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NEW YORK — John Weitz, fashion designer, novelist, historian and a pioneer of brand licensing, died late Thursday at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y. He was 79.
This story first appeared in the October 7, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
One of the first American designers to explore his brand’s potential across multiple retail categories, Weitz started licensing his name in the Fifties. He put his name on categories like men’s fragrances, socks and neckties. He also made a name for himself with the nowadays unthinkable ad slogans such as “John Weitz designs for the woman who wishes her husband could afford her.”
“Fashion is an instrument through which you show you belong to a group,” Weitz told WWD in 1964.
Born Hans Werner Weitz on May 25, 1923, in Berlin, he and his parents, Hedy and Robert Salomon Weitz, moved to England when Hitler came to power in the Thirties. There, he attended St. Paul’s School in London, where it’s said he was caned if he didn’t wear morning clothes to class, so he always did with lapels rolled properly.
“On weekends we wore blazers…correctly…with the collar up and with a scarf and with brown suede shoes, which were very new then….but never, of course, after six,” he once reminisced.
In 1938, at the age of 16, Weitz was falsely arrested as an enemy agent while working in the London office of the Paris fashion house Molyneux. His father was already in America and in 1939, Weitz joined him here. In 1944, he became a U.S. Office of Strategic Services officer.
Weitz founded his women’s sportswear business, John Weitz Designs, in 1954, and launched men’s wear a decade later. For his women’s wear, he often tailored the best of men’s designs for the female figure, with looks such as shaped houndstooth checked coats, formal shirts with jet buttons and cuff links, and corduroy pants.
“Whatever happens in women’s pants comes from the men’s pants,” he said in 1965.
In the Sixties, Weitz began phasing out his women’s and children’s apparel business to concentrate on men’s wear. By 1977, Weitz had 18 licensees and $150 million worldwide retail sales of products bearing his label, including sunglasses, belts, umbrellas and even cigars. That year, he also reentered the licensed women’s apparel category, because, he said, he saw the need for an alternative to coordinated sportswear merchandising.
“I’m rather sick of seeing American working women treated as children with prepackaged clothes,” Weitz said at the time.
In later years, Weitz became a writer of fiction and nonfiction books, including “The Value of Nothing,” “Hitler’s Diplomat: The Life and Times of Joachim von Ribbentrop,” “Hitler’s Banker,” “Man in Charge,” and “Friends in High Places.” At the time of his death, Weitz was working on a novel about German boxing legend Max Schmeling.
He married actress Susan Kohner in 1964, and their two sons, Paul and Christopher, moved on to successful Hollywood careers, co-directing and producing the movies “American Pie” and “About a Boy.”
In addition to his wife and their sons, Weitz is survived by two children from his previous marriage to Sally Gould, Karen Weitz Curtis and Robert Weitz, and a granddaughter.