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Weitz, John

WEITZ, John

American fashion and industrial designer

Born: Berlin, Germany, 25 May 1923; immigrated to Britain, 1934, and to the United States, 1940; naturalized American, 1943. Education: Studied at the Hall School, 1936, at St. Paul's School, London, 1936-39; apprenticed to Edward Molyneux, Paris, 1939-40. Family: Married Sally Bauner (divorced); married Eve Orten (divorced); married Susan Kohner, 1964; children: Karen, Robert, Paul, Christopher. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Army, 1943-46; became Captain; also worked in the OSS. Career: Designer of women's sportswear, working with several companies in London and New York, until 1954; founder/designer and chairman, John Weitz Designs, Inc., men's fashion designs, New York, from 1964; signed licenses with Lakeland, Gina Hosiery; also an author (from the early 1960s), yachtsman, and ex-racecar driver. Awards: Sports Illustrated award, 1959; NBC Today Show award, 1960; Caswell-Massey awards, 196-66; Harper's Bazaar Medallion, New York, 1966; Moscow Diploma, 1967; Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1974; Cartier Design award, 1981; Mayor's Liberty medal, New York, 1986; First Class Order of Merit, Germany, 1988; Dallas Menswear Mart award, 1990; Fashion Institute of Technology President's award, New York, 1990. Address: 600 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022, U.S.A.

Publications

By WEITZ:

Books

Sports Clothes for Your Sports Car, New York, 1959.

The Value of Nothing, New York & London, 1970.

Man in Charge, New York, 1974.

Friends in High Places, New York, 1982.

Hitler's Diplomat, London, 1992.

Hitler's Banker: Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, New York, 1997.

Articles

"Auto Motives," in the New York Times Magazine, 27 March 1988.

"Jocks and Nerds: Men's Style in the Twentieth Century" (book review), in the New York Times Book Review, 3 December 1989.

"Home Away from Home," in New York Magazine, 19 February 1990.

"Fashion Statements," in Town & Country (New York), July 1994.

On WEITZ:

Books

Bender, Marilyn, The Beautiful People, New York, 1968.

Articles

Talley, André Leon, "John Weitz," in Interview (New York), March 1983.

Gross, Michael, "Design for Living," in GQ, September 1985.

Ferrari, Lynn, "John Weitz: Image of Distinction," in Millionaire, December 1987.

Brady, James, "In Step with John Weitz," in Parade Magazine, 31 July 1988.

Christy, Marian, "A Stylist with the Power of Politeness," in the Boston Globe, 9 April 1989.

Harris, Joyce Saenz, "The Novel Life of John Weitz," in the Dallas Morning News (Texas), 8 April 1990.

Simon, Cecelia Capuzzi, "Can You Explain John Weitz?" in the New York Observer, 10 September 1990.

Parola, Robert, "The Way It Was: John Weitz," in DNR, 22 May 1992.

Van Lenten, Barry, "Menswear Designer Pioneers: John Weitz," in DNR, 18 January 1995.

Taffin, William E., "In the BeginningMenswear Designer JohnWeitz Helps Start the Men's Sportswear Revolution," in DNR, 18 January 1995.

Flanagan, William G., and Diana Merelman, "Tribalwear," in Forbes, 5 May 1997.

Murray, David, "Hitler's Banker: Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht," in the New York Times Book Review, 25 January 1998.

Horyn, Cathy, "Growing up Weitz," in New York Times Magazine, 20 February 2000.

***

John Weitz explained to the Boston Globe (9 April 1989) why he never wears a formal dress shirt with his tuxedo, "I wear white business shirts; I can't take the time to fiddle with front studs. The last thing I want is to be controlled by fashion." No one would sayand certainly no one would dare say in his presencethat Weitz is controlled by fashion. Rather he has treated fashion as a chosen field, one among many. He abandoned the competitive field of womenswear for a mannerly, self-invented calling in menswear. Even there, he stayed slightly aloof, choosing to be the debonair gentleman rather than fashion victim/victimizer. He has two rare personalitiesa late New York intellectual and a natural aristocrat who has seen aristocracies disintegrate, but who persists in imagining new ones.

Since the 1940s, Weitz has spoken a gentlemanly common sense about fashion for men and women. First encouraged by Dorothy Shaver of Lord & Taylor in the 1940s to pursue women's sportswear with his demanding sense of a contemporary postwar lifestyle, Weitz carried his marrow of American practicality within the genteel spirit of his own European and English cultivation. As much a man of letters and ideas as of fashion, once an adventurer who drove race cars and was solicited to portray James Bond, Weitz is a consummate gentleman in the sometimes less than genteel world of fashion.

While his great achievements in apparel in the 1950s were of women's sportswear, he became one of the first men's fashion designers in the early 1960s, shifting his emphasis to this field for its capability to fulfill his interest in classic looks, utmost practicality, and no-nonsense durability. Until Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren in the late 1970s and 1980s, no designer was as faithful as Weitz to menswear. In personal style as well as his design, Weitz exemplified the refined but unpretentious good taste that comes of humane attention to what is important in life, with clothing following as a consequence of those values. Even in the extreme years of menswear in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Weitz's vision was always tempered.

If Weitz was first a visionary of the disciplines of sportswear for women in America, he transferred his allegiance to menswear in the early 1960s when a number of designers were testing the waters of menswear, among them Geoffrey Beene and Bill Blass in America, Hardy Amies in England, and Pierre Cardin in France. Weitz alone gave his primary attention to menswear, a field where his own principal ideas had first come from observing the Duke of Windsor. Long before absorbing and ultimately creating the ethos of sportswear, Weitz had been an assistant to Molyneux in London. There, he was a part of fashion that was fastidious, client-driven, and rich in protocol and money.

When asked in Interview (March 1983) if he considered himself a couturier, Weitz replied, "Good God, no. I'm a modern-day creature that emerged from an old couture assistant into a sort of inventive concept, which I don't mind at all." His acumen for business and licensing has enabled Weitz to build an empire in menswear with a minimum of participation from the designer. His own engaging and cosmopolitan charm establishes only the guidelines for product development. In many ways, Weitz was the first to be such a designergod-like then thereafter far removed from the world of his own creation. Weitz makes a point, however, of wearing his own clothes; this is a matter of honor for a man of Boy Scoutish, even knightly, integrity.

At the end of the 20th century Weitz still offered a graceful conceptual model of a fashion designer, though he had significantly segued into other professions as well. As an author of several books, both novels and historical biographies, the designer had been spending more time writing than sketching

"Dress is a form of tribalism," Weitz commented to Forbes (5 May 1997), "People wear what their tribe wearsexecutives, blue-collar workers, undertakers, accountants. They want to feel tribally appropriate. Distinguishing yourself within your tribe is a matter of style, not fashion."

"I never planned on being a great couturier," says Weitz, who switched to menswear in 1964. "To me fashion is not an art but a craft." told People (Oct 26, 1992) While Weitz himself is a longtime member of internationally best-dressed Hall of Fame, his long wool coats still sell as do his tailored men's shirts, socks, and a host of other accessories.

Richard Martin

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