Fashionable Tuesdays: An Evening with Howard & Sharon Socol
From Burdines to Barneys New York with A Stop At JCrew in Between, Howard Socol shares stories of his career in the Fashion World. Howard is joined by wife Sharon who will share her book:Plus One: An Outsider’s Journey Into the World of Fashion.
Howard Socol was born in Hammond, Indiana to parents who were Russian immigrants. He met his wife, Sharon, at Indiana University and they married in 1967. After the Army, in 1969 Howard and Sharon moved to Miami when he accepted a position as an assistant buyer in the furniture department at Burdines. At that time, Burdines had eight stores and a volume of approximately $275 million. Howard literally grew up as he worked his way up at Burdines, where, he recalls, it was like working for a family. In 1981, he became president, and Burdines earned the ranking of tenth largest department store in the U.S. In 1984, Howard became chairman of the board, keeping that position until he retired in 1997. His tenure included the 1991 acquisition of Maas Brothers. It was also during his chairmanship that many of the New York department stores decided to open in Florida. He had to find a way to position the company to remain relevant in the face of this new competition, so he changed the name to “Burdines – The Florida Store,” capitalizing on this claim, that only Burdines could make. They carried out this message in their advertising and in the general look of their stores, using pastel colors and fiberglass palm trees. When Howard left the company, they had 43 stores throughout the state and they were doing $1.4 billion in sales.
After “retiring” for a year, in 1998 Howard became chair of the board of J. Crew, where he stayed for one year. In 2001, Barneys in New York recruited him to be their chair of the board, where he stayed until 2008. Barneys was always looking for unique ways to present their image, with their key words: taste/luxury/humor, which was most evident in their “out of the box” store window displays. He recalls one time when some construction was taking place and a sawhorse was on the floor and someone left a dress on it, and one of the shoppers remarked about what a great display that was! When Howard started with Barneys, the company had just come out of bankruptcy and during his tenure, he took it from $125 million to $943 million.
Sharon Socol was a teacher and started taking photography classes. She founded a photography and creative writing program for children at risk called “Photographing Ourselves.” During Howard’s career in the fashion industry, Sharon was often his “plus one” at various fashion-related events and runway shows. She took her camera everywhere and developed quite a repertoire of behind the scenes photographs, which she published into a book called Plus One: An Outsider’s Photographic Journey into the World of Fashion. She has made many appearances across the country speaking about her book and her perspective of the fashion industry.
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