By  on July 28, 2009

NEW YORK — Arthur Chapnik, an apparel manufacturer who was at the forefront of bringing a relaxed sportswear mentality to the men’s clothing business, has died at age 69.

Chapnik died of cancer on July 9 at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, according to his wife, June.

Born in Manhattan, Chapnik’s career encompassed both men’s and women’s wear, and he was able to successfully translate ideas from one market to the other. He started out in the textile industry and later joined Chester Lurie. In the mid-Sixties to mid-Seventies, he and then-partner Richard Dworkin ran Arthur Richards Inc., a tailored clothing resource known for its fashion bravado. After splitting with Arthur Richards in 1977, which subsequently closed its doors, Chapnik developed a collection of related tailored sportswear, but found the men’s market wasn’t ready for it. He then reinterpreted the idea for women’s wear, and created a bridge clothing line for the career customer, starting Arthur Chapnik Co. in 1978.

“He did hand-sewn products, which women had never seen before,” said June Chapnik, who worked with him for many years. “He brought men’s wear styling to the women’s market and used beautiful silks. He went to Italy, designed his own prints and did everything himself.” She said Neiman Marcus was one of the company’s biggest clients. His wife noted that he was the first to feature “Handmade in America” on the Chapnik label.

“Nobody loved the industry like he did,” she added. “He was 6 foot, 4 inches, had a big mustache and a twinkle in his eye. There are people who are still walking around in his designs. The garments never wore out. That was the problem.”

In 1987, Chapnik & Co. filed Chapter 11, and the company was liquidated the following year. The Chapnik label was sold to Adrianna Papell, and Arthur Chapnik was no longer involved, but he eventually got his label back. He later was president of Samsung USA’s women’s apparel division from 1988 to 1990 and worked for Harrison McJade & Co., an apparel design and marketing company.

In 1991, DNR’s Clara Hancox called Chapnik “a nonstop idea man.” She wrote that “after 14 highly charged years in the women’s market,” Chapnik reentered the men’s wear market “and proposed a concept that would change the man’s conformist tailored office uniform into a totally new generation of apparel.” She called the clothes, which he produced under his own name for TMG Corp., of Clearfield, Pa., “not only softer and more individual but also more mixable and flexible. In short, this is sportswear for everyday. And, as you might expect, it is definitely women’s sportswear-inspired.” That was the beginning of casual Fridaywear.

“What it represents now is a more casual approach to tailored clothing and more in keeping with today’s less formal lifestyle,” Chapnik told DNR in 1994.

Besides his apparel career, Chapnik owned a private club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan called Cecile. Since May 1998, Chapnik served for 11 years on the board of directors of Utek Corp., a Tampa, Fla.-based technology transfer company, which was until recently headed by his son-in-law, Clifford Gross.

In addition to his wife and son-in-law, Chapnik is survived by two daughters, Elissa-Beth Gross and Dawn, and two grandchildren, Marielle and Harrison.

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