NEW YORK — Irene Satz, former vice president and fashion director for Ohrbach’s and a key player in the business of line-for-line copies of European couture, died Monday morning at Mt. Sinai Hospital here. She was 80.
The cause of death was lung cancer, according to her family.
Services will be held at noon today at Riverside Memorial Chapel, Amsterdam Avenue and West 76th Street. Satz spent 45 years at Ohrbach’s, a specialty store that catered to a value-conscious clientele and often managed to brighten up its bargains with a flair for fashion.
She started as a stock person in 1930 when she was 16, and rose through the sportswear department to become corporate fashion director and a pioneer in the couture copy business.
She retired from Ohrbach’s in 1975 — 12 years before the store closed — and ran the New York office of Judy’s, a Van Nuys, Calif., chain founded by one of her three sisters, Marcia Israel. Israel, who still lives in California, sold the business in 1989, and said Monday that she and Satz spoke to each other every day.
In the early Sixties, Ohrbach’s — under the direction of Satz and her colleague Sydney Gittler — got lots of attention with its twice-yearly presentations of line-for-line adaptations of the European couture shows. In those days, some of the leading U.S. stores would go to Paris, pay a fee called a “caution” to attend the collections, purchase originals or muslins and bring them back for reproduction as lower-price adaptations.
“The line-for-line copy idea is as important as ever for us,” said Satz in an interview in 1964, when she was named vice president. “The biggest new direction is the demand for the original fabrics…it can only get better.”
Her search for important trends took her through the top fashion houses of Paris, all throughout Europe and the Orient. In 1964, she said Japanese knits were “great,” but warned that the planning had to be six months to a year ahead, “so you have to be right on colors.”
Satz specialized in dresses, and helped orchestrate the spring and fall couture shows at Ohrbach’s. In front of 2,000 fashion fanatics, the original paraded down the runway next to the copies, and usually, observers could not tell the difference — except for a small sign with the name of the designer carried by the model wearing the original.
The shows were packed, luring shoppers from points as diverse as Park Avenue and Parkchester, Sutton Place and Sheepshead Bay. While many in the crowd were frequent customers at Ohrbach’s, there were some whose shopping excursions rarely took them below 57th Street.
Satz and Gittler, who died in 1991 and who was known in the industry as Ohrbach’s “coat and suit king,” kept the couture influence thriving in this country.
“They were a wonderful team,” said Israel. “Paris was the inspiration for American fashion, and she and Sydney brought it back. She had a tremendous influence on fashion here.”
Ed Bart, now a senior market specialist at Frederick Atkins Inc., worked at Ohrbach’s from 1965 to 1973 in the line-for-line business with Satz and Gittler.
“Irene was elegant,” Bart said Monday. “She had a great eye for picking a fashion from Europe and translating it for the American consumer.”
Although Bart worked for Gittler in the coat and suit department, he was closely associated with Satz as well, traveling with the fashion team to the European shows.
“If Sydney was the coat and suit king, then Irene was the dress queen,” he said. “Irene really put those fashion shows together. She coordinated the outfits and all the accessories, and she did the narration for the shows, which were seen by hundreds of women from all around the country.”
In addition to Marcia Israel, survivors include a daughter, Susan Furman; two other sisters, Anne Stelter and Fran Satz, and three grandsons, Jonathan, Michael and Jeffrey Furman.