NEW YORK — Fred Gompertz, better known in the fur district as “Mr. Fred,” died April 29 at the age of 80 at the Cabrini Medical Center’s Hospice Center here.
The cause of death was bladder cancer, according to his son, Jeffrey.
Gompertz has cheated death twice, once as a teenager in Nazi Germany and then again on Sept. 11, 2001, after being stranded in his Battery Park apartment.
In November 1938, after Nazi troops arrested Gompertz’s father, Leo, and brother Albert, the then 14-year-old Gompertz hid in the family’s home above its fur shop in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. When his mother returned the following day, he and some family members escaped through the Dutch underground, and eventually emigrated here to Washington Heights in 1939.
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Gompertz and his father, who had managed to join the family after being incarcerated for six months, started sewing and repairing furs from their Cabrini Boulevard apartment. In 1944, they founded LF Gompertz, a fur business.
But it wasn’t until the Sixties and early Seventies that the younger Gompertz made his mark in the fur business by designing affordable, casual pieces, including some in psychedelic patterns. With a client base as diverse as Twiggy, Veruschka, Lauren Bacall, Johnny Carson, Stein Erickson, Jean Claude Killy and Tricia Nixon, Gompertz built a healthy following through his celebrity clientele. “When I was 13, I drove with my father to Garrison, N.Y., because Barbra Streisand was filming “Hello Dolly,’” said his son Ronald. “She wanted a personal fitting, and I acted as his assistant. Stuff like that happened all the time.”
Gompertz also introduced a generation of lesser-known women to fur, said Dennis Basso “He was the father of creating fur for the working girl. He made it inexpensive and affordable.” Gompertz was widely known for his “fun furs,” helping reposition the category as groovy instead of matronly, his son Ronald said. Instead of using pricy skins, he opted for affordable alternatives like rabbit, fox and lamb, often dyeing them bright colors.
A proponent of public relations and marketing, Gompertz was a member of the American Fur Industry, the group that preceded the Fur Information Council of America. In his heyday from 1960 to 1971, despite the buzz about Mr. Fred’s “hundreds” of celebrity customers, and concept shops at Lord & Taylor, Bergdorf Goodman and I. Magnin, the company’s business only tallied $300,000 annually in its prime in the late Sixties, Ronald Gompertz said.
While running his fur business, Gompertz worked as a consultant for Malden Mills in 1969 and 1970. Reached in his office Thursday, Aaron Feuerstein, chief executive officer of Malden Mills, said, “He was a fine man. He helped us when we were getting into the imitation fur business.”
In 1971, LF Gompertz closed, after maxilength coats flopped and glutted stores’ inventory. The furrier spent the early Seventies designing Mr. Fred fur coats for other labels, such as Mr. Fred for Ben Thylon. In 1975, he took a job with Hutchinson International as director of its leather and fur division and moved to Hong Kong. Returning to the U.S. in the early Eighties, Gompertz opened a store on West 30th Street for fur storage and fur repair. He stopped working after being trapped in his apartment for more than 30 hours following the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition to his sons Ronald and Jeffrey, Gompertz is survived by a brother, Albert.
— Rosemary Feitelberg