Obituary: Men’s Industry Icon David Rappaport, 1914-2010

NEW YORK—It is with much sadness that MR reports the passing of David Rappaport, renowned artist and apparel manufacturer, founder of Damon Creations and friend/mentor to so many in our industry. David was born in 1914 in East Harlem, the son of immigrants from Minsk and Belarus. From a poor background, David built a more-than-comfortable life for his family based on his intelligence and amazing work ethic. As his son Michael tells it, “In the 1930s, my dad was able to secure a job as a ‘packer’ at a neckwear company. When he asked for a $5 raise from his boss and was denied, he decided to go into business for himself. Fortunately, he didn’t realize that with only $700, the idea was flawed. He slept on the cutting table many nights in order to get orders out in time.”

As editor of MR, I first met David when we launched the magazine in 1990. It was after Damon had closed and David was running a one-man neckwear business selling beautiful ties to Saks, Barneys and other upscale stores. Rather than touting his collection, David always went out of his way to teach me the business, to make sure I understood the nuances, to connect me with all the right retailers, including store presidents. (He’d also yell at me when he noticed that my appointment book was messy: he’d show me how to set up charts and grids to stay organized…). He didn’t have to do this; he was a generous man in every way and I am grateful for his friendship.

Says Tom Kalenderian of Barneys (who featured David’s artwork in the store’s Madison Avenue windows in 1997), “David Rappaport was an amazing human being, a true Renaissance Man. He had so many great qualities; his creativity, courage, drive and intelligence were dwarfed only by his genuine humility. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to know David’s greatness.”

Mike Gould from Bloomingdale’s says he was always taken by David’s broad scope of interests. “He was so much more than a menswear guy. His paintings, his general intelligence made him really interesting to talk to. He was always a true gentleman.”

Neal Fox of Mark Cross recalls first meeting David while planning an industry event many years back. “I was on the board and David asked if there was anything he could do to help. I told him it would be nice if he could send some clothing to the homeless. The next week, cartons and cartons of clothing arrived, more than I ever imagined…”

Mort Gordon recalled Rappaport’s work ethic: “I believe the word workaholic was invented to describe David Rappaport. The knit business was his life and he immersed his wife, brother and sons as much as he could in the endeavor. He once tried to hire me and we met at his office on a hot, late Friday afternoon and he proudly showed me this high pile of papers he would work on over the weekend. I asked how many weeks I would have to be on the road and he answered: About 48 and I would expect you to leave on Sunday night and not return till Friday night. That ended the interview then and there.”

“David was an entrepreneur when there were few,” said Mary Ann Wheaton, an executive who first got noticed for award-winning TV spots she did at Damon. “He was always demanding perfection and passion from those around him, yet with a vision of what not only he, but you, could accomplish.”

Noted designer Iris Apfel met David many years ago on the occasion of her first date with her future husband (to whom she’s been married 62 years). “We were at a dinner/dance at the Atlantic Beach Club and I was wearing this fabulous silk foulard print dress in shades of rust and gold. David went crazy about the pattern and all night long he was running after me with a little scissors, trying to get a tiny swatch… (No, he didn’t get it!) We ultimately became friends, I decorated several of his homes, and learned so much from him, including to look outside one’s own industry for ideas.”

David’s son Errol, who manages his dad’s extensive art collection (www.DavidRappaportArt.com), points out that David had suffered a serious stroke when in his 80s that immobilized his right hand. “Due to his indomitable will and the extraordinary support of his wife Frances, he survived. But it was his love of life that enabled him, against all odds, to learn to paint with his left hand. Painting renewed his drive and will to enjoy each day as if it were the only day.”

David is survived by Frances, his beautiful wife of 71 years (herself a talented artist and designer), his three sons Michael, Errol and Richard, four grandchildren (Jordan, Andrew, Scott and Jil) and three great-grandchildren (Aden, Dylan and Dorian.) Sums up his son Michael, “My dad was a great guy who wanted to share his knowledge with everyone who wanted to grow. Where do we sign up so that when our life’s work is done, our bodies exhausted, our loved ones secure, we can close our eyes and rest forever, sparing our loved ones continued pain?”

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