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Norman Katz, Innerwear Executive, Dead at 88

The former president and chief executive officer of I. Appel Corp. was a prominent figure in the industry for some 60 years.

Norman Katz, former president and chief executive officer of I. Appel Corp. and a prominent figure in the innerwear industry for some 60 years, died Monday at his home in Milford, Conn.

This story first appeared in the March 28, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Katz, 88, died of natural causes, according to his son Steve.

Katz was an energetic man, accustomed to rolling up his sleeves and working 12 to 14 hours daily, six days a week. His hands-on style at Appel kept him on top of practically every aspect of the manufacturing business — from costing and grading to fortifying partnerships with major buying groups.

Katz was born into the manufacturing business in Germany, where his father, Paul Katz, was an apparel maker. As political unrest began to engulf Germany in 1935, Katz, then six, was packed off to England by his parents, who later joined him. The family moved to the U.S. in 1940.

In 1952, Katz, who had earned a degree in economics from Columbia University, started a junior robe company with a former classmate from England, designer John Weitz. It was called John Weitz Juniors. Five years later, Katz formed At Homewear Inc., a maker of robes and dusters. In 1970 it was sold to Cluett Peabody, where Katz spent the next five years.

He entered into a partnership in 1976 with Smirnoff vodka and Pepsi investor Herbert Feinberg to acquire I. Appel, a maker of loungewear, sleepwear and underwear from U.S. Industries, for $8 million. It was the same year Katz’s twin sons, Ira and Steve, began working in Appel’s shipping department. Ira died of cancer in 1977.

Katz sold his share of the Appel firm to Feinberg in 1996.

Steve Katz fondly remembered his father as a hard worker and a doting family man.

“As busy as he was, he always found time to attend my high school’s varsity awards banquets, and if we had a cross-country or track match on a Saturday, he would always try his best to be there,” he said.

Norman Katz certainly knew the trade. He was chairman of the Intimate Apparel Council from 1991 to 1995, and chairman of the IAC’s executive committee from 1989 to 1993. He was also a board member of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association and was a member of the board of trustees at the Fashion Institute of Technology. During his years as IAC chairman, Katz frequently preached that the industry could grow significantly by working together to promote a European concept of developing innerwear wardrobes beyond basics and heightening consumer awareness of lingerie.

In 1996, he told WWD that the innerwear industry had changed from a business populated by thousands of independent firms to a few hundred companies.

“Ninety percent of the Appel business is probably done with only 100 [major] retail customers today. In 1952, there were thousands and thousands of customers. Today, you can’t afford to lose a customer, unless it’s a mom-and-pop operation. Also, with the concentration of the major retailers’ strength and their immense buying power, they’re in a position to dictate more than before,” he observed.

Outside the business world, Katz in 1996 was awarded the Medal of Honor by the Ellis Island Foundation for cultural contributions to New York City. In a two-year span, Katz headed the restoration committee of Congregation Adereth El in Manhattan — his synagogue raised $500,000 to refurbish the 153-year-old landmark.

In addition to his son Steve, Katz is survived by his wife, Sandra.

Services were held Wednesday at the Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home in Fairfield, Conn., followed by interment at King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton, N.J.