NEW YORK — Clara Hancox, a 50-year veteran of DNR whose hard-hitting and controversial columns remain vivid in the minds of men’s wear executives, died of cancer at her New York City home on Wednesday. She was 87.
Described by former Saks Fifth Avenue chief executive officer Philip Miller as “a woman of tremendous energy, great enthusiasm and a sharp intellect,” and designer Joseph Abboud as “the biggest person in the men’s wear business,” Hancox retired from DNR in 1993. During her tenure, she was known and respected for her candid rhetoric, sense of humor and keen insight into the workings of the industry. DNR, like WWD, is owned by Condé Nast Publications.
She joined the then-daily newspaper in 1944 as a copy editor and began covering furnishings while the man who had that job left to fight in World War II. When he returned from active duty, Hancox recalled earlier this year, “I elected myself boys’ wear editor.” Although no one expected her to succeed, she proudly said that she did so well, she put a competing publication out of business.
Although it was unusual for a woman to be successful in what was then a man’s world, Hancox spent her whole life breaking the rules. She was an avid motorcyclist, dabbled in mountain climbing and even piloted airplanes. “When I was young I would do anything on a lark,” she said. She was also an accomplished pianist, although arthritis in her hands kept her from playing much in her later years.
Upon leaving DNR, Hancox lived a rich, full life. Three years ago, she published a mildly racy novel, “To Mine Own Selves Be True,” that chronicled a woman’s life, in New York City and Vermont, from 1938 to the present and explored “a variety of love relationships.” The book, written under the pen name of Marinska Dolnar, also brought her a finalist mention in ForeWord Magazine’s contest for the best independently published book of the year.
But it was Kabbalah and art that became her passions in her retirement years. “I had become deeply involved in spiritual work,” she wrote in an essay updating her life for DNR earlier this year. “What I wanted was to become a … spiritually oriented person and to make that a full-time way of life.”
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Despite these pursuits, the men’s wear industry was still an integral part of her daily life. Until the end, she regularly lunched with friends such as Abboud and Peerless’ Ron Wurtzburger, and considered Cecile Platovsky of Ballin slacks her best friend. In her essay earlier this year, she wrote: “How much I still love to get phone calls from folks in the trade who just want to talk shop and ask the same old question: ‘What do you hear around?”
She still had strong opinions about the state of the business and was never afraid to voice them. In February, she wrote in DNR about the “homogenizing of men’s fashion” that the merger and acquisition craze has caused; she also bemoaned the lack of excitement in most stores today. “Of course, this isn’t new, but it’s getting worse every day, more insidious and harmful to both the manufacturers and the stores themselves,” she wrote.
That feisty attitude, coupled with her unwavering convictions, were what made her columns so memorable. “I’ve always been outspoken,” she said earlier this year. “That’s what made me a good columnist — I was fearless.”
A private memorial service will be held, but no date has been set. Hancox had no immediate survivors.