What every happened to the iconic American brand Willis & Geiger? Vice Publisher John Martin tracks down the one man who knows the really story and what transpires is a no bullshit interview and thoroughly amazing read.
Burt Avedon (cousin of the famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon) revived the company two years after it went out of business in 1977 and helmed it until it was liquidated in 1999. Now 89 years old, Burt is one of the last remaining people to have hands-on experience with the brand. His bio reads like a Most Interesting Man in the World skit: He was a pilot by age 12, raced cars, played football for UCLA, fought at Iwo Jima, was awarded a Purple Heart in the Navy, went from Harvard Business School into cosmetics and fashion, married an Italian princess, and later led attempts to excavate downed World War II planes from Greenland ice. After a short search, I tracked him down at his home in Verona, Wisconsin, to find out what had happened to what many consider to be the greatest outdoor-clothing brand of all time.
There is a lot of that with the pace of media right now, where people are always looking to see who’s putting out the newest sneakers, but there are a few brands whose authenticity is paramount.
Yeah, but unfortunately good brands of heritage are a reflection of their original management; when they become professionally managed, they lose the spark that brought them to where they are today. I found that to be classic in the industry. Whenever they go into second- and third-generation management, they lose themselves. They no longer have the passion that was originally part of their DNA.
When did your involvement with Willis & Geiger begin?
Abercrombie & Fitch went out of business in 1977, leaving Willis & Geiger as its largest single creditor due to all the private-label business. Howard Geiger was asked to chair the bankruptcy committee and turned it down because he felt that his position wouldn’t be as objective as it should be due to his many financial interests in Abercrombie & Fitch.
Elmer Ward, my roommate at Harvard Business School, was then the chairman of Palm Beach Corporation. He was intrigued with getting in on Willis & Geiger, as the industry knew what the brand was from all the private-label work it had done over the years. People like Ralph Lauren knew Willis & Geiger and wanted it. Elmer knew what I had been doing with my life, and that I could understand the spirit of Willis & Geiger and wouldn’t ruin it.
The full story here.