Certainly, my Dad made important contributions to the men’s clothing industry. But, his real legacy lies in his incredible resiliency in the face of adversity. There was no challenge which overwhelmed him, no set back which was insurmountable. I still am not sure about the source of his eternal optimism. I suspect it had spiritual origins, but he would have been embarrassed to admit it.
Murray was only 15 1/2 years old when his father, Sam, required him to join the business which Sam had founded in 1913. It was 1929 and the stock market had just crashed a few months before.
To say the least, Murray was not thrilled about going into business at such a young age. Unlike his father, his primary language was English, not Yiddish or Polish, and he relished the American schooling he was receiving. So he continued his education at night, attending Brooklyn College and eventually receiving a degree in law from Brooklyn Law School in 1938.
(Coincidentally, my father and I both had the same professor for evidence—Jerome Prince. My Dad had him during his first year of teaching and I had him during his last year when I attended Brooklyn Law School in the 1970’s. I also carried on the family tradition of being unprepared when Professor Prince called on me to recite!)
The Great Depression would inform my Dad for the rest of his life as it would for his entire generation. Most importantly, the Depression taught my Dad the importance of proper financial management. Throughout its long history and all its ups and downs, Kozinn+Sons' credit remained strong and all its obligations were always met in a timely fashion. No matter how good our product has been or how well we treated our clients, proper financial management has sustained the business for almost 100 years.
My Dad never practiced law. (Nor have I.) But, it did make him a better businessperson. During the Second World War he kept our factory busy with government contracts to make officers’ uniforms for the Army. (He was 4F due to a childhood accident that left him deaf in one ear.)
When the war ended, he was one of the champions of the “Ivy League Look.” This soft shouldered, humble silhouette was a dramatic shift from the wide shouldered macho look of the 1940’s. It soon became the trademark of a college-educated man.
In 1957, my Dad made a fateful trip to India to visit the textile mills there. He fell in love with Madras, the hand-made cotton cloth in plaid patterns that was a mainstay of Indian fashion during the hottest months. There was an explosion of orders when he introduced Madras to the US market upon his return. At left is one of our ads from that period, when we were known as Chester Laurie Ltd..
Our business during those years was primarily as a wholesaler to specialty stores around the country. And a major part of that business was servicing the stores in college towns that catered to students who wore sport coats around campus. In the early 60’s my Dad introduced hand-woven Harris tweeds to those stores and the reaction was also sensational. The picture below shows my Dad (second from the right) on the Wendy Barrie radio show in 1963 engaged in a lively discussion about men's fashion.
All this changed with the social revolution of the late 1960’s. College students leading protest marches wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a tweed jacket. Styles started changing on what seemed like a weekly basis. Wide lapels replaced narrow lapels, Edwardian looks became the rage, particularly if the jacket was made from velvet. Nehrus, leisure suits, and polyester double knits soon followed. Our conservative industry, where fashion evolved at a snail’s pace, was in revolution. Surprisingly (at least to those who didn’t know him well) my Dad welcomed these developments. He explored St. Tropez and Carnaby Street to incorporate into the Kozinn+Sons collections the flavor of those venues in which cutting edge styles thrived.
These fashion changes plus the recessions of 1974-75 decimated the independent men’s retail shops who were our customers. In order to keep our workrooms active, my Dad and I took the company in a unique direction—we would sell direct to the public, both ready-made and custom-made clothing. It proved to be the right move because we were committed to keep manufacturing in New York. We are now the oldest maker of men’s clothing still producing in the city.
I learned a great deal from my Dad besides the importance of proper accounting. He believed that our clients were the best forecasters of fashion trends if you just asked them the right questions. He also taught me the intricacies of fabric design including yarn size, spinning, fiber quality, weaving and finishing. And, he taught me to prepare for the tough times when times are good.
His wisdom will continue to guide Kozinn + Sons for many years to come.