Los Angeles retailer Marvin Chanin, whose chain of fashion boutiques served Mods, UCLA students, pro athletes and more in their 1960s, 1970s and 1980s heyday, has died at age 93.
During his decadeslong career, Chanin created several retail concepts and became one of the most successful retailers in L.A. with volume reaching $14 million to $15 million — which was significant in that era, according to WWD.
A contemporary of Fred Segal, Fred Hayman of Giorgio Beverly Hills, Jack Hanson of Jax, Herb Fink of Theodore’s, Jerry Magnin and others of that era, his stable of boutiques included Chanin’s, Ice Accessories, Boot Camp and Centapercenta.
Selling activewear in the first fitness fashion wave, Champs sporting goods eventually became the national chain Champs Sports after Chanin sold it, and now operates as a subsidiary of Footlocker.
“He saw trends happening. He was the first company that had Mackeen Jeans,” said industry veteran Jay Margolis of the 1970s status jean made popular by Jerry Hall.
Margolis remembered visiting Chanin’s in Westwood when he was the twentysomething president of Yves Saint Laurent, and knew the retailer for 45 years. “He was one of the icons of the business, the way he put everything out with style and swagger. Everyone wanted to see what he was doing. And across the street, at Champs, he was the first person I knew to do a wall of sneakers. He taught me about the value of consumers, product and display,” Margolis said.
Chanin started his career in the 1950s at Wilmington Dry Goods Co., rising to vice president and general manager before moving to California in the early 1960s.
His first boutique, Paraphernalia, opened on Rodeo Drive in 1967 as the West Coast outpost of the New York store of the same name selling the Mod look. It was a sensation. “Everybody was high. I had a friend there who weighed an ounce and was so fabulous. They all looked like Space Age models, so divine with their skirts up to here, big round glasses and short, short hair,” said Peggy Lipton, describing the store’s vibe in Rose Apodaca’s 2011 biography of Hayman.
“We’d like to develop California designers and send ideas east instead of having them come here from New York,” Chanin told the Los Angeles Times of his strategy for discovering the West Coast version of Betsey Johnson for the shop, which was merchandised by future Hollywood director Joel Schumacher.
In 1970, he opened Chanin’s on Westwood Boulevard near the UCLA campus.
“There are a lot of common denominators: denim, Reeboks and white wine. It doesn’t matter if it’s ultra-expensive or ultra-moderate. What matters is if it’s good and right,” he told WWD of his prescient high-low approach.
“Everyone used to shop there,” said Margolis, mentioning that Chanin’s lifelong friend Lynn Swann, the pro-football player, and O.J. Simpson were regulars.
“He always had a kind word for me. My first real retail job was at Alandale’s in Westwood, right next door to Chanin’s,” said Sarah Stewart, fashion director of Maxfield L.A. “Marvin was a lovely guy and had a really successful jeans thing going on (rivaled only by that guy at Fred Segal who wouldn’t let you choose your own jeans, he would look at you and make the decision himself what you could try on.).”
He was nurturing to young talent, said L.A. designer Mona Thalheimer, whose parents sold woven labels and hangtags to Chanin’s business. “He knew I wanted to be a designer one day and encouraged me. I learned a lot from him about being fearless and being positive in the fashion world.”
As his business grew, Chanin added European designers, becoming one of the first on the West Coast to carry Giorgio Armani men’s wear.
His strategy for expansion was to create new stores from hot categories. “Suddenly, I saw my wife, Dottie, flying on a plane in a warm-up suit. Then in Paris we went to the most chic disco, and she was wearing a Thierry Mugler warm-up suit with shoulder pads. I said to myself, ‘Active is where it’s at,'” he told WWD in 1988, in the height of the “Let’s Get Physical” era, referring to his venture in the space.
Later in life, Chanin worked with Hugo Boss, helping to bring the brand to the U.S., and operating its Caesars Palace store in Las Vegas.
His business was a family affair — son Rick Chanin worked at Champs, and wife Dorothy (Dottie) Chanin founded Contempo Casuals in the 1960s with Wil Friedman, becoming one of the first female chief executive officers in Southern California. After selling it in 1978, she ran the Chanins’ Ice Accessories stores.
Chanin is survived by his wife, Dottie, sons Rick and Tony, and eight grandchildren, including Max Rubin, a Chapman University student who recently broke out into the fashion industry himself, launching Contempo Tees using 1960s-era Contempo Casuals’ advertisements and artwork.