Michele “Mickey” Ateyeh, a prominent and widely popular luxury executive who helmed jewelry and accessory businesses, passed away on Wednesday at Mary Manning Hospital in Manhattan after a bout with cancer. Ateyeh was 72.
Within retail and fashion circles, Ateyeh was the go-to person for many seeking strategic, career or personal advice.
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Beginning her career at Tiffany & Co. in the ’70s, Ateyeh was rapidly promoted to the assistant buying position in the Angela Cummings jewelry department. Cummings, who was known for her strong craftsmanship, and inlay technique that allowed her gold designs to have a seamless, print-like appearance, and a signature interlocking clasp, was Tiffany’s in-house designer for several years.
“Mickey’s passing is a big loss in my life. She was my best friend,” Cummings told WWD.
In 1978, Ateyeh moved to Hermès and, as store manager, helped establish the very first freestanding U.S. flagship in New York City. In the early ’80s, Ateyeh departed Hermès and reunited with Cummings who left Tiffany to start her own business. Ateyeh became chief executive officer and principal of Angela Cummings Inc. “I just designed but Mickey basically turned my company into a real business,” said Cummings. “She had a lot of good connections. She was a good people person. If there was a misunderstanding, she could fix it.” At its height in the mid-’90s, Angela Cummings jewelry was sold in about 35 retail doors.
Ateyeh also served as president of Prestige Brands Division of Accessory Network Group LLC, where she had responsibility over the development, sourcing and sales of Ghurka, Calvin Klein and Isaac Mizrahi. She also served as president and chief operating officer of Lambertson Truex, and her last executive role was as president of Carlos Falchi.
“Mickey was the mother who took care of everyone,” said designer Ralph Rucci, a close friend of Ateyeh’s. “All she wanted was to help others and connect people, which she did with such gusto and passion. There was no hidden fashion industry agenda. She was great at listening and giving incredible advice. We were friends but she knew everything that was going on in my business. When I had a bout with my partners, she advised and helped get me through it.”
Recently, Ateyeh took Rucci to lunch at Michael’s in Manhattan. “Mickey had her own table at Michael’s. She held court at Michael’s every day for decades,” said Rucci. “Everyone who knew her, loved her. This is a great loss.”
Designer and author Jeffrey Banks met Ateyeh more than 30 years ago and was part of a group of 10 people, mostly women, including Ateyeh, Fern Mallis, Cindy Lewis and Jane Hudis that three or four times a year dined at Peter Luger’s. “That’s where we really bonded. If I had to use one word to describe Mickey it would be ‘classy,'” said Banks. “The way she conducted herself in her personal life and her business life, it was all super, super classy. I don’t know a single person in the fashion industry who has ever said a bad word about Mickey. That’s very unusual. She was generous, kind, and a great connector of people.”
Banks recalled that when Cummings decided to retire and close her business, Mickey protected the brand by asking retailers at Neiman Marcus and other stores to return whatever jewelry remained rather than allowing the merchandise to be marked down or cleared out in some undistinguished way.
“The industry changed dramatically,” said Ateyeh at the time. “In the near term, it’s far more profitable for us to reward our employees and ourselves than to continue. We would rather really reap the rewards of that for ourselves and our employees at a time in Angela’s career when we’re in a landmark situation.” The idea to close down was hatched about a year ago, said Ateyeh, and the company spent the past few months pulling back merchandise from retailers. “We didn’t buy it back, but we allowed ourselves to become a 100 percent consignment business,” Ateyeh said. “We then exercised the option to call the jewelry back. We called back $5 million in retail value from Neiman Marcus, in addition to about $1.5 million from other retailers and our own inventory.”
“Mickey gave Angela’s private clients first dibs. She felt these clients were collections and would want to have the final pieces.” Banks also said the decision was made to demolish the molds so the jewelry could never be recreated. In addition, Ateyeh made sure that all of the artisans and other workers received two years of severance and medical insurance. In a further gesture of gratitude, Ateyeh and Cummings organized a dinner at the Four Seasons with top retailers, private clients and all the artisans. “She took over the entire restaurant,” said Banks. “That to me describes how classy she was.”
“She was a force in the industry,” said Ron Frasch, former CEO of Bergdorf Goodman, and later president and chief merchandising officer at Saks Fifth Avenue. “At Angela Cummings, Mickey was the brains. She was the face. She was everything but the designer.” Frasch also said that Ateyeh “cherished her friends,” adding, “You knew that at a night out with Mickey meant you were going to have a lot of fun and there would be a lot of laughs.” On the professional side, Frasch added, “Mickey was very bright, intuitive and very thoughtful. She never jumped to conclusions. She really built Angela’s business in America. She managed the inventory extremely carefully.”
Aside from her love of dining out and fine wine, Ateyeh loved the theater and international travel.
She is survived by her sister-in-law Elizabeth Ateyeh; her niece Courtney Shields; her nephew Tripp Ateyeh, and a great niece, Kinsley Albright.
A celebratory mass of her life will be held on Tuesday at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church located at 8100 Ridge Boulevard in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.
The family said that in lieu of flowers, a contribution be made to St. Mary’s Church or to the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in Manhattan in recognition of the doctors and staff who helped bring Mickey Ateyeh’s life to a peaceful and painless close.
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