In 2011, I met two dear friends, Tom Beebe and Marjorie Lee Woo, for a cup of coffee at the famed Algonquin Hotel in New York. We thought we’d meet for a half hour or so, just to exchange some niceties and a quick hello. As it turned out, we spent the entire morning in an exhilarating conversation about what we love: art, design and visual merchandising. The setting was perfect as we were inspired by the spirit of Dorothy Parker and the iconic Algonquin Roundtable. After several cups of coffee and a round of great conversation, we realized that the morning had slipped by and it was time to go. We all thought that we should do this again, and invite others from our industry to join in the conversation. And so, the “Algonquin Visual Merchandising Roundtable” was born.
The first official meeting of the Roundtable was convened a few months later with nine industry professionals in attendance, including window trimmers and designers, store and interior designers, mannequin manufacturers, stylists, artists, academics, and of course, visual merchandisers. Like Parker’s esteemed band of creatives of the 1920s, the contemporary version of the Roundtable spoke about the issues of the day and visions for the future. Beebe assured, “Dorothy Parker would approve, and if she were around, she would even share a martini or two with us.”
Meeting several times a year, the gathering quickly grew to over 70 fashion and retail esthetes. As the event increased in size and stature, several groups stepped up to sponsor the gatherings, including Goldsmith Inc., VMSD magazine, Liberty of London, FRCH Design Worldwide and Godiva. And then, consistent with life, business and the fashion industry, change was in the air. Under new management, the Algonquin remodeled and raised the costs of everything from food and drink to the space itself. And so without a home, the Roundtable took a three year hiatus.
On May 18, 2017, the Roundtable returned in magnificent style. The relaunching took place in the new Goldsmith Inc. penthouse showroom in midtown Manhattan. So on a perfect mid-May evening, participants enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the showroom’s terrace under the eaves of the brilliantly illuminated Empire State Building. Lee Woo said, “It’s evident that our industry feels the need to gather and share new ideas. It was spectacular, no one wanted to leave.”
The ensuing conversation was as effervescent as the champagne, discussing everything from fashion and finance to art and architecture. The relaunching marks a new beginning for the Roundtable. The intent is to meet several times a year at different venues, with a grand celebration every December.
Beebe put it all into perspective by concluding, “Thursday’s return made it crystal clear to me, there is a need to collect characters, like spirits, like minds. A lot of change is brewing. The Roundtable is a chance to connect and move it all forward. It’s all about reinventing. Tonight we reinvented the Roundtable one more time.”
Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the Editorial Advisor/New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.