NEW YORK — There have been plenty of twists and turns in the 75-year ride for the company that is now the Carole Hochman Design Group.
But the family-owned company, run by Carole Hochman, chairman and design director, and her former husband, Neal Hochman, chief executive officer, has survived several eras of retail and vendor consolidation. The firm, which celebrates its 75th anniversary on Wednesday, is now into its third generation and going strong.
The firm was started in 1930 as Chevette Inc. by Neal Hochman's father, Sol, and a partner, Max Saffir. In 1949, Sol Hochman bought his partner's share. The business was then headed by Sol Hochman and his wife, Peggy, a former buyer at Franklin Simon, and sister of the late designer Mollie Parnis. Chevette was sold in 1974 to Harwood. The firm was renamed Carole Hochman Designs in 1980, after Neal and Carole Hochman bought it back from Harwood.
The milestone marks an unusual celebration in an industry that once had hundreds of independent companies, but now numbers fewer than a dozen private, midsize firms. The Hochmans, whose company ships 13 million garments annually, have survived by relying on their creativity and tenacity.
They continue to buck the odds, when the survival rate for manufacturers is slim in a world of retail consolidation. Neal Hochman retired from the innerwear business in June 1996, but he continues to oversee finances and is known to drive a hard bargain when dealing with contentious chargeback and markdown issues with retailers. He splits his time between New York and Florida.
Carole Hochman, based in Manhattan, is the creative force behind the company. She has built a team of designers and merchandisers she described as the "best creative talent." She added that to represent a new, modern image, the company name was changed from Carole Hochman Designs Inc. to its current name because it best indicates a group effort.
That team includes the Hochmans' daughter, Sara Allard, the firm's creative director, who heads the graphics and marketing departments. Overseeing day-to-day operations are Seth Morris, president, and Peter Gabbe, chief operating officer.
In an interview at the company's showrooms and offices at 135 Madison Avenue here, Neal Hochman compared the firm he joined in 1955 — when the number of employees totaled 60 sewers in 7,500 square feet and annual wholesale sales were $475,000 — with its present-day status as a trendsetter and a moneymaker that generates year-to-date wholesale revenues of $150 million. The company employs 141 people in its Madison Avenue offices, which will encompass 55,000 square feet in January, as well as 125 workers at a 273,000-square-foot distribution and warehousing facility in Williamsport, Penn.
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