Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Passings: Max Raab, 1926-2008

Another visionary businessman--too few of whom remain today--died February 17, 2008, aged 82. A Renaissance man of the Greatest Generation, Raab founded Villager and JGHook, invented the shirtdress as well as the store-within-a-store concept to promote his Villager line. He went on to produce Walkabout, A Clockwork Orange, the Mummers documentary Strut!, and the lyrical film directed by Robert Downey, Sr., Rittenhouse Square. He also served in Occupied Japan with the U.S. Army.

For this little girl growing up in the beanfields of Oregon, Villager was IT. It defined everything that I aspired to--an East Coast casual sense of well-being and entitlement. How far was my world from that! Together with a stitched-down Pendleton reversible plaid skirt, a name collar white blouse from Charles F. Berg (a Portland specialty retailer catering to the well-heeled), and a blue blazer, Villager, Lanz, Weejuns, and more dressed and defined us female baby boomers, just before we overturned it all--favoring anything that was first of all outrageous, but more importantly individualistic.

In the '80's, Arthur Cinader with J. Crew would re-invent "preppy" and Ralph Lauren would skyrocket the look to Kennedy-esque level fantasy. Interestingly, all of these men were Jews giving tribute to the world of American wealth and power, eventually overtaking and overcoming it. As with Irving Berlin's White Christmas, looking from the outside in often brings forth the best. It's a distillation process born from exclusion and, sometimes, suffering that extracts and recognizes excellence while burning off the dross.

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