The Fur Vault’s Cofounder Harold Schwartz Dies

NEW YORK — Funeral services were held Feb. 20 for longtime furrier Harold Schwartz, who died earlier that day in his Fifth Avenue apartment at the age of 96.

An industrious person, the lifetime New Yorker was a high schooler when he started out in the fur industry as a means to give his younger brother Fred the opportunity to go to college. The rolling racks and then bustling sidewalks of the garment center were not exactly new terrain for his family — Schwartz’ father worked as a laborer in the fur industry. In turn, as the decades passed, the younger Schwartz attained his own success by running the fur departments at Bloomingdale’s and other major retailers and launching The Fur Vault. After taking The Fur Vault public in 1984, Harold Schwartz helped his sons Andrew and Ira launch their outerwear companies — Andrew Marc Leather and Free Country, respectively.

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Harold Schwartz died in his sleep and had not been suffering from any illnesses, according to his son Ira. Born in New York City to Ukrainian immigrants, Schwartz grew up in the Bronx with his brother Fred, who later started the company “Fred the Furrier.” Ira Schwartz explained, “He helped Fred go to college by going to work, and not going to college [himself]. He helped support his family in the fur business. The options were pretty limited. They didn’t have much money.”

Just 18 when he started his first company, Mademoiselle Furs, Harold Schwartz did that “more out of need than having the luxury what he wanted,” Ira Schwartz said.

Fred Schwartz later repaid the favor for his City College degree by going to work for his brother, overseeing the retail side of the business, whereas Harold focused on the wholesale part. That venture was a long-standing one, considering that Mademoiselle was merged into The Fur Vault when the latter went public on the American Stock Exchange. In the late ’60s, the brothers had joined forces with the Union Square store S. Klein to run the fur department. After that retailer closed in the mid-’70s, they linked with Alexander’s department store and later Bloomingdale’s to sell their Northern Lights label.

After branching out to other cities, The Fur Vault went public in 1984 with reported sales of $50 million. At that point the sixtysomething Schwartz was in the “third third of his career,” but he continued to work for six or seven years, Ira Schwartz said. In 1983, he had spurred on his son Andrew with the debut of his leatherwear company Andrew Marc. And in 1989, he shared that entrepreneurial encouragement with his son Ira, who launched Free Country. Harold Schwartz’ eldest son Stuart had joined Mademoiselle Furs years before.

“Believing in yourself, working, being your own boss and perseverance were the major qualities” that he instilled in his sons, Ira Schwartz said. Over time, Andrew Marc’s annual business exceeded $75 million or $80 million, and Free Country’s current volume is about $200 million.

At its peak in the ’80s, The Fur Vault developed into an estimated $200 million business. After the animal rights movement started to put a dent in the sector, The Fur Vault was sold to South Korea’s Jindo Corp. for $15 million.

“Deeply connected” to his family, the patriarch enjoyed ski weekends in Vermont and backyard tennis matches in the summer. Like his late brother, Schwartz was committed to philanthropy. A founding member of the Hampton Synagogue, he supported such Jewish charities as the Migdal Ohr and the United Jewish Appeal.  In addition to his sons, Schwartz, whose marriage to his wife Marilyn ended in divorce, is survived by their daughter, Barbara Gutman.

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