Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Renaissance Man

Some people lead cool lives. Max Raab, who died recently at the age of 81, was one of those people. Truly a Renaissance man, Raab founded several successful apparel companies, helped pioneer the concept of in-store shops and produced movies in his spare time.

Back in 1958, Raab and his brother started a clothing line called The Villager. The preppy-styled collection grew into a national phenomenon in the sixties. Raab even convinced department store retailers to create special in-store shops, with their own custom look, dedicated to the brand. I can still remember its logo—the Villager name enclosed in an oval with an eagle—with crystal clarity. “Is that a Villager?” my friends and I would ask each other whenever one of us turned up in an outfit that looked even vaguely preppy. It was the first brand that we ever panted over, from its shirtdresses and wraparound dresses to its button-down shirts and madras shorts. More than that, it was the first logo that we ever really coveted. In 1969, Raab sold The Villager (it was eventually acquired by Liz Claiborne).

Even as he was enjoying success in the apparel industry, Raab had his sights set on something else: the movies. In the late 1960s, he bought the film rights to the futuristic novel “A Clockwork Orange.” He was listed as an executive producer on the film, which was released in 1971. He went on to rack up film production credits for a whole slew of movies, including “Walkabout” and “Moment to Moment.”

But as much he loved the film business, Raab couldn’t get the rag trade out of his system. In 1974, he founded another apparel company, J.G. Hook. Initially a menswear line, it expanded into women’s sportswear. He also opened a necktie manufacturing company, Tango.

In 1998, Raab left the apparel business to start a documentary film company, Max Raab Productions. He produced and co directed “Strut!,” a documentary celebration of the Mummers, and “Rittenhouse Square,” a musical rhapsody.

In the final year of his life, Raab returned to his first love: retail. He opened a shop that sells tin toys and model planes, boats and cars. Published reports said he opened the store just for fun.

Good for him.

—Marianne Wilson

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