Local gal Lauren Kiefer talks Italian, fashion and the department store she had yet to hear of.
It’s hard to believe, but island girl-turned-New Torker Lauren Kiefer never heard of Bergdorf Goodman before joining the company in 2002. After graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont with a degree in international studies and political science with a concentration on Italian, Kiefer moved to New York to work as a research associate for a financial consulting firm. However, she soon realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do. That’s when a friend told her about a job opening at the legendary luxury department store.
“[She said] they’re looking for an assistant buyer at Bergdorf Goodman who speaks Italian,” recalls Kiefer on that conversation. “I was, like, what’s Bergdorf Goodman?
“I went to the interview, and (speaking Italian) wasn’t an absolute requirement, but it was a huge plus. To find an American who speaks Italian is really difficult and that ironically became the reason I got the job.”
Prior to Bergdorf Goodman, Kiefer’s only retail experience was working at Banana Republic and Sunglass Hut while in high school. But in just a year-and-a-half, she was promoted to business manager for the Giorgio Armani and Armani Collezioni ready-to-wear businesses, and regularly traveled to Milan to meet with merchandisers. Last October, she was named Vice President, Divisional Merchandise Manager of Couture and Modernist Collections.
“My responsibilities are Chanel, Fendi, Armani, Valentino, Dior … those are really big, significant businesses, and then on the other side we have some designers that I have adopted and are growing into bigger businesses,” she explains. “I think there’s a void of new vendors right now in the luxury market, and then there are the old fashion houses, very revered brands.
“So, it’s been a very gratifying part of my job to be able to take some of these other designers under my wing and provide them with information as far as what we need.”
Among those emerging designers and a personal favorite of Kiefer’s is Andrew Gn. She also lists Agnona, an Italian cashmere house from the 1950s and the women’s division of Zegna, as another brand with huge growth opportunity.
Throughout her career, Kiefer has built relationships with some of the world’s most influential fashion designers. Her schedule is filled with runway shows, business meetings and trips to Europe, primarily among fashion capitals London, Milan, Florence, Rome and Paris. “I’m in Paris 10 to 12 times a year, and the other cities a little less,” she notes. “I go to Switzerland twice a year and work with a designer in his home to develop an exclusive collection for Bergdorf. It’s an incredible experience.”
“We work very closely together, especially when it’s the designers themselves and not just the brand. They really are a family, and I think as soon as we decide we want to be in business with them, we’re kind of all in. We really are invested in making our business work and grow, and develop them as artists.”
Kiefer, who was born in Kansas and lived in Tennessee for a few years, moved to Hawai‘i when she was 10 after her father, an Episcopal priest, was assigned to a small church in Waimanalo. She now lives in the Big Apple, although she also still calls Hawai‘i home and tries to make it back two to three times a year.
“When I left Hawai‘i [18 years ago], I had the worst case of rock fever. I could not get away from here soon enough,” she recalls. “But now, living in Hawai‘i is actually something I could maybe see in the future.
The difficulty would be career-wise, but I do think there could be opportunities.
“When I’m in Hawai‘i, I surf as much as I can. Also, one of my traditions is running the Hapalua half marathon, so I’m doing that with my mom. This is my third year I’ve done that.”
After graduating from ‘Iolani School in 1998, Kiefer went to Boston University with thoughts of going into broadcast journalism before transferring to Middlebury College in Vermont. “That was a decision based on a passion for Italian,” she explains. “I started with their summer language program, where you have to actually sign a piece of paper saying you’re not going to speak English for the next seven weeks. It’s an incredibly intensive immersion program, and I have a lot of gratitude to that program.”
While at Middlebury, Kiefer lived abroad in Florence for two semesters, and found herself immersed in a fashion mecca of international style that she had never seen before. While there, she worked for a magazine covering, of course, fashion, which was the perfect job, combining her passion for Italian and writing, as well as her newfound love for fashion.
“Writing is something I need to find more time to do,” she shares. “I have a lot to write about, as far as all of the things I’ve had an opportunity to see. Being in the world of this level of luxury, I have a lot of exposure to some of the top vineyards and all these interesting stories that need to be told that aren’t necessarily about clothes.
“It’s about luxurious products that are tucked away that no one knows about, and there are so many of them in Italy, and that’s really where my relationships are, so I have a lot of interest in that, as well.”
For example, she mentions a man who has a very small production of olive oil on his property in Tuscany that she says is the best in the world. She also met someone in Sicily whose grandmother is believed to be the only woman in Italy who does a certain type of crocheting that is centuries old.
“That no one knows about that is a shame,” says Kiefer. “It’s not just about the product, it’s an art. And there are so many gems like that.”