo Design, Inc.
ROBERTS: Just say Echo. DILLON: Just Echo, okay. My name is Phyllis
Dillon, and I will just give you a quick overview of Mrs. Roberts’s career. Dorothy Roberts
is the chairman of Echo Design Group, Inc., probably the most well-known scarf company
in the United States. Their accessory line includes scarves, wraps, and outwear; ponchos
and ruanas; cold weather accessories, mufflers, hats, and gloves; [01:00] swimwear and beach,
beach coverups and bags. In home, they work with Kravet in the designer area, and with
them design wallpaper, fabric, rugs, and trim. They also design bedding, bath, and window
treatments with JLA, and table linens with Arlee. The company was founded on their wedding
day, September 27th, 1923, by her parents, Edgar C. Hyman and Theresa Marks Hyman, and
this year the company will be 95 years old. Mrs. Roberts started working there in 1950.
In the 1970s, Dorothy Roberts and her husband, Paul, took over and ran Echo. He became president,
but they were equal partners and shared equal responsibilities for half of the business
areas. In March 1978, he died, [02:00] so Dorothy Roberts became President and CEO.
Known for its silk printed scarves, Echo signed a license with Polo Ralph Lauren in the 1980s.
They do Polo men’s, Polo women, Lauren, and Chaps. Echo also does private label for
Coach, Brooks Brothers, Talbots, J. Jill, and Dress Barn, to name a few. They also do
private label for museums, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Smithsonian, and the
Art Institute of Chicago, and have also worked with artists, such as Christo on The Gates
project. It is my pleasure to welcome Mrs. Roberts, whose firm has designed so many beautiful
items. So first, Mrs. Roberts, can you talk a bit about the founding of Echo and your
parents? ROBERTS: On their — my father [03:00] had
worked for — as a salesman for two veiling companies, and they didn’t pay him. They
both went out of business. So as he had — and my mother had planned to get married on September
27th, 1923, and they were going to court. He said, “We’re going to start a business
after we get married, and it’s going to be a scarf business,” because that was close
to the — what the people made; they made veilings. So they did that, and they started
in a little office, and they did everything themselves for a long time. And they just
did scarves, nothing else. And I know he started going to Europe and buying, and at that time
we didn’t do anything with the Orient at all. But, you know, they learned all about
printing and silk, [04:00] and they really did a great job. And then my mother decided
we should put the name — oh, she got the name, Echo, from Edgar C. Hyman — that was
my father’s name — and the O was from Echo. So the first place we had our office was at
— right across from the public library, and we were on the fourth floor, so across the
fourth floor it said Edgar C. Hyman Company, Incorporated, and the E-C-H-O was in red and
the rest was in blue so that that’s where she got the name from, and that’s — which
I thought was pretty clever. (laughs) So many years — we stayed there for many years. We
didn’t move to our current place till around Christmas in 1976. And so just the two of
them started. [05:00] The other thing that she wanted the printers to do, she wanted
the name Echo on every scarf, because she wanted the printer to realize that he should
use the best quality of printing and work the hardest to make it perfect when it had
our name on. So they did that, too. DILLON: All right. And other members of the
family became involved also, right? ROBERTS: Yeah, well, my mother stopped coming
to work when she had me, so my — her sister, my aunt, came, and she really loved merchandising
and fashion and everything, so she was great. DILLON: Right, and you told me that when you
were seven years old your parents took you to Europe.
ROBERTS: (laughs) Yes. DILLON: Was that on a regular business trip?
ROBERTS: It was a regular business trip. We were going [06:00] to London, Paris, Switzerland
— Bern, Switzerland — and Como, Italy, and our I. Magnin buyer, which was a very fine
store on the West Coast, which is nonexistent now — they were bought by Federated — she
got me a long, green dress, because when you go to the Villa d’Este and you eat dinner,
you have to be dressed formally. So anyway, so I made this trip, which I still remember,
because in, you know, London — my parents got a — somebody to take care of me in each
place, because they were working. So you don’t want me to tell you all the funny stories
that happened. (laughs) DILLON: Okay. No, but you learned about the
business because – ROBERTS: Right.
DILLON: — at home, right? ROBERTS: Right. Well, they talked all about
the business all the time, and my husband [07:00] used to say the only way you’d get
away from the business with my father was to dive under the water, because he talked
about it all the time, so… And interesting to me was that my father had no money, and
he didn’t – he couldn’t go to college, but my mother went to University of Chicago,
and then she became a teacher. But my father learned about everything — he knew everything,
so he’s the one who really taught me everything. DILLON: Yes, and you also told me a story
about how when you would visit the different cities and the department stores, how your
father would teach you how to learn to look. ROBERTS: Right, like if we went to — and
we saw the window of a store, he’d say, “Look in the window” and “Look at this,”
and then he said, “Turn around, and now [08:00] tell me what was in that window.”
(laughs) So I had to learn that. Then he took me to all the museums and, you know, told
me everything about the business and the customers and all of this, so… And then do you want
to get to when I get to work? DILLON: Sure.
ROBERTS: Okay. So I –- we — actually, I worked during holidays or vacations, but I
never, you know, worked full-time. But anyway, then my husband graduated from college before
me, and my father asked him to come in the business, which he did, and then when I — I
got… I graduated from college one Sunday, got married the next Sunday, went on a two-week
honeymoon. My father said, “Be there July 2nd,” which was the day before I — day
after I got back. So anyway, and then they handed me [09:00] a clipboard, and they said,
“This is your clipboard.” And we were, as I said, at — across from the public library.
We had a small office. We only had 10 employees. So he gave me the clipboard, and he said,
“Now go around to everyone in the office and ask them what they want done, and you
do it.” So then my main task was to enter — in this day and age it’s very odd, because
there were little white cards, and you entered every order on the little white card, and
did it alphabetically. And then at the end of the month you went onto a big yellow card
— this size — and you wrote the month. And then at the end of the year, you added up
that store, and you saw how much they bought, you know. [10:00] So I did that. I loved doing
that. I learned the name of every customer all over the United States, in every town.
When we traveled my father always would test me on the states, and the cities in each state,
and so I traveled a lot in the United States, so I knew a lot of the — and had been to
a lot of the stores. So… DILLON: Let’s talk a bit about the scarves,
because people may not know that you were making primarily silk scarves —
ROBRETS: Yes. DILLON: — in the early years —
ROBERTS: Yes. DILLON: — and this was a European tradition,
right? ROBERTS: Right. Right.
DILLON: So that — did your father buy the fabric separately and then work with factories,
or — ROBERTS: No, my father went over to Europe.
He went to England, France, Italy. He found — and Switzerland. We did things — [11:00]
we did wools, like challis it was called — we don’t call it challis anymore, but anyway
— in Switzerland. So we went there to buy the Swiss challis and everything. And then
in Italy he did — he — they started working — and my aunt did this, too — they started
working with all the best people, and — DILLON: So were their family a factory that
did the hemming and the — ROBERTS: They did everything. They printed,
and then they did the hand-rolled edge — which people don’t do anymore, or not often — and
they finished the… It was the best silk, and — you know, the quality of everything
from there was really good. DILLON: So you knew many of these manufacturers,
right? ROBERTS: Yes, yes, yeah. So — and some of
them are still there, like [12:00] in Como, Ratti and Mantero, they’re still there.
Some of the others aren’t, but they are. But they’re — they came — another factory
— this I hadn’t told you — another factory came over a few years ago, and he wanted me
to buy 36-inch squares, which was the size of the silk squares that most people bought,
and when I first made the trip I remembered that they were $6.36 each, and then we sold
them for $30, $40, whatever — anyway. I forget what we sold them for, but anyway. Then, when
he sat here three years ago and told me he wanted me to buy, I said, “What is the first
cost now?” He said, “Fifty dollars for a 36-inch square.” I said, “Well, that’s
what people would like to pay retail.” [13:00] So that was the end of that. We still do quite
a bit in Italy, but not in scarves. DILLON: So one thing that I found remarkable
is that you didn’t have a design department, per se —
ROBERTS: Right. DILLON: — until much later.
ROBERTS: Yeah. We didn’t. We bought designs, and we had sometimes people who did them inhouse,
but most of the time we bought the designs, and then we had someone for years who ran
design, product development, and operations — this is just for Echo — and did fine,
no problems, you know. And so — and then we did have someone who came in and worked
with us on color. DILLON: Okay, but when I — when you told
me this, I said, “Well, who had the eye? [14:00] Who was the brilliant…?”
ROBERTS: Well, we weren’t brilliant, we just… That was what we had to learn.
DILLON: Well, from looking at fabric over and over and over, you develop an eye, I guess.
ROBERTS: Well, it’s funny, because we also went to Lyon. When we were in Paris we went
to Lyon, and we ended up buying all our designs — most of our designs there. Then we ended
up later, years later, buying some in England, and sometimes here. But the — Lyon had fabulous
designers, and I was working with someone one day who was a manufacturer, and I saw
all these blue books all along the whole wall, and I said, “What are those?” He said,
“We put down the designer who designed this, the factory who made it, and when we delivered
it, and all of that.” So then when I [15:00] looked at this, I thought, great idea, and
I did see a few designer names in. So we started buying from eight or ten design firms, individual
people, really. They were firms, but it was one main person. One of them was — did the
best paisleys in the world. Another one did geometrics, and so, you know, we… Another
one did flowers, and so that — it was very exciting. And we got the blue books, and we
did the same thing. DILLON: And your archive is where?
ROBERTS: Well, we moved our archive out to a — we now have a distribution center out
in New Jersey. So we used to have it all together in New York, then — so it’s been in New
Jersey for a long time. DILLON: Yes, but it’s also on — in your
computer systems? ROBERTS: It’s in our computer system, too.
So they — we use a lot of our archives all the time.
DILLON: [16:00] Yes, I think on your website you have a very interesting history that shows
chronologically the scarves from decade to decade, and —
ROBERTS: I have to go look at it. (laughs) I’ve seen our website, but I don’t remember
seeing that. DILLON: Yeah, so actually one can see the
fashion changes and the — ROBERTS: That’s interesting.
DILLON: — from decade to decade. It’s very good. And that’s where I learned that in
the ’40s that the — that Echo worked for the war effort.
ROBERTS: That’s right, because, you know, we couldn’t import anything during the war,
so my father had to go to — he went to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and he found some factories
who could print. You know, they’re all nonexistent now, but we did that, because we couldn’t
go anywhere. [17:00] DILLON: Yeah. And some of them were patriotic?
ROBERTS: Yeah, he did — well, first we did the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,
and Steven, my son, says that the — we gave it to his school, and it used to hang up there
as you walk in the school. But then he also was an air raid warden and everything, so
he — DILLON: Yeah, there were instructions on how
— yes. ROBERTS: — saying how to get — if there’s
an air raid what to do and all that. So we did a whole series of that.
DILLON: Right. So you were thrust into the leadership of the company?
ROBERTS: Well, I always wanted to go there to work, so I wasn’t thrust into leadership,
because I did — for years, a few years, I did the — all the clipboards, and then they
made me showroom girl, and they — I waited on every single person who came into the showroom.
We had a little showroom, so… And then… And then, of course, then a few years after
that we moved to the new space, but… You know, so I knew all the customers, and we
traveled, and I loved going to all the stores, and… Of course, in those days you had three
big stores and five to seven specialty stores in every city, and now you have one or two
big stores, and one of them might not be doing so well, (laughs) and some have gone out of
business. And then the specialty stores — like Kansas City, which was one of my favorite
cities, they — we had seven good specialty stores, and now there are two left. And not
the same as they were, you know, so… But we do business with department stores and
specialty stores, and we love both, you know. DILLON: Right. So you became president and
CEO after the death of your husband, right? ROBERTS: Yeah. (laughs) Boy, we —
DILLON: Sounds terrible. ROBERTS: — skipped a lot of years. (laughs)
DILLON: Oh, okay. Let’s go back then. ROBERTS: No, no, no. Oh, okay. Yeah, but when
we worked together, we divided up the whole business. So I had design, product development,
and operations for that, but not for everything else, and then I had advertising, and publicity,
and sales. And then my husband did everything else. He did human resources, and he did all
the financial, and he did the running of all the operations [20:00] of the business, and
I had never hired or fired anybody in my life when after he — till after he died, so that…
You know, I ended up doing a lot of those things, but it worked… And for a good part
of that, I was able to work three days a week, because we only worked from 9:00 to 5:30,
and now you work from 8:00 to 6:00 or 7:00, and then you went home, you know, and you
had plenty of time to be with your children. And one day my son said Tuesday and Thursday
are his favorite days, and those are the days I was sitting in the chair waiting for him.
(laughs) So… DILLON: When… In the later years, the ’80s,
you became [21:00] the licensee. That was something that you…?
ROBERTS: Yeah, no. We had been asked by a lot of people to license, and we said no to
everyone, but in 1983 Ralph Lauren asked us to do scarves, and Steven said, “Look, if
we’re going to go it, we should do it with the best.” So we’ve been with them 35
years. DILLON: Yes. And is Steven…? Steven, your
son Steven? ROBERTS: Yes. Yeah. So that was after my husband
had died, so — he died in ’78. So then, you know, so then I ran
the business. You know, we had a lot of people working for us, including Steven, and Lynn
had joined the firm, my daughter, and then Steven had joined the [22:00] firm after he
finished college in ’78, the same year. So… And then we had other people who worked
for us, and my aunt. But then — by then she had gotten sick, so she didn’t end up working
that much — any longer, really. DILLON: Right. So do you want to show us some
of the things you’ve brought? ROBERTS: Oh, sure. Okay, so I’m going to
start with the Smithsonian. We had never done special scarves for anybody, and the Smithsonian
came to us in 1976, and they wanted us to do a bandana, and it was this. So we replicated
this in red and blue. Am I doing it upside-down? Yes. (laughs) And we did it for the [23:00]
centennial in 19… So they came to us in 1974, and we did it in — for ’76. So they
sold this, and then they bought a lot of other things from us. And unfortunately, I don’t
have anything else from the Smithsonian, but I can tell you — now that I dropped that
— I can tell you that when we did $8 million, we did a million with the Smithsonian. And
then we started working with the Met, and a lot of our most —
DILLON: Here, maybe I’ll hold them up, and you can (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)–
ROBERTS: Okay. Beautiful scarves. This is the —
DILLON: I remember this. ROBERTS: Yeah. This is the…
DILLON: The Gates. ROBERTS: The Gates, [24:00] but they — all
of a sudden I’m forgetting his — the name. DILLON: Christo?
ROBERTS: What? DILLON: Christo.
ROBERTS: Thank you. Okay, so we did this for… I don’t know that any of you remember, but
there was a fabulous exhibit in the park. But they started it in the park, and Christo
and his wife did that, and we changed this scarf and the color in the sky. I don’t
know how many times he made us change everything, and everything finally came out to be fabulous,
and they bought — my daughter said they bought 800, and I thought they bought 1,200, but
I told them — and they didn’t sell it at first. I told them when it went into the museum,
they would sell all of it right away. They could even put it in their Christmas catalog
and buy 12,000. Well, [25:00] the first group sold out immediately, within days, and we
didn’t think we had one unframed, but we did have one, because I knew I had to bring
this, so my daughter found it. DILLON: Yes. This was a tremendously exciting
project. Everybody went to Central Park to see this.
ROBERTS: And it started in February, so you had to go to Central Park in the cold. But
then it was in the cold till May, and then it opened. So we also continued to do a lot
with — DILLON: Oh, yes, this is —
ROBERTS: Oh, you know… DILLO: You forgot to unwrap —
ROBERTS: We forgot to take this out of the plastic.
DILLON: This is the most famous one. ROBERTS: We did two shoe scarves for them
— from them. Both were very, very successful and reordered several times.
DILLON: I’ll hold it. ROBERTS: You’ve got to hold it like this.
DILLON: Okay. ROBERTS: (laughing) We’ll hide ourselves.
DILLON: [26:00] Right. ROBERTS: This was one, and this was the second
one. Both great. And we also ended up doing a million dollars with them with all of this.
They’re both — they’re really great, both of them. Nothing like saying your own
things aren’t great, right? DILLON: They are. Such unique color.
ROBERTS: And then this is another one, and this was… Lynn, my daughter, works with
the Met, so she knew every name, but it was Léger. Doesn’t quite look like Léger,
but anyway. (laughs) And we did a beautiful paisley. They had a paisley framed on the
wall, and we took it from that, [27:00] and it really turned out to be beautiful.
DILLON: You know, Dorothy, in Europe now, every museum makes scarves.
ROBERTS: I know, I know. We should start trying to sell them. (laughs) And then this — I
don’t know what this was, but it’s a great geometric — let me see if it says on the
back. No. But it’s black on one side, white on the other. It’s great looking, and it’s
double. So… Oh, and then this was great, too. This was the royal elephant square shawl.
Can you see it? [28:00] And this was all different outfits that people wore, and
it says, “The Angled Hem,” “The Little Black Dress,” you know, “The New Look.” And
this is Toulouse-Lautrec, and this was — this they repeated many, many times. (pause)
DILLON: [29:00] Fabulous. ROBERTS: Oh, and this is Toulouse-Lautrec,
too, so I… And then this was a geometric. It’s very pretty, but, you know, it was
not for a special occasion. But a lot of colors. A lot of these have 10, 15, 20, 25 colors
in them. And then we have Chicago Art Institute, and this was —
DILLON: That’s a Chagall, sort of? ROBERTS: This was Chagall. And they have the
stained glass windows. DILLON: Yes. That color is so luscious.
ROBERTS: Yeah. DILLON: So…
ROBERTS: [30:00] Can you see it? (laughs) Okay. And this is MoMA. And with MoMA, we
had a license with them for… Oh my God, I can’t even… Where did it say this?
DILLON: Frank Lloyd Wright. ROBERTS: Yeah, this was the only one that
had the one with the license — Frank Lloyd Wright — but it’s — they’re really pens,
but they did it as Frank Lloyd Wright, which I think it really looks good.
DILLON: Yes. ROBERTS: In fact, we have something similar
to it right now. And these were geometrics that we did for MoMA. But everything had to
be kind of Frank Lloyd Wright [31:00] look. And only in recent years have they started
to do things for some of their exhibits that they have, and now they don’t have the Frank
Lloyd Wright license anymore. That’s another geometric. This — these are all Frank Lloyd
Wright that I’m showing you now, and you could guess that they are, (laughs) because…
But they’re different materials and — but see —
DILLON: He was an innovative textile designer, and you’ve caught the excitement of it all.
ROBERTS: Yeah. And… DILLON: This is very exciting, because I don’t
think people get a chance to see all of this —
ROBERTS: There’s another one. (laughter) [32:00] And another one.
DILLON: Yeah, so maybe when you have your hundredth birthday exhibit…
ROBERTS: (laughs) We’ll show all these. DILLON: Yeah.
ROBERTS: Okay. DILLON: Fantastic.
ROBERTS: Now this one — also, I don’t remember this one, but Lynn told me it’s definitely
MoMA. So let’s see what this says. DILLON: MoMA.
ROBERTS: Yeah, I know it says MoMA, but I thought it might say what it is. But I’m
thinking it was from a painting. DILLON: Yeah, it looks a little Jackson Pollock-y,
maybe? ROBERTS: Maybe, but no name.
DILLON: No. ROBERTS: And then I brought some Echo that
are really, I think, exceptional. [33:00] And some of these have been done — a lot
of these have been done by someone who works for us right now who’s a wonderful artist.
And this is the jewelry scarf. And actually my grandson tricked me, because he said, “Do
I have any rings?” And then he went to my daughter and my daughter-in-law, because Steven’s
wife is our home designer, and, you know, you — Phyllis had said what we do. She designs
all the home. And so we showed him the rings, he photographed them, and intermixed in this
jewelry scarf are our rings. DILLON: I see it’s called an Echo heirloom.
ROBERTS: Yeas, yeah. DILLON: So does that mean it’s based on
an older design, or…? ROBERTS: No, these were all based on [34:00]
books that had jewelry, and then intermixed are some of our rings in it, but the main
thing — I mean, it’s a great design. I don’t even know where it is, but it’s
somewhere in here. (laughs) Oh, here. These are my mother’s wedding rings. (laughs)
And then flowers always sell well, and we did — this is one of the flowers that we
did. In fact, we have this hanging in our showroom, because we’re showing spring now,
and around it are — they look like they’re real, but are fake flowers that are like a
frame to it, and it’s really beautiful. We’re going to have a busy time folding
all these up. (laughs) Here’s another flower. [35:00] There’s a bird in each corner. And
then here’s — this is called Royal Blooms. DILLON: So this is all done silkscreened,
right? ROBERTS: Yes. Well, I’m not sure, because
I think it may be digital, because of the back, the —
DILLON: It used to be silkscreen. ROBERTS: Silkscreen. Well, we still do most
things silkscreen, but the penetration in the digital is not as good as the silkscreen.
Usually it — the other side looks the same. See this? And this, it’s a little different.
And here it is right here. [36:00] But actually this is — this looks pretty good. You’re
going to think all we do are flowers. Now these are Blooms of Oceania. Thank you. (laughs)
And then one of my favorites is the tassel. It comes in three or four colors, but I have
the black and white. They were the two best colors. The detail in this, the amount of
colors — there are like 25 colors in this. It came in white, too. I’m not going to
open that up. And then here were the tea cups, [37:00] which is great looking, too. All of
these are collector’s items. And then this is the parrots. See now, look. This is the
right side, but the other side looks as good. So that I’m not going to open, but I just
— I wanted you to see a few of our best things that we do, you know. So but now we also do
— we don’t just do scarves. We do, as you said, cold weather, which is mufflers, hats,
and gloves. That’s a big business. And then in the gloves, Steven, many years ago, [38:00]
invented the idea of touch glove. So we got — it took us three years to get the copyright,
so everybody copied us. Like that, they were out there doing it. And then we sued everyone
when we got the copyright, and then everybody paid us except the two big people in the business.
They said they thought of it the exact same time. So… But we’ve done that, you know,
and that has made a big difference in the — that business. So we have the cold weather,
the gloves, hats, and then last year, when it was so cold, we had — still had stock
left. Everybody in October and November called us. We sold every glove we had. We sold also
the mufflers and the hats, but every glove. We had nothing left. [39:00] It was amazing.
It was so funny. Our director of sales couldn’t take the phone calls fast enough to… (laughs)
So, but then we do outerwear now, which are ponchos, ruanas, capes, and that has become
a big business. And then we do swim and coverups, and then we do bags that go with that, and
then we do… You know, I can’t even think of all the names — Pareos, and little tops
that… Now we just started — we just — since you’ve been there, we did a festive occasion
group for all dressy things, and we have wraps and little jackets and little tops that really
look great. But that was since you’ve been there.
DILLON: So is this all [40:00] stimulated by this great knowledge of textiles and design
and prints? And you must have a very gifted staff at this point.
ROBERTS: We do. We have designers, we have product developers, we have people who really
know fabric, and then, you know, all our top people are used to going — like we go to
Mongolia now for cashmere, and, you know, we go all over the world to get the right
products. DILLON: So how many people —
ROBERTS: Do we have? DILLON: Yes. Approximately.
ROBERTS: Say 140. Half are in the distribution center in New Jersey. We do all our shipping,
all our finance from there. A lot of our IT is from there. And then [41:00] in New York,
we have the merchants, the designers, the product developers, the operations people
who do a lot of that work with them, and then, you know, secretarial duties, and then we
also have IT people there, and so… DILLON: Yeah. One of the things that impressed
me a lot is the family, the… ROBERTS: Well, it is nice to be able to work
with your family. And, you know, I loved working with my father and my aunt, you know, and
I was very close to both of… My father was always teaching me, and he was very strict
about things, that everything — the door’s open and it has to stay open, or if it’s
closed, you know… You have to be — do everything. [42:00] But he taught me all that. And you’ve
got to know all the towns, all the states, all the products, all the fabrications, and
everything, so, you know… And so the f– then what happened is my father and my mother,
then she came — went out and my aunt came. Then my husband came before me, and then we
worked together, and then just before he died Lynn, who was older than Steven, came in the
business, and then Steven promised him the week before he died that he would come in
after school. So he did come in, and he also started going to NYU for business for his
Master’s the next year, and then I decided that he shouldn’t be there if he didn’t
want to be, [43:00] because he’s sitting at his father’s desk and — this I didn’t
tell you. Did I tell you this? I did. Okay. So she knows everything about me. (laughs)
So I told him that he should go away for a year. He said, “Funny that you suggested
that, because I applied to HEC,” which is the Harvard Business School of — outside
of Paris, and he went. And so my accountant, who was very supportive of me and helpful,
said, “Pay for his education, but make him work when he’s there.” So… And I didn’t
want him in the business if he didn’t want to be there. So he got a job at Au Printemps,
and he made all these friends, and now he has a lot of friends in France. Goes to Corsica
every summer to visit one of them. (laughs) And so… [44:00] And then he wanted to come
back, you know. And then — now I remember that — then he said to me — by the time
he came back it was early ’80s, and he said to me, “You know, we should really have
a designer, a full-time designer. We shouldn’t all be doing it ourselves, and we shouldn’t
expect someone to come in to color and everything.” So he happened to know someone, and it’s
someone he had met who had been at RISD, and — that’s Rhode Island School of Design,
for those who don’t know — and I knew her because she sold me designs, and I liked her,
and her name is now Meg Roberts, so they ended up getting married, and — which I was very
happy about, but I [45:00] should have known that they had something, but then they didn’t,
and… Anyway, they got together, she joined us, and then she did Ralph Lauren, all the
work of the development, you know, worked with their designers and everything for the
first few years before she started the home business. Then when we started the home business,
she does all of the home design. DILLON: Right. And she and your son have written
a number of books. ROBERTS: Oh, they’ve written three books.
She knows more than I know. They’re right on my desk. (laughs)
DILLON: Right. Well, what is so fascinating is that —
ROBERTS: Not on the desk, they’re on the table. Yeah.
DILLON: When someone like me, an outsider, comes and visits the company, and meet a lot
— other members of the family, and — ROBERTS: Yeah, well, then, you know, my daughter
is there. She does the PR and the — [46:00] all the publicity, advertising, all of that.
And now we just hired a marketing person, who — a director of marketing, who she’s
working with, too. But she also works with the Met and MoMA and some — does a lot of
other things, does a lot of the photography, you know, setups and — with the models and
everything, so… So, and now we have a fourth generation that just came in. He’s Steven’s
second son, and he is in product development for, like, everything. So we have to maybe
regulate that a little better so he doesn’t have so much, but anyway, he’s great. And
then his older brother did a whole photography setup of the — all us, because we took all
the pictures for our 95th, you know, so… [47:00] But he’s not in the business. So
no one else, just the one so far. But it’s great to have him. And it’s great to work
with your family. DILLON: Yeah, I think it’s tremendously
interesting from — to an outsider, to see —
ROBERTS: Yeah, because a lot of families don’t get along, but we do, and we actually work
very well together. And it’s funny, because what I didn’t say is then when my husband
died, because he was the president, even though my family owned the business, I made him the
president. I was the secretary of the corporation. And then when I took over, I had a feeling,
because, you know, there are not many women who were running business, even small businesses,
and everybody was looking to see if I fell on my face, but [48:00] we didn’t. (laughs)
I had a lot of support. Yeah, so… DILLON: Right. Is there…? I mean, you have
a tremendous vantage point of observation of the accessories business and the fashion
business, so many years, and I gather you found it tremendously exciting and fulfilling.
ROBERTS: I did. Steven kids that I don’t have two children, I have three, that Echo
is my third child. (laughs) And he’s not sure if it’s the favorite.
DILLON: So what about this business has been so thrilling? Is it all of it?
ROBERTS: Yeah, it’s all — the whole thing, like — you know, it’s funny: we just had
a lunch with someone for her 30th — she’s a salesperson who’s been with us 30 years,
and then somebody who had been with us 12 years just came back to work with us on private
label, and he just jumped in and, you know, he knows who we did do business with and who
we don’t. And anyway, he’s just jumped in right away, the first week. (laughs)
DILLON: So it’s the personal end of it, the staff relations, as well as making something
very beautiful, and making people happy? It’s a combination?
ROBERTS: Yeah, well, we love our people who work for us, and we try to have it the best,
you know, relationships that we can, and Steven the other day did a talk on the state of Echo
and what’s going on in New York, and then the next day he went to D.C. to talk to everybody
there, and, you know, tell them what’s going on with all the stores, and [50:00] you know,
I mean, like, you all know about Lord & Taylor, which is one of our best customers, so…
And Bon-Ton, you know, which was a good customer, went out of business. So it’s — there are
a lot of people we did business with that have gone out of business, so…
DILLON: Right. Well, is there anything else that we’ve left out that you’d like to
talk about? ROBERTS: I don’t think so. You wouldn’t
let me leave anything out. (laughs) DILLON: Okay, well, I want to thank you very,
very much — ROBERTS: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
DILLON: — for this talk, and also bringing all these beautiful things.
ROBERTS: Well, you know, it’s funny, we have scholarships at five schools, and one
of them is FIT, so we’ve always been very supportive of FIT, and I know Joyce, so..
And Jo– it is Joanne Arbuckle, that…? I know her, too. Joyce came up for lunch last
year, and she brought Joanne, so… [51:00] The funny thing is, I saw Dorothy Globus.
Is she — she was here for years, but she’s not here anymore.
F1: I’m not sure. DILLON: I don’t think so.
ROBERTS: Well, there was a Dorothy Globus that went to college with me, so I don’t
know if she was the one who went to college with me.
DILLON: Could be. ROBERTS: So — but I saw the — because I
looked at the names and the phone numbers and everything, and I had you in with that,
so that’s funny, and I saw that. DILLON: Yes. So thank you very, very much.
ROBERTS: Well, thank you for having me, and good meeting both of you, and I’m glad you
found me, or I found you. (laughs) DILLON: Thank you.
END OF AUDIO FILE

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