Herb Gallen, 92, who took Ellen Tracy from a blouse resource to, at its peak, a $300 million bridge sportswear powerhouse, died Saturday at his home in Demarest, N.J.
He died of natural causes, according to his wife, Linda Allard.
For more than 50 years, he guided the brand's growth, producing offshore as early as 1963, creating career clothes for women in the early Eighties and making the label a leading player in the bridge market. For four of those decades, Allard helped him march the business along — step-for-step. After joining the company as an assistant designer in 1962 — fresh off the bus from Kent State University — Allard entrenched herself in the business, crisscrossing the globe with Gallen to meet customers, to ferret out new sourcing channels overseas and to stage fashion shows, trunk shows and benefits. Allard, whose name was eventually added to the label, wed Gallen in 2001 — years after they had made a habit of working 15-hour days and weekends. Gallen was said to have attended every one of her in-store appearances.
In 2002, Gallen sold Ellen Tracy to Liz Claiborne Inc. for $180 million. In its heyday in the late Nineties, the label was said to be a $300 million operation. Gallen and Allard exited the company in 2003.
In a 2002 WWD interview, Gallen said, "All you had to do was make a nice garment that appealed to the buyers and they bought it. Everyone was happier and had more fun. Everything was done in your head or on a piece of paper."
Born in Paterson, N.J., the son of a fabric manufacturer and the grandson of a local silk mill owner, Gallen did not set out to venture into the apparel business. After graduating from high school, he went to work for his uncle's auto supply franchise. Gallen later closed his shop and joined another auto supplier before enlisting with the U.S. Army. He had since married Betty Barr, who worked in a small retail shop, and had two daughters.
As a civilian, he went back to work for the auto supplier. Well aware that apparel manufacturers' struggled to get fabric due to the war, Gallen used his family connections to get some bolts to make sample blouses. After shopping them around Manhattan's 34th Street stores, he sold out of them within a few hours and found himself with a new career.From the mid- to late-Forties, he manufactured blouses under his wife's name, Betty Barr, selling them for $28.50 a dozen. In 1949, he set up a new company called Ellen Tracy. "It wasn't named after anyone. I just made it up."
Gallen was known to be a hands-on executive and a tough negotiator who wasn't afraid to challenge what he didn't agree with. The latter was something even Allard faced from time to time and, she said Sunday, "98 percent of the time he was right."
"I sort of butted into a lot of things," Gallen told WWD. "I go on advertising shoots. If I have something to say, I say it."
Aside from being forthright, Gallen was known to anticipate Baby Boomers' changing clothing preferences and, more importantly, would change with them despite the potential risk, his wife said Sunday. The strategy paid off, considering Gallen claimed to have made money every year he was in business "some small, some large." He also cultivated a loyal staff with some employees staying with the brand for 20-plus years, routinely sitting elbow-to-elbow with them at lunch or even loaning them money occasionally if need be, Allard said. But what he loved most was "just the continuous work for 53 years," he told WWD in 2002.
"I'll miss the business, the buyers, the sellers, the merchandise people. Everything that goes on in the business. There are many more facets of this business than meets the eye," he said at that time of his then-imagined retirement.
Away from Seventh Avenue, Gallen and Allard spent many days on his 163-foot yacht, The Mystique, and at their three homes.
"He would live up to what he said and the deals he would make. In corporate America and business today, that is kind of unique," Allard said.
Funeral services will be held today at noon at Robert Schoem's Menorah Chapel in Paramus, N.J. Aside from his wife and daughters, Joan Megibow and Nancy Sheriff, Gallen is survived by a sister, Ruth Halperin, and brother, Robert Gallen.
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