NEW YORK — Theodore Kahn, a furrier whose career extended well beyond Seventh Avenue, died June 5. He was 87.
He was en route to his 65th college reunion at Harvard University when he died from cardiac arrest, according to his son Daniel.
Kahn ventured in and out of his father’s business, Ben Kahn Furs, over the years. In 1940, after graduating from Harvard, where his time out of class was spent boxing for the school’s team and playing intramural football with classmate and housemate John F. Kennedy, Kahn tried his hand in the fur district. A few years later, he was drafted and served in the U.S. Army. Once discharged in 1944, Kahn headed to the University of Pennsylvania to earn a dentistry degree.
In the late Forties, he opened his own dental practice, but after two years, decided to return to work with his father. During his second go-round at Ben Kahn Furs, which lasted for decades, he specialized in buying skins and selling coats. He was one of the first furriers to buy into the pink mink trend in the Sixties, his daughter Debra Kahn said.
Her father used his Crimson connection with Kennedy to arrange for Ben Kahn Furs to make a leopard coat for then-first lady Jackie. Her husband was partial to dark mink, which he felt represented American industry, Debra Kahn said. But she insisted on leopard, and Kahn agreed.
Kahn gave her a discount since the first lady had traded in a heavy leopard coat that was a gift from Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, said Debra Kahn.
Her cousin Eddie Graf said, “I still have the beautiful handwritten thank you note she sent to Ted and his father … ‘Dear Monsieurs Kahn … ‘”
A month before the president was assassinated in 1963, he called Kahn to ask him to make a chinchilla blanket that was to be given to the first lady as a Christmas present, Debra Kahn said. The furrier took the opportunity to apologize to the president for pushing the leopard choice. But Kennedy told him, “No, you were right. It made a tremendous hit.”
In 1969 after Ben Kahn Furs was sold to Kenton Corp., Kahn stayed on for a few years. But Kahn, who was described as a “a frustrated English teacher” on more than one occasion, exited the company as vice president in 1972 and enrolled at C.W. Post to get his Master’s degree in English. He taught English briefly and then returned to the fur business through a partnership with Jerry Sorbara, a former Ben Kahn designer who ran his own business.
Debra Kahn said, “His real passion was always poetry and philosophy. My father always loved being a student.”
At last week’s service for Kahn in Boca Raton, Fla., a former Ben Kahn employee told Graf how Kahn recited Yeats to workers in the back of the factory during their lunch breaks.
Kahn is survived by his daughter and son.