Services will be held Thursday morning for Richard J. Schwartz, the chief executive officer of the former Jonathan Logan Inc., which was once the world’s largest women’s apparel company.
This story first appeared in the October 5, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The services will be at 10 a.m. at Congregation Temple Emanu-El in New York.
Schwartz, who died Tuesday at age 77, took the reins of his family’s company and turned it into an industry giant. The born-and-bred New Yorker returned to the city after graduating from Cornell University to join Jonathan Logan, an affordable dress label started by his father David with $7,500 in 1944.
The elder Schwartz became the first American women’s apparel industry executive to take his company public, in 1960, and he also was the first to exceed $100 million in annual sales. He once said of his son Richard, “You know, America is a wonderful country. My kid’s only 24 years old and already he’s a millionaire.”
By 1964, the kid, Richard, was also president of Jonathan Logan and, recognizing the changing marketplace, he started creating new divisions. They eventually totaled more than 24 and included Butte Knit, London Fog, Etienne Aigner, Rose Marie Reid, Misty Harbor, Bleecker Street, Villager, Simplicity Patterns and Youth Guild. The categories alone are signs of years long since passed — half-size dresses, “auto coats,” Bill Blass swimwear and misses’ better dresses. So much so that the list of Jonathan Logan-owned companies sounded like the General Motors of fashion, WWD once wrote.
By 1969, Jonathan Logan was the world’s largest women’s apparel maker with $250 million in sales and $13 million in net profits. Within 10 years, Richard Schwartz had grown sales to more than $405 million. Until 1981, the conglomerate also owned a 1 million-square-foot knitting mill in Spartanburg, S.C., with 1,600 employees. Committed to wholly-owned horizontal manufacturing, Schwartz also at one time invested in a knitting mill in Shannon, Ireland, and a home textiles business in Venezuela.
In a 1969 interview with WWD, Schwartz boiled down his business acumen to three points — build your own team, create your own identity and establish manufacturing facilities (without inheriting possible mistakes of others as when firms acquire companies).
“Conglomerates and the people who run them don’t have the necessary intuitive feeling for the factors in fashion, I believe. It is very important to have a basic understanding of the fashion business, without looking over the shoulders of executives or second-guessing other people,” Schwartz said in the interview. “Another thing about the fashion business is that not everything can be articulated — lots of things must be implied, and there are many times when words can’t be used because they’re inadequate when it comes to the fashion business.”
Despite high school and college summers spent working for a real estate investor friend of his father’s, Schwartz’s intended post-graduate career path was unquestionably Seventh Avenue. While running Jonathan Logan, he built a group that had dozens of showrooms and 42 manufacturing facilities and catered to more than 20,000 retailers and clients.
His wife of 47 years, Sheila Hunter Wood Schwartz, said Tuesday, “He followed the expected thing to do. Then it turned out he was particularly talented and particularly good at it. I think he was happy to do it. You just did it if you were lucky enough to have the opportunity and the close family. It wasn’t the grocery store or the corner store. It was what it was — a dress company. He saw that things were changing in a different market and it went older, bigger, into knits and all the different labels, and more modern.”
In 1984, United Merchants and Manufacturing mounted what was described as a hostile takeover bid for Jonathan Logan, eventually acquiring it for $195 million. The Schwartz family owned 7 percent of the stock of the company, which at that time had sales of less than $400 million. But the acquisition proved to be calamitous for UM&M, which spent the next 11 years shuttering or selling off various units. Canaan Ventures’ attempt in the mid-Nineties to bring back the Jonathan Logan label after acquiring the leases of 31 outlets from UM&M never got off the ground.
Following the acquisition by UM&M, Richard Schwartz resigned as president and ceo of Jonathan Logan in March 1985, embarking on what became an immense second act. He took on the roles of private investor, art collector, patron and philanthropist with far greater involvement than those words typically might suggest. His numerous mantles included life trustee and former president of the Smithsonian Museum Archives of American Art, vice chairman of the Friends of Arts and Embassies and president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art American Wing Bryant Fellows. Serving on the board of 12 arts-related groups (as well as five schools), Schwartz was tapped by then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1997 to join the New York State Council of the Arts, and was later named chairman by then-Gov. George Pataki, a post he held until 1997.
While Schwartz never spoke about his achievements, or what he was most proud of, “the most meaningful” experiences were representing Pataki at firemen’s funerals with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, his wife said. “That profoundly affected him. He was staggered by the people he met at those funerals – the families, the widows and so forth. That changed him enormously.”
As a benefactor to his alma mater, Schwartz provided such contributions as the Richard J. and Sheila W. Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, Schwartz Auditorium in Rockefeller Hall, the Richard J. Schwartz directorship of the Johnson Museum of Art and the Sheila W. and Richard J. Schwartz Interdisciplinary Oncology Research Program at Weill Cornell Medical College. A doer, as well as a donor, Schwartz instinctively took action by taking the long view, if someone he knew was ill, had started a fund or was in need of help, his wife said.
“He himself got pancreatic cancer. He started a fund to help research that was led by his oncologist in whom he had great faith. It all followed like that, ‘What can I do?’ and looking around, [he would ask] ‘How can I help?'”
Schwartz’s arts-related and charitable pursuits were rooted in pure interest, his wife said. His love of horseback riding led to him start collecting Western bronzes, and eventually he served on the board of a Western art museum, before turning more attention to American art that wasn’t Western. “He learned and he learned and he liked more things. It’s a very logical progression. He got very good at it and he was very generous so he had many opportunities on the federal, state, local and community level to involve himself in arts organizations, which was a thrill,” she said.
Kate Haw, director of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, said, “Dick Schwartz was a sophisticated art collector, devoted to the mission of the Archives of American Art, and understood the importance of research. He leaves an important legacy on the art world and will be missed by the many organizations he supported.”
In addition to his wife, Schwartz is survived by his sister, Lois Schwartz Zenkel, as well as a daughter, Jenny Schwartz, and son, John Stephen Schwartz. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Sheila W. and Richard J. Schwartz Interdisciplinary Oncology Research Program at Weill Cornell Medical College c/o Laurie H. Glimcher, M.D.