Longtime textiles industry executive Gerry Rubinfeld died Saturday at the Regional Hospice in Danbury, Conn.
The cause of death was brain cancer, according to his daughter Emilie, who serves as president of Carolina Herrera.
Born in New York, Rubinfeld earned his education in his home state, attending Brooklyn Technical High School, Queens College, St. John’s University Law School and Baruch College, where he received an MBA. The bulk of Rubinfeld’s career was spent in the textiles industry at Hoechst Fibers and Texfi Blends. After joining the latter in January 1984, Rubinfeld rose up through the ranks to the role of president.
As offshore production, outsourcing and other sizable shifts impacted domestic manufacturing, Rubinfeld exercised a willingness to change with the times. In an interview with WWD in 1997, he said, “We feel we are marketing-driven and we certainly don’t have to add equipment for every issue we take to market. We’re beginning to outsource a great deal more. That may be the greatest change that the gray mills will see, the partnerships with the vertical mills and with the retailers.”
Further back in 1990, he oversaw Texfi-Blends’ introduction of an upscale women’s wear fabrics collection called the “Street Collection.” Geared for department stores, specialty stores and contemporary merchandise, the offerings were meant to broaden Texfi-Blends’ customer base and open new marketing channels.
Prior to his tenure in the textiles industry, Rubinfeld worked in merchandising and buying for various companies. Rubinfeld met his wife Laura, when they were young buyers at J.C. Penney Co. Inc.
Through the years, the couple lived in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York, before putting down roots in New Canaan, Conn. During off-hours, he coached the soccer, softball and basketball teams that Emilie and his two other daughters Jenny Levin and Claire Rubinfeld competed on. (Levin was a former senior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar.)
Jim Krause, a Dallas-based advertising executive, who runs his own consulting business, recalled Tuesday how he met Rubinfeld in the late Seventies. While overseeing Trevira at Hoechst Fibers, Rubinfeld controlled the Southwest and had a large co-op advertising fund to support local manufacturers, but the company maintained creative control. “Gerry was somewhat of a rebel and he didn’t like the work coming out of New York where Trevira was based. He saw some of the work I was doing for a couple of manufacturers and he took a chance on me,” Krause said. “Even though Gerry worked for a large corporation, he was not afraid to try new things and think outside the box, when a lot of people in the industry were not doing so at that time.”
Emilie Rubinfeld noted how her father’s influence extends beyond the career path that she and her sister Jenny pursued. His ability to pivot when faced with global market shifts “really resonates with a lot of us today. We are now faced with transformation, reinvention and really pushing our ability to adapt to a new reality that was unforeseen,” she said.
Having worked for Gerry Rubinfeld for 10 years including as Texfi’s European sales manager, Guido Bergmans said, “He was the best salesman that I ever met in my life. He knew his customers very well and he also knew the customers of his customers – the end users. He sold the company more as a concept than as a product. But he also knew the fabrics and his products very well. He always gave very good advice to his customers.”
After attending his first New York Yankees game at the age of three with his father in the Bronx, Rubinfeld became a lifelong sports fan. So much so that while living in Dallas, he made weekly appearances on the National Public Radio affiliate KERA’s “Friday Morning Sports Spectacular.” Along with the Yankees, he was a diehard supporter of the New York Giants, Rangers and Knicks, as well as the University of Michigan’s football team and the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team.
Rubinfeld also traveled extensively for work and for pleasure. Far from an all-work, one-dimensional kind of executive, he led family’s vacations that were meant to embrace history, culture people and food. Those global adventures also provided fodder for him to write poetry, and a restaurant and travel column for various industry trade publications under the pseudonym “Laura Susband.” Rubinfeld’s knowledge base and intellectual curiosity extended to film, music and Broadway, making him the anchor of any gathering.
Rubinfeld is survived by his wife of 52 years, Laura, and his three daughters, as well as his sister Lori and brother Mike.