A memorial service will be held Sunday for S. Miller Harris, former head of Eagle Shirtmakers, who died in hospice care at his home in Spinnerstown, Pa., on June 9 after a brief illness. He was 91.
This story first appeared in the June 13, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Although born into the men’s shirt business — his great-grandfather, Jacob Miller, started Eagle in 1867 — and known as an enthusiastic pursuer of the latest in piece goods and collar treatments, Harris had an intellectual bent and considerable writing skill. He was editor of the Cornell Daily Sun prior to his graduation from Cornell University and entry into the U.S. Army in 1943. His social circle at Cornell included author Kurt Vonnegut.
Pressed to reconcile his dual affections for the written word and the cut-and-sewn shirt, he once told a Daily News Record reporter, “I’m not a frustrated writer. I’m a fulfilled shirtmaker.”
Harris’ 70-year marriage to the former Mary Louise Snellenburg was an outgrowth of a buyer-seller relationship. Harris’ family sold shirts to Snellenburg’s, a department store fixture on Market Street in Philadelphia prior to its closure in 1962.
Although Eagle was sold to Hat Corp. of America and later Damon Creations and Palm Beach Clothing, Harris stayed on as its chief executive officer and gained a reputation as among the more innovative merchandisers in the men’s furnishings market. Working with high-profile merchants including Henry Grethel, Barry Boonshaft and Alan Flusser, Eagle was influential in a business dominated by “The Big Three” — Arrow, Van Heusen and Manhattan. It pioneered designer licensing in the market with its long-term relationship with Pierre Cardin and fitted shirts through its Courage collection. Reflecting Harris’ sense of humor, Courage was advertised by ad guru Howard Luck Gossage as a shirt most men didn’t “have the stomach for.”
Today, the Eagle brand is owned by PVH Corp.
Describing Harris as “a man with a great sense of style and a great sense of humor,” Grethel recalled his seemingly endless quest for new fabric ideas and the difficulty he had passing up a good-looking swatch. “He loved fabric, sometimes to his detriment,” Grethel said. “He had someone at the company whose main job was selling off excess piece goods. He looked at every European line known to man.”
His affection for the shirt business was a constant in his life and he was involved in several ventures after leaving Eagle, including associations with Smart Shirts and Viyella. According to his son, S. Miller Harris Jr., known as Mickey, he launched a new business under his great-grandfather’s name, Jacob Miller Shirts, at the age of 90 and was still active in it until the recent decline in his health.
In addition to his widow, Mary Louise, and son, he is survived by three daughters, Jill Harris, Susan Laun and Prue Gershman; 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at the Flourtown, Pa., home of his son at 2 p.m. on Sunday. In keeping with the deceased’s wishes, interment will be private. The family has requested that contributions in his memory be made to Cornell University’s Class of 1943 Scholarship Fund.bv.