Seventh Avenue is known for bustling buildings, congestion, push racks—and some very lively personalities. Here, a few.
This story first appeared in the November 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Abe Schrader: Abe Schrader, founder and chairman of Abe Schrader Corp., which became a $70 million dress and separates company, was quite possibly the quintessential garment executive of the 20th century. Schrader mixed politics with production and an irreverent wit with shrewd business acumen. He became a symbol of the self-made man and the immigrant millionaire. “I was one of the ones who changed the name of Seventh Avenue to Fashion Avenue,” he recalled accurately in a WWD article on October 12, 2000, as he turned 100. He outlived virtually all his industry contemporaries, and was always willing to say a few kind words when called by WWD for their obituaries. Among his favorite lines, reflecting the times in which he flourished, was: “His handshake was like a contract.”
Fred and John Pomerantz: In seven decades on Seventh Avenue, Fred Pomerantz went from a fabric cutter to presiding over Leslie Fay, the diversified apparel firm he started in 1947, which, at his retirement in 1982, had $250 million in sales. He was known for having a tough hand with retailers, admitting to WWD after his retirement that he was “the most stubborn bastard in the dress business.” Fred Pomerantz died in 1986. By that time, his son, John, had established himself as the company’s chief executive officer.
By 1991, the firm’s volume peaked at nearly $900 million. But in 1992, the company was rocked by an accounting scandal, and in April 1993, Leslie Fay was forced to file for bankruptcy. Only a few days after Leslie Fay emerged from Chapter 11, an emotional Pomerantz was interviewed by WWD on June 17, 1997, reflecting on the scandal. “When it happened, I definitely felt I could keep the company going,” he said, tears welling up. “I had great feelings in the strength of me. I never thought that anyone would even think that I was involved.”
Then, in a December 1, 1998, interview, he said, “When your back is to the wall, you realize you’ve got to fight back, but you’ve got to fight back with smarts. You have to learn what it is that can help you and discard what you know cannot help you.”
Ben and Jerry Shaw: “Mr. Seventh Avenue,” Ben Shaw gained his reputation pulling purse strings for designers such as Donald Brooks, Norman Norell, Stephen Burrows, Dominic Rompollo, Oscar de la Renta, Giorgio Sant’Angelo and Halston. Along the way, he brought Pierre Balmain to the U.S. and Gloria Vanderbilt to Seventh Avenue. Ben started in 1935, founding dress firm Elfreda. He was an original partner in Halston, and when it was sold to Norton Simon in 1973, he recalled in WWD, “We made millions.”
After his father died in 1988 at age 90, Jerry Shaw told WWD: “My father was a pioneer in the designer field.… He felt that at some point, young talented designers really had to be brought to the front. Their names could be put on labels.” One of those designers would be de la Renta, who came to work for the younger Shaw at Jane Derby in the Sixties. When Derby died, de la Renta’s name remained alone on the label, and he and Shaw became partners.
“There was a personal feeling, a personal relationship,” Shaw reflected in WWD in 1994. “You were one-on-one with the merchants, and friendship had a lot to do with business. I saw that through my father. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. That didn’t mean you sold everybody, but friendship got people in to look at your collection.”
Carl and Andrew Rosen: Shunning the emerging sportswear business in the Sixties to remain focused on moderate dresses, Carl Rosen’s company, Puritan Fashions, found itself needing to catch up with competitors such as Jonathan Logan. In the early Sixties, Rosen was astute enough to get the license for Beatles T-shirts and sweatshirts and sold them to J.C. Penney. It was a 1977 deal that brought Puritan the license for Calvin Klein Jeans and sportswear, propelling the firm to sales of $250 million in 1981.
Rosen died in 1983. His son, Andrew, became a brand builder in his own right. Over the past few years, he has turned Theory and Helmut Lang into major contemporary labels and has invested in labels such as Alice + Olivia, Rag & Bone and Gryphon.
Bud Konheim: Call him the Sage of Seventh Avenue. Bud Konheim, the outspoken co-founder and ceo of Nicole Miller Ltd., always seemed to have the larger world of fashion in mind when making business decisions. As he told WWD in 2007 when the company was celebrating a quarter century in business: “When I think about the last 25 years, it’s not about how big we’ve become. It’s whether there’s anything the industry can learn about what we’ve done.”
Konheim stuck with local manufacturing when others flocked abroad, he refused to sell to stores that asked for chargeback money, and he declined offers to buy his firm. But he also recognized that times change. Konheim told WWD a few years back that advertising was “like shouting in a noisy room—it’s very hard to be heard.” He also once thought runway shows were a waste of money. He has softened on both issues. He also now imports for Miller’s exclusive line with J.C. Penney Co. Inc.
Born in Manhattan in 1935, Konheim graduated from Dartmouth University and went into his family’s dressmaking business. “This is the most exciting industry to be in,” he told WWD. “I can say that in 50 years in the business, I’ve never had an uninteresting day.”
David Schwartz: David Schwartz got into the up-and-coming business of women’s dresses in 1919 and stayed in it until 1977, when he reluctantly retired as chairman of Jonathan Logan. Schwartz, born in New York in 1897, was known as a man who was consumed by the business. After owning several other dress firms, he acquired the Jonathan Logan Dress Co. in 1937.
In 1960, he was the first to take a women’s apparel company public, with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1963, Schwartz’s transformation of the company into a conglomerate led to Logan emerging as the victor in its race with Bobbie Brooks to reach $100 million in sales. Schwartz died in 1985.
Maurice Saltzman: Born in 1919, Maurice Saltzman would emerge as a different type of pioneer while still a young man. The founder of Ritmore Manufacturing, a maker of misses’ dresses under the Barbara Brooks brand, Saltzman in 1940 changed the direction of the company and its name to Bobbie Brooks. It cracked the $100 million sales mark in the Sixties and, through acquisition and internal expansion, exceeded $200 million in sales by 1980. But the investments soured, leading to a Chapter 11 filing in 1982. It emerged from bankruptcy a year later. Saltzman remained until 1987. He died in 1990 at 71.
Ben Zuckerman: Known as the Master Tailor of Seventh Avenue, Ben Zuckerman was that unique combination of owner and designer. He was a major influence in leading American women toward more dramatic and colorful coats and suits. Zuckerman closed his company in 1968, and died in 1979 at age 89.