Make every day a Bud day.
That was the takeaway at Friday afternoon’s memorial for Nicole Miller’s chief executive officer Bud Konheim.
“If you’re one of those who enjoys the thrill of life, you’re enjoying a happy Bud day. For him, there never was a bad day. Every day was a good day.”
That was how Konheim’s wife Colleen described his unstoppable optimism. Her son Christian Hoagland relayed those words to a standing-room-only crowd at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Parlor.
Konheim’s zealousness for the fashion industry, the country, the potential of others and the wonder of everyday life was described by such speakers as former New York City First Lady Donna Hanover, designer Jeff Banks and his longtime business partner Nicole Miller. Attendees such as Fern Mallis, Lavelle Olexa and Hal Rubenstein were all ears.
Konheim and Miller first teamed up in the late Seventies, before venturing out on their own to create a multimillion-dollar designer business that remains privately held. Describing how Konheim was always the first one in the office and the last one to leave, Miller said he would always be on the phone, when she arrived. “He loved to talk and there was no such thing as a short phone conversation.”
“Bud loved to tell a story and every time he told it, the story got bigger and bigger. When Angelina Jolie wore our dress at the ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ premiere, the dress was on the cover of every tabloid in the country. The 1,000 dresses we actually sold soon became 10,000,” Miller said.
Banks detailed a 50-year friendship. “We traveled around the world together, we ate together, we cried together, we laughed together, we got divorced together…,” he said. “It’s testament to him and his ability the way that he has reached out to the diverse number of people in this room today.”
Once on safari together in Africa, Banks said he ill-advisedly decided to get off the bus to climb a tree to photograph two elephants. Climbing the tree required standing on a muddy rock, which turned out to be rhinoceros covered in red mud. As the designer ran hellbent for the bus with two 1,000-meter camera lenses jangling, “Bud was yelling at me. ‘Zigzag! Zigazag!’” he said. “I said, ‘Don’t tell me. Tell the rhino.’”
“Bud told that story so many times that it got the point where Bud actually wrestled the rhino. Loved it, caressed, sent it back into the woods…,” Banks said, before closing his remarks with a W.H. Auden poem.
Teri Agins recalled how starting out at The Wall Street Journal in 1990, it was the fashion critic Cathy Horyn who first suggested she call Konheim, pegging him as “a wise man on Seventh Avenue.” Describing him as “brilliant, curious, brimming with confidence and an original,” Agins said, “he was free to go against the flow.”
She clued in the crowd to how, long before Google and other tech companies learned the upsides of productivity in giving employees a free lunch, Konheim figured out for $2-a-head he could keep his sales team making calls and enjoying showroom-made meals at their desks. Agins’ front-page Wall Street Journal article led to a three-minute NBC Nightly News segment with Konheim waxing poetic in front of the assortment of product he had insisted be in the shot.
Agins and the other speakers spoke of how Konheim always strove for a greater good whether that was lifting up the fashion industry, trumpeting New York City after 9/11 or championing individuals.
A friend of Konheim’s for 25 years, the actress and musician Jill Hennessy said, “There was no pretense, no artifice. He never got caught up in the illusions that are presented in society, and especially in the fashion industry. This guy was the real deal. As soon as you walked in his office, you knew that he got life. If you looked at his photos, they were all of his family, and he would talk about his family all the time. You saw [images] of his best friends and people he cared about.”
Hanover recalled meeting Konheim, Miller and their respective spouses in the Nineties. “Bud and I both had an interest in politics and government. We both had an interest in one particular candidate [referring to her ex-husband Rudy Giuliani]. Well, you can’t get everything right.”
When the laughter and applause died down, she described how in her “Good Day New York” commentating years, he once suggested she portray what it was like to be Nicole Miller for a day. Partial to bow ties and vibrant novelty socks, Konheim “had quite the wardrobe. Does anyone here disagree that he owned the word colorful? It isn’t often a guy’s business wardrobe is actually vibrant, with more patterns and more thematic than his golf clothes.”
Hanover spoke of Konheim’s service in the Marines and shortly afterward, as part of the presentation of military honors that included the playing of taps, the American flag was unfurled and then folded by three Marines. As taps played, one of them presented the Stars and Stripes to Colleen Konheim in honor of her true blue husband.