NEW YORK — Services will be held this afternoon at Riverside Memorial Chapel for longtime Seventh Avenue executive Morris Marmalstein.
The former president of The Warren Group died Monday at the age of 80 at Calvary Hospital Hospice in the Bronx. The cause of death was Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, according to his son Steven.
The elder Marmalstein retired in 1995 after a 40-year run in the dress business. “He used to say that it never felt like work. He would walk down Seventh Avenue and he would greet so many people. He thought it was like show business,” his son said. “He used to say, ‘Forty years and I’ve never had a bad day.’”
Widely recognized for his signature suspenders and broad smile, Marmalstein befriended Roger Farah in his assistant buyer days and knew Ralph Lauren when the designer had started out by selling ties. Born in the Bronx, the son of a pressman, and raised in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, Marmalstein studied retailing at New York University and began working in 1954 at Grace & Robinson. He later became “second assistant” at the Certified Buying Office, working for $35 a week. He went on to become a buyer, and remained at Certified for 10 years. His next career move landed him at Stacy Ames, a dress firm, as vice president of merchandising. It was there he met David Warren. When Warren formed his own company — David Warren Enterprises — in 1968, Marmalstein became a partner.
Over the years, Marmalstein predicted the retail consolidation that has since ensued, according to Robert Maslin, who worked with Marmalstein for nearly 22 years. Nearing his exit from the industry, Marmalstein criticized the increasingly rampant underselling trend: “The retailers have done a terrible job of training their customers. It used to be there were two sales months — January and July. Now, there are sales all year round. There’s too much emphasis on price at retail and not enough on service. This has cut into customer loyalty, and has often resulted in less exciting merchandise,” he said.
That kind of foresight earned him the respect of competitors and colleagues alike. When Marmalstein was ready to exit the industry, Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller, said, “There go all the old timers that really knew the dress business. He had a tremendous reputation for being consistently successful without all the hype. He kept that company focused for many years on one thing: making great dresses.”
Once he bid goodbye to the Garment District, Marmalstein traveled with his wife Elizabeth, whom he had met as a fellow junior buyer. With a Fire Island house, he could often be found there in warmer months on the deck reading mysteries and doing crossword puzzles. Quick with a joke, Marmalstein’s wit was occasionally mentioned by Chelsea Handler on her show “Chelsea Lately,” where his son works as a writer.
In addition to his son and a daughter, Melissa, Marmalstein is survived by his brother, Saul.
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