Al Tomonari of Neiman Marcus shares business and personal philosophies

Style is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma.”

That statement from fashion publisher John Fairchild is an apt description of Al Tomonari, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus. The town’s best-dressed businessman is a reflection of the brand he represents. He is classy, elegant, genuine.

Acquaintances say his soft-spoken, gentle demeanor diffuses any hint of snobbery. Tomonari, they say, is “low key and high style.”

We experience exactly that persona as we meet Tomonari in the third-floor executive office of Neiman Marcus at Ala Moana Center. As he stands to greet us, he is immaculate in a dark gray Gianluca Isaia suit, paired with light blue Brioni shirt and sapphire blue Ermenegildo Zegna tie.

The Roosevelt High School and University of Hawaii graduate has enjoyed a 40-year career in retail through affiliations with Liberty House, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus. After spending 25 years on the Mainland, Tomonari and wife Joyce were happy to return to the Islands when Neiman Marcus opened its Hawaii store in September 1998.

The first thing they did was go house-hunting in Waialae Kahala, where they found a home that came complete with his and her Welsh corgi dogs. “The owners were moving and their pets needed a home. They were so cute we took them,” says Tomonari.

Home life with the Tomonaris, including surviving Welsh corgi “Missy,” also involves their love of art. “My wife and I are real novices, but we enjoy a few nice pieces in our home,” the retail exec says. On their walls is an “eclectic collection” including the works of artists Hiroki Morinoue, John Young and Pegge Hopper.

The appreciation of fine art extends to Tomonari’s store setting, where Neiman Marcus features the commissioned works of 23 local artists such as Satoru Abe and Tadashi Sato. It is an exquisite setting for high-end merchandise as well as A-list social events such as the annual Contempo night to benefit the Contemporary Museum.

Scan the social events pages and you’ll be sure to spot photos of Tomonari, resplendent in designer suit, at many charitable events. He also serves on the boards of the Hawaii Theatre Center, The Contemporary Museum, Foundation for the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Hawaii Asia Pacific Association and the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific.

In his limited leisure time, Tomonari enjoys golf (“it needs a lot of work”), reading James Patterson mystery novels, travel and gardening.

“We have avocados this big,” he boasts as he cups his hands in a broad gesture. “We also have mountain apple that’s growing well in low-level ground.”

As for travel itineraries, “We went to Vietnam and Hong Kong earlier this year,” Tomonari reports. “These are exciting places with enterprising people. I have great respect for what the people are accomplishing there. I also survey the Tokyo retail scene once a year. But Florence (Italy) is a special place that recalls my days as a buyer making trips to the famous fashion houses of Europe.”

As dapper Tomonari concludes our interview, he reminds us of Neiman Marcus’ 10th anniversary celebration happening August through October. There will be in-store special events and previews of luxurious seasonal merchandise. Looking at the elegant butterfly streamers hanging from the store ceiling, he reflects, “Luxury is what makes you feel special and distinctive.”

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