Arthur Cinader, the founder of J. Crew, died Thursday morning. He was 90 years old.
The cause of death was complications from a fall and head injury, said Cinader’s son, Arthur Jr., adding that his father died of natural causes in hospice at the hospital.
Cinader was described as a “visionary” by former employees, a posse of executives who rose through the retail ranks to occupy key merchandising and c-suites positions at a variety of retail and wholesale companies.
“Arthur backed me when I was still relatively young in the industry and I will be forever grateful,” said Arnold Cohen, chairman and chief executive officer of Ghurka. “He urged me to be rational and thoughtful but aggressive. His fastidious nature, ensuring that the words used and expressed were an accurate reflection of intent, has positively influenced me throughout my career.
“Working with him was singularly the best career experience I ever had,” Cohen continued. “He was my boss but, more importantly, a friend. He was immensely private. When I noticed a number of ex-colleagues of his passing, the response was quick and similar. Shock and sadness that he was gone, gratitude for what he had taught us all, uniform respect and, for many, a fond memory of a unique and magical time.”
“He was clearly ahead of his time,” said Matthew Rubel, who was executive vice president of the J. Crew Group at the time. “He understood how to create the voice of a brand and how to do it directly and was one of the pioneers in thinking about moving into catalogues, and moving catalogues into stores, and into e-commerce. He had a vision of creating fun customer experiences all at the same time and understood how to create a lifestyle brand.
“He was an incredibly rigorous thinker,” Rubel added. “He was brilliant. He understood brand and business. He was an innovator and just like Steve Jobs. He saw things others didn’t see and was very passionate about the precision of achieving.”
Others who were guided by Cinader include Carole Kerner, former senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Abercrombie & Fitch; Scott Rosen, president and chief operating officer of Equinox, and Keith Monda, former president and chief operating officer of Coach.
“Arthur was a brilliant, and highly disciplined, strategic visionary,” Kerner said.
Cinader started J. Crew with the assets of Popular Club Plan, the business started by his father, Mitchell, in 1947. Popular Plan sold clothes and home furnishings, which were marketed by sales representatives and targeted toward moderate-income families with the offer of easy payment plans.
Before J. Crew, a young Cinader managed a family-owned bank in New Mexico. Cinader had an “irreverent fashion” sense and the funds to indulge it.
The family in the early Eighties sold off some holdings to finance the launch of the J. Crew catalogue. When it launched in 1983, Cinader operated it with his daughter, Emily Cinader Woods.
J. Crew opened its first store in March 1989 at the South Street Seaport in New York. When the sales reached $400 million in 1990, the company was renamed J. Crew Group Inc. Two years later, the catalogue operations expanded to Japan through a partnership with Itochu that included freestanding stores and shops-in-shop. Catalogue sales also started in France, after a move to Canada.
Arthur Cinader agreed to retire in 1997 when TPG, then Texas Pacific Group, bought a majority stake for nearly $600 million. Emily Cinader stayed on, but as a board member.
The Millard “Mickey” Drexler days of J. Crew began in 2003 when the former Gap ceo joined the retailer as chairman and ceo, and took an equity stake in company. J. Crew went public in 2006 with a $376 million initial public offering and the Madewell division founded. Emily Cinader Woods stepped down that year as director, ending the Cinader family’s involvement in the retailer.
“Arthur was very unique and a bit quirky,” said Gary Sheinbaum, ceo of the Americas at Tommy Hilfiger. “He was extremely intelligent and could be very strategic and detail oriented at the same time. He had very high standards and was passionate about many aspects of the business such as store design, catalogue layouts and copy, product, stores and more. He could be tough and at times intimidating, but he also had a charming side.”
Cinader is survived by his wife Johanna, five children and 13 grandchildren.