Eugene Kule, known as the "King of Pants," died Sunday at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, Fla. He was 84.
The cause of death was kidney failure, according to his wife, Arlene.Born and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y., Kule served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and later graduated from City College in New York.Kule was known as an innovator in the clothing business and developed a reputation as a visionary. He was frequently called the King of Pants, and was the founder and owner of Happy Legs, which developed a following for its trend-setting pants. He brought bell-bottoms to the U.S. He also came up with the slogan, “What to wear on Sunday when you won’t be home until Monday.”Kule eventually sold the business to Spencer Shoe Co., and then founded Silk Club, which introduced washable silk to the market. He was an early pioneer in the private label business. His accounts included Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Coldwater Creek, according to Arlene Kule, who served as a designer at both Happy Legs and Silk Club.“He was the love of my life,” said Arlene Kule. “We were married 56 years and worked together 56 years, and it wasn’t enough for me.” She said her husband was a great salesman but also creative. “He spotted a trend and that became what was going on."She recalled a trip to London where he saw a belt and came back and created a belted pant that became a “million-dollar seller.”Kule forged many relationships within the industry.Tommy Hilfiger recalled Monday that he used to buy clothes from Kule for his store, People's Place. “My partner Larry Stemerman and I bought Happy Legs from Gene Kule in the Seventies. He was the fast-fashion king of the time. He offered every new shape, style and fabric before anyone else. He was a pioneer and a great guy,” Hilfiger said.“He was larger than life,” added Millard "Mickey" Drexler, chairman and chief executive officer of J. Crew Group. “He was a very charismatic guy, and a great merchant, great marketer and a great salesman. He was a pant man.”Drexler said he used to buy from him many years ago. “Happy Legs was very aptly named. Gene knew everything there was to know about making, marketing and selling pants. You’d walk into his showroom and he was an exciting guy and larger than life. There aren’t many Gene Kules left today.”Michael Kors, a friend of Kule's said, "Gene lived a life full of joy and curiosity. He and his wife, Arlene, spent a lifetime in the fashion industry, always excited by new ideas, traveling the world, and at the same time, he was an incredible father, grandfather and loyal friend to all who knew him."The Kules lived in New York most of their lives and retired to Miami Beach about eight years ago. At one point, they owned a 24,000-square-foot Tuscan-style mansion in Riverdale, N.Y., for nine years, which was embroiled in litigation. The home, which previously housed a corporation, was eventually sold to a religious school that housed 100 students. The home had 14 bedrooms and a theater that seated 200 people. “It was ridiculous. He [Eugene] felt I was insane. He never liked it. I made a mistake,” said Arlene Kule.In addition to his wife, Kule is survived by three daughters, Jodi, Farah and Nikki, five grandchildren, and his brother David. Nikki Kule owns a fashion company called Kule that focuses on striped tops.A memorial service will be held Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. at Riverside Memorial Chapel.
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