NEW YORK — J. Gene Hochfelder, former chairman and chief executive officer of Beldoch Industries, which under his leadership became one of the largest domestic sweater manufacturers and held the Pierre Cardin license for women’s apparel, died here Sunday.
Hochfelder, 82, had been ill for several years and died in his Manhattan apartment from complications from two strokes he suffered last year and in 1995, said Thomas Hochfelder, one of his five sons.
Known for his business acumen and dynamic personality, Hochfelder built Beldoch into a $70 million knitwear powerhouse in the Nineties. Beldoch, a proponent of domestic manufacturing, owned several sweater factories in West Hempstead, N.Y., and produced knitwear and sportswear under such labels as Alberoy, Beldoch Popper, Beldoch Petites and Pierre Cardin, as well as Knitmakers private label. Hochfelder sold the business to Donnkenny in 1995 and retired from the company.
Born in Cedarhurst, N.Y., in 1922, Hochfelder graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1943. He served as a captain in the U.S. Marines, where he spearheaded landings in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, and was awarded the Silver Star, Presidential Citation and Bronze Star. After the war ended, he started Bogene Manufacturing, a housewares and garment bags business, which he sold to Scovill Manufacturing in 1969. In 1971, he joined his father-in-law Albert Beldoch’s business, Beldoch Industries, as president. The sweater company, which Albert Beldoch began in the Thirties, was originally known as Beldoch Popper.
Three of Hochfelder’s sons were involved in the Beldoch business: James joined in the Sixties and founded Alberoy, a hot juniors resource in the Sixties and Seventies; Thomas joined in 1971, at the same time as his father, and headed up the Knitmakers private label division, and Andrew joined in 1978 and ran Beldoch’s manufacturing. Andrew and Thomas left the business in 1999, and James left in 2002.
In the early Seventies, Gene Hochfelder brought Pierre Cardin into the fold. “He saw the future of designer apparel in America, and in 1973 got the license for Pierre Cardin women’s apparel,” said Thomas Hochfelder. “[Eventually] under Gene’s leadership, the corporation grew to over $70 million at wholesale.”
“He was a very dear friend,” said Hal Upbin, chairman and ceo of Kellwood Co. “I met him 10 years ago when we were looking at his company to buy it. We didn’t reach a deal, but he was such a charming and smart guy, we remained friends.
“He was a good, but tough businessman,” added Upbin. “He was a bit of a mentor. We’d meet, have dinner and talk about the business.”
“He was a kind, gracious and dynamic leader,” added Laurence C. Leeds Jr., chairman of Buckingham Capital Management. “He built a business during a period where so many of his peers were failing, and he survived. He was smart, had a great sense of humor and he maintained the ability to laugh at himself.”
Hochfelder was active in the fight against imports and served as an officer in the National Knitwear and Sportswear Association. He was also chairman and an honoree of several United Jewish Appeal, Anti-Defamation League and Israel Bond drives. An avid golfer, Hochfelder was president of Glen Head Country Club and was a Scout Master and Little League coach while raising his five sons on Long Island. His first wife, Patricia Beldoch Hochfelder, died 22 years ago, and he is survived by his second wife, Carol Ostrow, whom he married in 1984. In addition to Thomas, James and Andrew, he is also survived by two other sons, John and Peter, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Services will be held today at Riverside Memorial Chapel here at noon.