By and  on March 19, 2010

LONDON — Services were held here over the weekend for Joseph Ettedgui, founder of the eponymous chain of multibrand designer boutiques, a talented merchant and a retail visionary who helped whet the British appetite for European designer labels.

Ettedgui died Thursday at age 74 of pancreatic cancer in a London hospital, according to his younger brother, Maurice Ettedgui, with whom he founded the Joseph brand.

“We were the three musketeers,” said Ettedgui, referring to Joseph — the eldest — and their brother, Franklin. “We worked together all our lives. I’ll remember Joseph for his kindness, his generosity and his vision. He could see things before anyone else. He was a remarkable man.”

The impish, bespectacled and ever-chic Ettedgui, who was never without a cigar dangling from his lips or stuck between his fingers, was born in Casablanca, Morocco, on Feb. 22, 1936, to parents who ran a dress fabric shop. He moved to London in the late Fifties, where he began his career as a hairdresser on The King’s Road.

In the early Seventies, he started selling brands, including Kenzo, from the basement of the salon. He opened the first Joseph boutique in 1972, and over the years, stocked more designer labels, including John Galliano, Rifat Ozbek and Azzedine Alaïa, who became a close friend.

“I have just lost a member of my family,” said Alaïa. “He was there right from the beginning of my career in the early Eighties and was one of the first buyers I ever worked with.”

In the Eighties, as major designers began opening their own stand-alone stores, Ettedgui launched a line of elegant classics under the Joseph label, including knitwear, denim and those famous stretch, boot-cut trousers stylish London girls would snap up in every color. By 1997, Ettedgui was selling up to 2,000 pairs of the trousers each week out of his five London stores. At the time, he told WWD the collection was designed to provide a middle path between mass market and designer clothing. “There is very little available in the middle, and that is what we do,” he said.

Ettedgui was also the first retailer to open an in-store restaurant: His Joe’s Café in South Kensington quickly became a fashionable haunt where socialites, celebrities and shoppers would happily while away the afternoon.

“He was one of the best retailers of our generation — and brilliant at merchandising and laying out shops,” said Paul Smith, a longtime friend. The designer recalled meeting up with Ettedgui in Japan in the mid-Eighties and asking him to check out a Paul Smith shop that was set to open soon. “He told me he didn’t like the way it looked — and then he completely remerchandised it. We worked on it until about 2 a.m.,” recalled Smith.

Neil Prosser, who opened the Joseph store in Manchester 15 years ago, remembered Ettedgui “in his white suit, with a cigar dangling from his mouth, touching and feeling the product.” Prosser added Ettedgui “adored women and knew what kind of clothing they wanted.”

Eva Jiricna, the London-based Czech architect who worked closely with Ettedgui on both stores and home projects, said, “His clothes completely changed London. He designed clothes for women who were not absolutely perfect, and they weren’t expensive — they were affordable. I still wear his jackets and trousers from the 1980s.

“He had the perfect eye for everything aesthetic. He always wanted to be an architect, and his father wanted him to be an accountant. He had a fantastic imagination, and he was the most generous person to everybody,” she added.

In 2005, Ettedgui sold the Joseph brand to Onward Kashiyama for about $258 million, in a sale that netted him and his brother Franklin more than $37 million. Today, there are 34 freestanding Joseph stores worldwide.

Later that year, he stepped down as executive chairman of Joseph to dedicate his energies to Connolly, the London fashion and luxury accessories retailer he purchased in the late Nineties.

Ettedgui opened a second store for Connolly — where his wife, Isabel, was creative director — on London’s Conduit Street in 1999, designed by Andrée Putman. However, the store shut late last year, and the company is officially listed at dormant or nontrading.

Maurice Ettedgui said the family remains undecided about the future of Connolly. “We are not thinking about it right now,” he said.

Joseph Ettedgui is survived by his wife, Isabel; daughter, Gigi; sons Peter and Paul, and his two brothers.

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