Irving Spitalnick, a fashion entrepreneur, longtime businessman and former Great Neck resident, died July 9. He was 88.
Spitalnick served as president of the women’s fashion group Evan-Picone throughout the 1970s, having started there as a salesman in 1962. Three years after his ouster in 1980, he embarked on a series of business ventures, including his namesake brand Spitalnick & Co. in 1983.
His youngest son, Bill Spitalnick, described his father as a personable family man who could “hold a room captive with his stories.” He also never had a bad word to say about anybody, the younger Spitalnick said, treating every person he met with dignity, kindness and respect.
“He just always treated every man as an individual. It was an inspiration to me – I live that way,” his son said. “Everybody’s a real person with the same issues and they all deserve respect. He was great like that.”
Irving Spitalnick was born on May 26, 1931, and grew up in Brooklyn, where he worked in his parents’ butcher shop and graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School. He joined the Army in 1951 and was stationed at a base in Germany, where he headed up recreation, during the Korean War, his son said.
Spitalnick got a degree from Brooklyn Tech to become a chiropractor but he changed his mind because of “baloney” claims going around about it curing cancer, Spitalnick said.
After leaving the Army in 1954, Spitalnick worked at a hosiery company and then a women’s wear company, before starting work as a salesman at Evan-Picone, Bill Spitalnick said. From there, he rose to vice president of sales, then president in 1969, and became an owner.
“When he had something to say, he definitely knew how to hold a microphone,” Bill Spitalnick said.
Palm Beach Inc., which by that point owned Evan-Picone, ousted Spitalnick “for cause.” Spitalnick told Women’s Wear Daily at the time that there was “a dispute,” but the decision for him to leave was a mutual one.
Spitalnick & Co. began in 1983, with Cynthia Steffe recruited to design the brand. The first collection, according to Women’s Wear Daily, “took a dramatic step away from the gray flannel suit and prim bow-tie blouse” prevalent at Evan-Picone in favor of sleeker and more colorful looks.
He then founded the sportswear collection Juliana around 1994, Bill Spitalnick said, as the retail environment became more driven by accounting than receptive buyers, which in turn led to greater stress on vendors.
This involved using connections and bringing clothing collections into people’s homes as a show, he said, a “very risky endeavor” that required a “tremendous amount of sampling” and inventory.
“When he recognized that challenge, he went into a completely different business,” Bill Spitalnick said. “He opened a business that sold women’s clothing directly to the consumer.”
In addition to founding fashion ventures, Spitalnick also helped two synagogues in their beginnings.
“It’s good to recognize that my dad was one of the original founding members of the Great Neck Synagogue, he was a leader in the community, and he also helped the Westhampton synagogue, which required a lot of help,” Bill Spitalnick said.
But while Irving Spitalnick took on many ventures, Bill Spitalnick said his father “never missed a meal.” He also fondly recalled trips to the warehouses growing up, seeing the Knicks (“even in the tough years,” he noted), and how people would stop by their home in the afternoon for a bite after golf or tennis.
Spitalnick retired in 2008 after selling the business so he could help his wife, Ruth, who suffered from a stroke, Bill Spitalnick said.
Spitalnick is survived by his wife; three sons, Arthur, Robert and Bill; a daughter, Bonnie; 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.