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NEW YORK — Chet Hazzard, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Vera Wang, died Tuesday at New York University Medical Center. He was 50.
The cause of death was respiratory failure as a result of AIDS, according to Vera Wang.
While the New Jersey native was best known on Seventh Avenue for his instrumental role in building Wang’s business into a global enterprise, Hazzard spent a good part of his career working in design.
In the late Seventies, he worked under Burt Wayne at Anne Klein’s Design Studio, the company’s licensing arm, and occasionally worked with Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio. Dell’Olio remembered how Hazzard wouldn’t hesitate to bound across a room to greet a friend.
“Chet was so full of life, so enthusiastic and had wonderful taste. Some people just have it — they’re born with it and that’s why they’re successful,” Dell’Olio said.
Wayne, who described himself as Hazzard’s mentor said, “he had an enormous capacity to learn, enormous energy and drive.”
During his decade at Anne Klein Design Studio, Hazzard rose through the ranks, eventually managing merchandising and licensing operations. In the Eighties, he had a stint working in design at Diane von Furstenberg.
“He was a very nice person and very passionate about fashion,” said von Furstenberg.
In 1984, Hazzard joined Cluett Peabody as vice president of licensing and focused mostly on the Ron Chereskin brand. “He really protected me and looked out for my best interests,” Chereskin said. “When I bought back my company from Cluett Peabody, he tried to find a way to invest in my company. That was not something he had to do at the time.”
On a lighter note, Chereskin recalled how Hazzard “dressed fantastically,” adding he owned so many sport jackets that he routinely misplaced them. While walking down Fifth Avenue, if something in a Saks Fifth Avenue or Bergdorf Goodman window display caught Hazzard’s eye, he wouldn’t hesitate to go inside to buy it, Chereskin said.
Hazzard, who was known to be health-conscious before it was fashionable to be so, took a break from Seventh Avenue in the late Eighties, relocating to the West Coast to open a health club. But about a year later, he was back in New York, applying for a design job at Ralph Lauren. He phoned in a favor from Wang, a former Ralph Lauren employee whom he first met in the late Seventies when she was working at Vogue, asking for a job reference, Wang said. She obliged, but when he didn’t get the job, Wang offered him one in her start-up.
He and Wang, an art history major in college, shared an interest in art and fine design, she said, and Hazzard was an avid collector of Jean-Michel Frank furniture and post-Modernist art.
Despite their appreciation of aesthetics, they had “legendary battles about [the company’s] philosophy,” Wang laughed. “He was like a brother to me, and with that comes all the energy of a brother and a sister.”
Wang credited him with laying the groundwork that led to the company’s licenses. Moira Gavin, president of Wedgwood’s U.S. division, who became Hazzard’s friend after working with him on the Vera Wang tabletop products, said: “We had a lot of trials and tribulations getting it launched. But at the end of the day, his instincts really served him well.”
Wang was equally impressed by his thumbprint on the business. The designer, who was nominated for a CFDA award Tuesday, said: “I think the saddest thing is that he won’t be around to see where we’re going.”
He is survived by his mother, Betty, two brothers, and companion, Peter McLean.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.