Jews and the Fashion Industry
by Der Stürmer
“As early as 1885,” notes Joel Kotkin, “… Jews, mostly from Germany, owned 97% of all the garment factories. By the early twentieth century Jewish domination of the ‘rag trade’ [in America] was virtually complete, with Jews accounting for between 50 and 80 per cent of all haymakers, furriers, seamstresses, and tailors in the country.” [KOTKIN, p. 48-49] By 1915 the “clothing trade” was America’s third largest industry, behind only steel and oil. [LEACH, p. 93] “Jews largely created the American clothing production industry, replacing homemade clothes and tailor-made clothing.” [SILBIGER, S., 2000, p. 46]
“Jews,” says Milton Plesur, “were the chief source of operatives for the ready-made clothing industry, but by the 1920s, they constituted less than half of the operatives and by mid-century less than 28 percent. In the meantime, Jews have risen to management and ownership, thus achieving almost exclusive control of the entire wearing apparel industry.” [PLESUR, M., 1982, p. 161] The modern bra, for instance, was a Jewish marketing invention, promoted by the Maiden Form Brassiere company owned by William and Ida Rosenthal with Enid Bissett, founded in 1923. Likewise, the suits of “Hattie Carnegie [born Herietta Kanengeiser] led a fashion empire that set the pace of American fashion for nearly three decades.” [HYMAN, p. 207]
In more recent history, Jews have congregated in, and dominated, the “fashion” aspects of the clothing industry — founding everything from Guess, Gitano, Jordache, Calvin Klein, and Levi-Strauss jeans to Ralph [Lifshitz] Lauren cosmetics. (The Jordache and Guess companies — both founded by recent Jewish immigrants to the United States — were involved in particularly nasty lawsuits and underhand unscrupulous maneuvers against each other. The companies’ manipulations are documented in a 1992 volume entitled: Glamour, Greed, and Dirty Tricks in the Fashion Industry: The Bizarre Story of Guess v. Jordache. In 1985, one of the brothers who owns Jordache, Joe Nakash, was elected in Israel to be the president of the Boys’ Town Jerusalem Society. “This is the message I want to convey to those who care about Israel’s future,” Nakash said, “That in addition to providing its students with a superb education, Boys’ Town builds and develops their character, their conviction and their commitment to their homeland.” [JEWISH WEEK, 5-3-85, p. 22]
At Levis-Strauss, in 1982 Robert Haas “became the fifth generation family member to run the company (his father, Walter A. Haas Jr. was CEO from 1958 to 1976.” [MUNK, p. 36] Warren Hirsch, president of Murjani International initiated the blue jean craze in recent years with the designer label “Gloria Vanderbilt.” Alfred Slaner headed Kayser-Roth into the 1980s, “the largest clothing manufacturing establishment in the world.” [GREENBERG, M., p. 73]
French-born Maurice Bidermann (born Maurice Zylberberg) “was the mastermind of one of the largest [clothes] manufacturing networks in the world, with thirteen thousand workers in thirty-four factories. Producer of Pierre Cardin and Yves Saint Laurent suits, his plants in France, the United States and Hong Kong churned out nearly $200 million in designer duds each year … He was the older brother of Regine, the jet-set nightclub owner of New Jimmy’s and Regine’s, in Paris and New York.” [GAINES/CHURCHER, p. 196] The president of Bidermann’s companies in the U.S.? Also Jewish. Michael Zelnick.
“Of all the monarchs in the garment industry,” note Steven Gaines and Sharon Churcher, “… Carl Rosen [of Puritan Fashions; Chief Financial Officer: Sam Rubenstein] was the biggest and richest … Rosen owned two Rolls-Royces, both painted gold, and the one he kept at his Palm Springs estate once belonged to the queen mother of England … Reportedly … Carl supplied hookers and dirty weekends to Las Vegas for the buyers.” [GAINES/CHURCHER, p. 216]
“The [Dan] Millstein name [of coats and suits] had become familiar to every American household … [Seymour] Fox was in a league of his own in the fashion business, a mogul even wealthier than Millstein. Fox was known not only for his exquisite, high-priced fashions but for his grand lifestyle, replete with stretch limousines and a beautiful mistress, the Women’s Wear Daily columnist Carol Bjorkman.” [GAINES/CHURCHER, p. 49, 56]
In the 1960s and 1970s, Hartmarx “became the largest manufacturer and retailer of men’s tailored clothing.” The company, originally called Hart, Schaffner and Marx, was founded in the late 1800s by Harry and Marcus Marx. Relative Joseph Schaffner joined as a co-partner later. [SONNENFELD, J., 1988, p. 167] In Canada, Steven Shein owns E&J Manufacturing Ltd., “one of Canada’s largest wool coat makers.” [KUITENBROWER, P., 4-1-2000, p. D1] Sigi Rabinowicz, an Orthodox Jew, is the CEO of Israel-based Tefron, “a major force in lingerie.” [MCLEAN, B., 9-18-2000, p. 60] “Israel Myers — son of a tailor — originated the London Fog raincost.” [KRISCHNER, S., 9-14-00, p. 11]
In 1995 another Jewish garment mogul, Calvin Klein, who had a serious problem with cocaine and Quaaludes over the years [GAINES/CHURCHER, p. 208], was condemned by a range of parent and social welfare groups for an advertising campaign featuring images by Jewish photographer Stephen Meisel. Adolescent models, notes Henry Giroux, were photographed “in various stages of undress, poised to offer both sexual pleasures and the fantasy of sexual availability … Angry critics … called the images suggestive and exploitive, and condemned Calvin Klein for using children as sexual commodities. Other critics likened the ads to child pornography.” [GIROUX, p. 16-17] This was an old theme for Klein. Earlier suggestive commercials with and adolescent Brooke Shields had garnered condemnation from a variety of groups, including a feminist group called Women Against Pornography. (Klein’s key partner in his initial years was fellow Jewish entrepreneur Barry Schwartz. Another Jewish friend, described as Klein’s “mentor,” was Nicholas de Gunzburg, the “fur and fabric editor” of Vogue magazine). [GAINES/CHURCHER, p. 97-98]
The Guess company (founded by the Jewish Marciano brothers, who share control of the firm with the Nakash family, who are also Jewish) has also followed the same advertising strategy to sell jeans. “Media Watch,” noted the Los Angeles Times in 1990, “a feminist group in Santa Cruz, has called for a boycott of Guess, charging that its ads demean women, integrating sex with violence.” [SCHACTER, J., 1990, p. D1]
Elsewhere, Estelle Sommers founded the Capezio dancewear brand, Ann Klein [originally Hannah Golofski] has become a widely recognized “designer” brand, as has Donna Karan and her DKNY label. Isaac Mizrahi and Tommy Hilfiger are other famous Jewish fashion brands, as is that of the Iranian-Jewish mogul of perfume and self-promotion, Bijan (Pakzad), also known as the “designer of what’s probably the world’s most expensive menswear.” [DORFMAN] Rudi Gernreich and John Weitz are other Jews who have been prominent fashion designers. Designer Arnold Scassi’s last name is Isaacs (his original surname) spelled backwards. Kenneth Cole (originally: Kenneth Cohen) developed popular lines of shoes, belts, and leather jackets. Judith Lieber manufacturers luxury handbags.
Liz Claiborne founded her company with her Jewish husband Arthur Ortenberg and Leonard Boxer. She retired in 1989 whereupon Jerome Chazen became chairman of the firm. Other prominent executives in the company are Harvey Falk and Jay Margolis. In 1988, Nicholas Coleridge listed the American “power buyers” (those who buy for stores) of the fashion world. Most of the people listed are Jewish, and a huge percentage of the stores are Jewish-owned:
“Daria Retain, fashion director of Neiman Marcus; Ellin Saltzman, director of fashion and product development at Saks Fifth Avenue; James Fowler and Mary Talbot, vice-president and design buyer of Jacobsons Stores, Michigan; Kaye von Bergen, designer buyer of Bendel’s; Lois Ziegler and Sue Bicksler, fashion directors of J.C. Penney; Bernie Ozer, vice-president of the Associated Merchandising Corporation; Barbara Weiser of Charivari; Barbara Warner, formerly of Barneys, who virtually single-handedly turned the store into an upbeat designer terminus; Lynne Manulis, president of Marthas; Joan Weinstein, president of Ultimo; James Sullivan, fashion director of Jordan Marsh; Missy Lomonaco, fashion director of Bonwit Teller; Betty Hahn, designer buyer of Garfinkels, Washington; Jean Navin, vice-president and fashion director of Lord & Taylor; Kal Ruttenstein, vice-president and fashion director of Bloomingdales; Terry Melville, fashion director of Macy’s; and Sal Ruggerio of Marshall Field, Chicago.” [COLERIDGE, p. 259]
In 2000, the National Post noted the heart of the garment district in Montreal, Canada — the Jewish center of Chabenel Street. The article addressed the bribery of store buyers by clothing makers and its long tradition in the Jewish community. (In Yiddish: “Az men shmert nit, fort men nit.” — If you don’t bribe, you don’t ride). Kickbacks, noted Doug Robinson, a Canadian fraud squad officer is “a dirty secret of the industry.” [KUITENBROWER, P., 4-1-2000, p. D1]
Elsewhere, Israeli-born Elia “Tahari is among the most respected names in department and specialty stores.” [HOOD, p. 1E] In California Severin Wunderman’s company, the Severin Group ($500 million a year in sales), remains “the sole manufacturer, marketer, and distributor of Gucci timepieces and Fila sports watches.” These products’ retail cost run between $225 and $14,000 apiece. “The word ‘demanding’ is repeatedly used to describe [Severin]. In addition to shouting and breaking things, he has tossed more than one cellular phone out the window of his chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.” [HOWLETT, p. E1]
The head of the French luxury jewelry firm, Cartier, is also Jewish: Alain Dominique Perrin. In 1996, during a visit to Israel, he announced “plans to donate an unspecified percentage of the revenue from the sale of $10 million worth of jewelry to WIZO [the World International Zionist Organization].” [CASHMAN, 1996, p. 14] Kenneth Jay Lane, “the fake jewelry king,” [HORYN, C., 12-12-99, sec. 9, p. 1] is also Jewish. Nudie Cohen, head of Nudie’s, was the “costume designer who pasted Nashville in rhinestones in the 1940s and ’50s.” [LONGINO, M., 9-8-2000] He supplied the Hollywood/Las Vegas cowboy image to people like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Others fitting such stars were “Nathan Turk and his East coast counterpart Rodeo Ben (Bernard Lichtenstein), both Eastern European immigrants” whose “clothes brought western wear into its heyday.” [MOORE, B., 2001, p. E3] Adrian’s was the logo of Adrian Goldberg, a famous dress designer for Hollywood in the 1930s and ’40s. Sidney Toledano is today’s president and CEO of Christian Dior.
The Chanel company, which makes “the most expensive perfume in the world,” was founded by non-Jew Co Co Chanel, but built to power by the Jewish Wertheimer brothers. As the London Independent notes: “In 1924 [Chanel] sold 90 per cent of the rights to Chanel No. 5 to Pierre Wertheimer, who, with his brother Paul, owned Bourjois, the largest cosmetics company in France … They bought out Chanel — couture house, perfume and all — in 1954.” [JOBEY, L., 11-27-90, p. 12] Feeling that “she was being cheated” by the Wertheimers, Chanel had sued them in 1934. [MOUBRAY, J., 2-10-98, p. 18]
Elsewhere in France, in 1995 Jean-Pierre Meyer became Deputy Chairman of the L’Oreal cosmetics giant, suceeding Andre Bettencourt (whose father founded the firm). Meyer, who is Jewish, is married to Bettencourt’s daughter.
Diane von Furstenberg (original name: Diane Simone Michelle Halfin) founded a “fragrance and fashion empire.” Stanley Kohlenberg, head of Revlon’s domestic Group III, was “recognized as one of the premiere marketing men in the fragrance industry.” [GAINES/CHURCH, p. 182] Samuel Rubin founded the Faberge perfume company. Max Factor built a cosmetics empire, including waterproof mascara and long-lasting lipstick. Helena Rubenstein sold “beauty and royalty.” “The names [of Jewish entrepreneurs] Helena Rubenstein and Estee Lauder [born Josephine Esther Menzer] became virtual synonyms for cosmetics in the twentieth century.” [HYMAN, p. 27] Adrien Arpel opened 500 skin care salons across America. “A legend in the cosmetics industry…. although Arpel is not a formally observant woman, she is very conscious of her Jewish identity.” [HYMAN, p. 67-68] Vidal Sassoon built an business empire based on hair care. (Sassoon, funder of a research unit on anti-Semitism at an Israeli university, was the recipient of the first American Jewish Congress “Beauty Hall of Fame” award). Non-Jew Grace Mirabella, for 17 years the editor of Vogue magazine, notes that “all the models, actresses, and photographers of London” hung out a Sassoon’s hair studios. [MOIRABELLA, G., 1995, p. 127]
Jack Rosen is chairman of the Hazel Bishop cosmetics company (as well as being the CEO and chairman of Continental Health Affiliates and the CEO of Infu-Tech, two major health care corporations). [PR NEWSWIRE, 3-13-98] Shirley Polykoff at Clairol introduced to America her advertising catchphrases: “‘Does she or doesn’t she?,’ ‘If I have only one life to lead, let me live it as a blonde,’ and ‘Hate that gray, wash it away.'” [BAER, p. 158] The Gottleib family founded the Gottex swimmear line. Marvin Winkler (philanthropist of an Orthodox Chabad “Immigrant Camp” in Hollywood) and Jay Schottenstein bought the Gotcha surf wear company in 1996 (also including the MCD and GirlStar brands. Adam Tihany is one of America’s best known upscale “restaurant designers,” his work includes Manhattan’s Le Cirque 2000. Maurice Stein owns Burbank, “one of the world’s largest suppliers of cosmetics, skin, and hair products to the entertainment industry.” [WILGOREN, p. A1] Israeli-born Gil Gamlieli is co-owner of “Manhattan’s celebrated Gil Gamlieli Beauty Group.” [EPSTEIN, M., p. T6] Even a Satmar hasidic Jew, Victor Jacobs, is CEO and Chairman of Allou Health and Beauty Care.
Chicago’s Irving Harris became a millionaire with his ToniHome Permanent. Mr. Blackwell — creator of the world’s “worst” and “best” dressed lists, is a Jewish fashion designer who changed his name from Richard Selzer to Dick Ellis to, lastly, Blackwell. Britain’s Trevor Spero founded the Flame model agency and Scene magazine, which covers the fashion industry.
New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology “grew from the dream of a small group of successful Eastern European Jewish immigrant manufacturers … [who ultimately created] a thriving college of art and design, business and technology. [NEWSDAY, p. A39] FIT’s chairman of the board was still in Jewish hands in 1998, in the person of Edwin Goodman. “By the late 1930s,” notes Henry Feingold, “Jews could be also found in the creative departments of the full-service advertising agencies as the experts in marketing surveys, motivation research, and the psychology of consumption.” [FEINGOLD, p. 104]
Brett Goldberg sells Dead Sea mud as a skin lotion. His business (Ahava’s hand cream) took off when he met and married Eve Berenblum, head of Sak’s cosmetics department. The American-born Goldberg has dual American-Israeli citizenship and volunteered for the Israeli army. [BERMAN/SANDERS, 1-11-99] Sydell Miller and her husband Arnold started Matrix Essential, a hair care and skin products company.
Sidney Kimmel heads the Jones Apparel Group; its clothing lines include Jones New York, Evan-Picone, Saville, NineWest shoe stores, and movie production interests. The CEO of the Jo Ann Stores chain (1065 stores nationwide; also sometimes called Cloth World and Jo Ann Fabrics) is Alan Rosskamm. Co-founded by his father, the firm’s 1997 sales alone were $975 million.
Bob Sockolow is the president and CEO of San-Francisco based Rochester Big and Tall Clothing. The founders of the Banana Republic clothing retail chain were Bill Rosenszweig, and Mel and Patricia Ziegler. The Eddie Bauer outdoor clothing empire is headed of course by Eddie Bauer; he is also Jewish. Jeffrey Swartz is the president and CEO of the Timberland shoe and boot firm.
In 1997 The Limited Inc. (Leslie Wexner, CEO) was accused by the AFL-CIO of subcontracting garment work in the Dominican Republic that paid workers $21 for an 80-hour work week. The Limited’s 3,000 outlets and brands include Abercrombie and Fitch, Structure, Express, Lane Bryant, Henri Bendel, Bath & Body Works, and Victoria’s Secret, among others. [FORWARD, 5-30-97, p. 1] (Abercrombie and Fitch’s 2001 summer catalogue attracted a coalition of groups as diverse as the National Organization for Women and Concerned Christian Americans in protest. The catalogue was condemned as “soft porn.” An earlier A&F catalogue — Naughty or Nice — was “denounced” by the Michigan attorney general’s office.”) [CRARY, D., 6-22-01]
In 1986, Linda Wachner, also Jewish, president of Max Factor, U.S. Division, maneuvered a hostile takeover of the Warnaco Group, effectively seizing control of much of the women’s underwear market (including the brand names Warners, Olga, Valentino, Scaagi, Ungaro, Bob Mackie, and Fruit of the Loom). Wachner was henceforth the CEO of Wanaco, “one of the highest paid and most powerful businesswomen in America in the 1990s.” [HYMAN, p. 27]
Elsewhere, Howard Gross is the CEO of Miller’s Outpost’s chain of 220 stores; Robert Siegel became the CEO of the Stride Rite store chain in 1993. Donald Fisher is founder and CEO of the giant clothes retailer The Gap. He too is Jewish, [ALTMAN-OHR, A., 4-14-2000, p. 64A] as is Millard Drexler, another top executive at the company.