Vince Camuto, a longtime fixture in the fashion and accessories businesses, died at his home in Greenwich, Conn. Wednesday at age 78 surrounded by his wife and five children after battling cancer. Camuto was one of the pioneering founders of the Nine West footwear line, along with former business partner, Jerome Fisher. In recent years, Camuto expanded dramatically and built a multibillion-dollar empire consisting of a number of brands across a wide range of categories, as well as his own concept stores. In 2001 Camuto launched his Greenwich, Conn.-based Camuto Group and by 2005, began creating the labels Vince Camuto, VC Signature Vince Camuto and Louise et Cie that generate about $1 billion in global sales across multiple categories.
He began his career at 18, handling customer complaints at I. Miller. By his mid-30s, he had partnered with Fisher to found the Nine West Group in 1978. That company, which he and Fisher took public in 1993 and sold to the Jones Group Inc. for nearly $900 million in 1999, was one of the nation’s dominant and most successful footwear brands throughout the Eighties and Nineties. “I really listened and learned, especially from the women. They told you what they liked, what they didn’t like,” said Camuto of his humble retail beginnings helping women with painful shoes and slipping heels.
Camuto had a two-year non-compete after the sale of Nine West and was forced to wait for that to expire before starting to develop other footwear collections. He began by doing so for Dillard’s. He turned his attention to his namesake brand and launched the Jessica Simpson brand, which in 2014 rang up more than $1 billion in sales through 32 categories of business, separate from the Camuto brands. Known for being both fashion-forward and accessible, Camuto’s namesake brands are sold by major retailers across the U.S., in addition to 30 Camuto-owned specialty stores. The private company did about 10 percent of its business overseas last year, with stores in 62 countries.
Six months ago, Camuto talked to WWD about his passion for the business, why had no plans to retire, sell or go public, and his desire to build the company for his wife, Louise, 44, creative director, his five children, the 1,300 employees around the globe and his close-knit management team. At the time, he said he planned to reach the $2 billion mark within five years.
Born and raised in New York City, Camuto lost his father when he was two. He enjoyed spending time in the Hamptons and collecting French Impressionist art. He and his wife rebuilt Villa Maria, a 20,000-square-foot former convent in Water Mill, N.Y., over a five-year period, which was featured in Architectural Digest in 2013. He was also an avid supporter of charities, including St. Jude’s Hospital, the Leukemia Society of America and Ronald McDonald House. Camuto was a devoted father. “My children are my proudest accomplishment,” he said, revealing that he launched his men’s lifestyle business in 2013 due to his son’s difficulty finding a well-fitting suit. “Even at the office, I feel like everyone is family. Family is what is most important to me.”