Leading Ladies

Creative excellence, leadership and mentoring skills distinguish the winners of VMSD’s first annual awards recognizing the industry’s finest female leaders
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Posted November 13, 2017

In its inaugural year, VMSD’s Top Women in Retail Design awards program was created to recognize outstanding leading women in the retail design and visual merchandising industries. Nominated by our readers and selected by our editorial team, each of our winners were chosen based on their career commitments to innovation, creative excellence and lifelong learning; active involvement in a mentorship role; as well as a body of accomplishments in the fields of retail design or visual merchandising.

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Dawn Clark
Senior Vice President, Store Design, Architecture & Construction
Nordstrom, Seattle

Photography: Courtesy of Nordstrom

Dawn leads the development of store experiences at Nordstrom through design, planning, architecture, construction and visual merchandising. She also manages the internal and external design, visual merchandising and construction teams. As an architect and creative leader, she has spent the past 20 years applying her knowledge of global brands, retail strategy and design to architectural projects around the world for a range of brands, including Nordstrom, Harrods, Seibu, Sogo, Harvey Nichols and Starbucks.

Recognized as a collaborative leader and creative force in the retail design community, she was nominated in part thanks to her willingness to share with her coworkers, her creativity and her ability to preconceive multiple projects. “Dawn has a deep understanding of the customer experience, a passion for retail design and the innate ability to creatively support the Nordstrom brand,” her nominator wrote.

What do you like most about your job?

“My team and I are tasked with bringing creative possibilities to life while adapting to the unique constraints of each project – it’s a great challenge. Our ultimate goal is to inspire and energize our customers with the environments we create, which is something that makes each day exciting.”

How can organizations empower future generations of women in the workplace?

“For future generations of women to contribute and succeed, organizations must create a culture that listens to, respects, rewards and empowers women to expand their leadership capacity.”

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Linda Lombardi
Head of Global Store Design & Global Visual Merchandising
Godiva Chocolatier, New York

Photography: Courtesy of Godiva

Linda has spent the past 25 years working with world-class brands like Godiva, Liz Claiborne and Saks Fifth Avenue, among others. During her tenure at Godiva, the brand has expanded its retail presence into key international markets in the Middle East and Asia, along with a boutique and full-service café in London’s Harrods department store.

Linda is described by her peers as a passionate, brilliant leader. “She believes in her team and is behind them 100 percent, no matter what.  She’s also a great teacher with passion and drive, which is hard not to emulate,” explained her nominator. “She takes people under her wing that aren’t even in her department to show them how a strong woman can win in this industry.”

She has also served on PAVE’s (The Planning and Visual Education Partnership) board of directors and co-chaired the organization’s annual benefit gala in 2016. She’s also taken the time to speak to young designers at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and LIM College.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

“I’m most proud of the impact I’ve had on people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. It’s an incredible feeling when you see members of your team move on to do amazing work. It’s very rewarding to hear that you personally have made a difference in their careers.”

What continues to excite and motivate you?

“Retail changes every day, and that’s a good thing for people in the ‘change business,’ like designers. It’s key that you stay current with retail, as well as hospitality, technology, travel, food, cultures and communities. It’s very important to listen to people.”

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Roe Palermo
Divisional Vice President, Merchandise Presentation and Store Visual
Lord & Taylor, New York

Photography: Courtesy of Lord & Taylor, New York/Richard Cadan, Fairfield, Conn.

Roe is responsible for Lord & Taylor’s in-store visual experience, including windows, merchandising, renovations, store openings, promotional signage and fashion presentations – for all 50 locations. A graduate of New York’s FIT, she earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising and has dedicated her career to the field of retail design.

In addition to Lord & Taylor, she has worked for Mitchells (Westport, Conn.), a family-owned luxury apparel retailer with roots in the Northeast – a move she credits with teaching her a valuable lesson about retail: “It taught me the meaning of community, and retail being part of a community,” she explains.

What do you like most about your job?

“Every day is a new challenge, whether it’s a project, working with people, opening a store, working on a holiday window or teaching the next leaders. I’m passionate about what I do; it’s hard to not be obsessed with the work and drive home the best possible customer experience.”

What’s your advice to those striving to elevate the role of women in design?

“Continue to be a great role model, be true to yourself, honest with others, share your knowledge and help others be successful. We need to take risks to leverage new ideas and not be afraid to let failure happen. Talent comes from those who are fearless.”

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Bink Zengel
Vice President, Brand Experience Innovation
Luxottica, Mason, Ohio   

Photography: Courtesy of Luxottica

In her role at eyewear conglomerate Luxottica, Bink focuses on strategy, branding and “fearless experimentation.” An architect by training, she has spent much of her career leading the creative for new business development at Luxottica, including store design concepts for LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, Target Optical, Sears Optical and Luxury Optical Brands.

She says she believes the magic comes from connecting great ideas with great partners in disciplines like brand development, consumer insights, omnichannel, finance, operations, as well as product and visual merchandising.

What is one of your biggest challenges professionally?

“My team’s work focuses on prototypes and new business development. This means sometimes we do beautiful, amazing projects, and sometimes we fail.  What usually happens is the expansion program moves on to another team. The design or program changes. 

It’s easy to get frustrated when the changes go in a direction different from the original brief, but things do change. You can only do your best work while you have it. Build great relationships so maybe you can continue to influence, but then you need to move on to the next big adventure.”

How important is the role of women as mentors in the workplace?

“I believe mentoring is a responsibility of every individual. For women, it’s a way to honor the women who were pioneers in design and business. It’s also a way to pay it forward. Mentoring is a great place to start the cycle of respect, trust and confidence. It is an opportunity to model the way and practice of being the person most of us want to be. I am grateful to all of the women and men who have taken the time for a cup of coffee, encouraged me to be fearless or maybe gave some uncomfortable feedback I needed.”