Georges Wichner, Built U.S. Businesses for YSL and Valentino, Dies at 73

Georges Wichner, a leading fashion executive instrumental in building U.S. businesses for several top European designer brands, died May 10 at home in Miami with his family at his side, after a bout with cancer. He was 73.

Wichner was a highly sought after specialist in running U.S. subsidiaries for top European fashion houses including Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent. In addition, for many years he lectured on fashion and marketing at Kent State University’s fashion program in New York City, which he helped develop.

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“He touched us in ways we will never forget,” said his son David-Nicolas Wichner. “He loved the finer things in life — design, wonderful meals, cars and tennis. I remember he was always so busy traveling for work, but in his later years, he found such joy spending more time with his family.” A year ago, when he retired, Georges Wichner moved from New York to be with his family.

“I am heartbroken now,” said Nicole Fischelis, the former Macy’s creative director and forecaster, Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director and Ferragamo senior vice president of fashion. “Georges was an amazing character, extremely cultured, a classy man with a great spirit and a lot of humor, and he possessed an amazing knowledge of the history of fashion. He was superb at connecting with people. He was a strong businessman but at the same time understood creativity and promoted it. He supported every single designer that he worked with.

“I have known Georges since I came to this country in 1991 to become the fashion director of Saks,” Fischelis added. “He was like a brother to me.”

Wichner was born and raised in France and served in the military. According to his biography listed on the Kent State University website, much of Wichner’s education centered around studying theater, where early on he wanted to build a career. He was also a philosophy student. While studying, to support himself he worked part time in a Paris luxury boutique which led to a full time job, which in turn led to wholesale positions, and eventually into running retail operations for Charles Jourdan.

Subsequently, he joined Yves Saint Laurent, where he opened and managed the designer’s store on the Champs-Élysées. Wichner worked for Saint Laurent for about nine years and developed a network of YSL boutiques in the U.S. He also became an American citizen.

After YSL, Wichner was named president and chief executive officer of Valentino USA Inc. in 1999. At the time, it was a new post, signaling the fashion house’s intent to grow substantially in America. After Valentino, Wichner served as president of Thierry Mugler for seven years. “Thierry Mugler was the most avant garde designer my father worked with,” his son said.

It was also one of Wichner’s toughest assignments. Wichner once told WWD he did no formal studies in the U.S. to gauge consumer awareness of the Mugler name. But informally, his impression was that people knew the designer’s fragrance, Angel, more than the fashion designer. “Angel, that’s easy to remember,” he said. “Thierry Mugler is not such an easy name to remember in a foreign language.”

Wichner also had stints as managing director of Revillon, the French furrier, as well as at Leonard, the French house known for its colorful prints, and Vivienne Tam. Late in his career he worked as a consultant doing what he was widely known for, helping European companies develop U.S business.

“Georges’ career embraced a large scope of fashion,” said Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. “In particular he played an important for the development of couture and designer brands in the U.S., heading Paris collections and working alongside Didier Grumbach,” former chairman of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, and co-founder of Saint-Laurent Rive Gauche, with Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé.

“He was such a sophisticated and articulated individual who truly understood the luxury fashion business,” said Andrew Burnstine, who along with his mother Lynn Manulis, ran the former Martha’s designer stores. “When we at Martha’s, if he really liked a particular collection or line, he would get behind it and set up a trunk show or appearance. With his crisp European accent and steadfast style and personality, he was one of the last true business visionaries in the world of luxury fashion.”

“Georges was a seasoned international fashion executive, with a forte for marketing luxury French brands in the U.S.,” said François Damide, president and chief executive officer of Solstiss Inc., the French lace brand. “I met Georges via Nicole Fischelis. We quickly became friends, as we were both epicureans, enjoying good food, wine, and sharing a passion for fashion; and classic cars. He occasionally invited me to lecture about luxury fragrance and fashion at Kent State University. His passing was a total shock for me.”

According to Kent State, he got involved with the school decades ago when he met designer Shannon Rodgers, who was developing the designer collection of the schools’ museum, the Shannon Rodgers & Kent State University Museum, and was seeking Valentino dresses from him. One thing led to another, and Wichner said he was willing to give lectures to the students and also advise Rodgers on French couture houses. Wichner joined the school’s advisory board, when Kent State developed its New York City program and created a course on luxury and marketing and how they interact.

In addition to his son David-Nicolas, Wichner is survived by his daughter in law, Pom; two grandchildren, Malineige and Mandarine; his brother, Alain, and his ex-wife Marie-Claire.

“One of the last things my father said to me was, ‘If we were at sea, we would have been marines,'” his son said. “He was telling me he was so grateful that I helped keep him strong while he was sick.”

Georges Wichner and his grandchildren.
Georges Wichner with his grandchildren.

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