NEW YORK — Longtime industry executive Gerald Solovei, 69, who championed Bob Mackie, Arnold Scaasi and Elizabeth Arden, died Saturday at Mt. Sinai Hospital. The cause of death was heart failure due to other medical complications, according to Marie McCarty, who worked with him at Mackie and Scaasi.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Solovei went on to earn a business degree at New York University. Early in his career, Solovei worked in retail at Detinna, a Fifth Avenue store, before moving on to buy Bonwit Teller’s couture collections in the store’s heyday. Enthusiastic and flamboyant, Solovei exited the buying side of the business to help Mackie build sales. He later moved on to Arden and then to Scaasi Boutique, the designer’s now-defunct ready-to-wear business.
Solovei also served as president of the New York Fashion Council. In 1997, he teamed with Gerald Shaw, a former partner of Oscar de la Renta, to sell OZ, an Italian-made collection by Sergio Ognibene and Peter Zendman.
Reached by phone Thursday, Mackie recalled how he and his business partner Ray Aghayan first met Solovei in 1969 or 1970. “He was quite the character. He created a wonderful department. Bonwit Teller was really going at that moment,” Mackie said. “He just loved the business. He was one of those crazy people — that’s what he lived for.”
Fond of fun ties, caftans and bright-colored socks, Solovei “always had a lot of clothes going on — certainly in the Seventies,” Mackie said. “He was always fun at a party and he loved to cook. For our first full couture collection presentation, he cooked a whole meal and set up his Upper East Side apartment like a restaurant.
Entertaining as he was, Solovei was not one to mince words. “If a salesperson was not dressed appropriately or their suit was too tight, he would tell the person. He was a boss — he couldn’t help himself,” Mackie said.
Scaasi also recalled Solovei’s straightshooting ways. “He was a charmer. He was a nice human being who would not do anything that was not honest or straightforward,” Scaasi said. “He was a great help to me in the business.”
Solovei is survived by his sister, Phyllis Shapiro, and brother Edward Solovei.