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John Weitz papers

 Collection
Identifier: KA-0047

Overview

A leading figure in the development of American ready-to-wear clothing, John Weitz (1923-2002) established one of the first American signature menswear lines. Through various licensing arrangements combined with self-referential advertising campaigns, he established an international consumer base. In addition to fashion design, Weitz pursued an array of other interests, becoming a successful race car driver, yachtsman, bestselling author and photographer. Weitz was a visiting lecturer at Parsons School of Design between 1975 and 1995. The collection includes sketches and design drawings, exhibition files, scrapbooks, newspaper and magazine clippings, publications, photographs, and audiovisual recordings of promotional campaigns, fashion shows and television commercials.

Dates

  • 1945 - 1998

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Biographical note

John Weitz was an American fashion designer best known for his menswear collections and for his pioneering in the field of fashion licensing. Additionally, Weitz's effective use of his name and likeness in fashion marketing presaged the widespread practice in later decades.

Born in Berlin in 1923, John Weitz (born Hans Werner) completed his education in London at the Hall School and at St. Paul's School, after which he apprenticed with fashion designer Edward Molyneux. Weitz's parents, assimilated German Jews, immigrated to the United States in response to the rise of National Socialism. Weitz was able to re-join his family in the United States after a stay in Shanghai, a city in which many German and Austrian Jewish refugees lived during the late 1930s. Weitz became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces that year. He served through 1945, returning to Germany as an American soldier. Over four decades later, the Federal Republic of Germany honored him with a First Class Order of Merit for his wartime contributions.

In the late 1940s, Weitz began designing women's apparel and was noticed by Dorothy Shaver of Lord & Taylor, thus beginning a multi-decade relationship with the retailer. Weitz initially specialized in women's sportswear and was often featured in print advertisements with sports cars, a serious hobby that he would cultivate and employ extensively in fashion styling and marketing (in 1979, he designed his own car, the X600, and used Bloomingdale's store windows as the site of its first public display). Weitz also made numerous in-store appearances to promote his clothing, serving as commentator for his own fashion shows, an uncommon idea at the time. He would continue this practice into the 1980s.

By the mid-1960s, Weitz had primarily shifted his attention to menswear and is recognized today as one of the first American menswear designers. He received a Special Menswear Coty Award in 1974. Weitz also frequently expressed his opinions regarding how American men should dress, groom, and conduct themselves, writing articles, being interviewed by style journalists, and appearing on television and radio programs to promote his mantra of functionality, modernity, and masculinity. Cosmopolitanism played a large role in the marketing of Weitz's menswear, with Weitz proposing that a modern man should be at home anywhere in the world. Weitz returned to designing women's apparel in 1979 with a much-publicized women's collection. He would design both men's and women's clothing for the rest of his career as a fashion designer.

A savvy businessman, Weitz was one of the earliest American designers to enter into licensing agreements. His name, likeness, and signature were associated with numerous accessories and a wide range of men's apparel, making him a multi-millionaire. In 1954, Weitz left Lord & Taylor to found an independent company, John Weitz Designs, Inc., although his menswear continued to be sold through Lord & Taylor's Man's Shops.

In 1968, Weitz entered into a major licensing deal with Teijin, which at that time was a fabric manufacturer. Teijin sold John Weitz Design fashions and home furnishings to Japanese consumers through the Daimaru department store chain, a venture that lasted several decades. Weitz traveled regularly to Japan, making in-store appearances throughout the country. As in American campaigns, Japanese print and television advertising relied heavily on Weitz's likeness and represented him as an "all-American" man. By 1981, the Japanese market represented approximately 30% of Weitz's retail sales ("Japan Ready Market for U.S. Clothing," DNR, June 29, 1981). Weitz also entered into licensing agreements with department stores in Mexico and in the U.K.

In 1970, Weitz published a best-selling novel about the fashion world, The Value of Nothing (his first book Sports Clothes for Sports Cars, appeared in 1958). Four years later, he released an advice book for men, Man in Charge: The Executive's Guide to Grooming, Manners, and Travel. In 1982, he turned his attention to historical fiction, writing about a young man in Nazi-era Germany in Friends in High Places. This was followed by two works of non-fiction in the 1990s, Hitler's Banker and Hitler's Diplomat. In addition to book-length works, Weitz wrote extensively for a variety of publications as a columnist and contributor. Frequent topics include fashion and style, cars and driving, New York City, and Nazi Germany.

John Weitz died in 2002 in Bridgehampton, Long Island at the age of 79. His is survived by his third wife, actress Susan Kohner, and four children.

Extent

34.4 Cubic Feet (23 boxes, 33 oversize boxes, 5 oversize folders)

Language of Materials

English

Japanese

Scope and Contents

The John Weitz papers document the practice of fashion design and marketing in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century through administrative files, artwork, clippings, correspondence, drawings and design sketches, exhibition records, photographs, printed materials and publications, reports, scrapbooks, and audiovisual materials.

The papers are of a professional nature, either created and received by John Weitz in his capacity as a designer, artist, or author, or by John Weitz Designs employees Helen Berkowitz, Barbara Khoury, Andrea Peterson, and Michael Wynne. Files chronicle the relationship between fashion designers, textile manufacturers, and the garment industry. In addition to men's, women's, and children's clothing, the papers also include designs for a sports car and a yacht. Weitz's roles as author and artist are also documented, though not extensively.

In addition to fashion and product design, the papers evince a range of fashion merchandising practices, from fashion illustration and photography, to advertising copy and marketing campaigns represented by press kits, publications, and highly choreographed fashion shows. Roughly five decades of fashion marketing materials are present. The John Weitz papers also provide a window into a vanished world of family-owned, regional retailers and localized fashion merchandising. Because Weitz was one of the first American designers to enter the post-war Japanese retail market, the papers are noteworthy for including documentation on promoting American fashions to Japanese consumers.

Advertisements for John Weitz Designs were innovative in their use of celebrity and lifestyle marketing. They also frequently exploit anxieties regarding evolving gender roles, such as humorous campaigns for women's office attire and seasonal collections with suggestive titles like "Big Man." Weitz, along with his longtime advertising agency, C. J. Herrick Associates, recognized the increasing sophistication of American consumers, developing brand-focused advertising featuring John Weitz's face, name, and logo rather than products. In 1979, Weitz became the first designer to advertise on New York City municipal buses (WWD, Janaury 31, 1979, p. 27). Another campaign involved excerpts of mock stories (written by Weitz) in which John Weitz Designs' products are mentioned by name within the context of the story. The increasingly self-referential advertising generated much publicity on its own. The papers include extensive publicity materials for John Weitz Designs' apparel and licensed products.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 5 series: I. Exhibition files, circa 1979-1989; II. Professional files, 1956-1996; III. Project files, 1958-1991; IV. Publicity, 1945-1998; V.Scrapbooks, 1951-1993

Other Finding Aids

For selected item-level description and images from the John Weitz papers, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at http://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/KA0047.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Susan Kohner Weitz, John Weitz's wife, 2004.

Related Materials

Photographs of John Weitz acting as a visiting critic for the Fashion Design Department of Parsons School of Design will be found in the Parsons School of Design photograph collection (pre-2008 accessions) (PC.04.01.01).

The Fashion Institute of Technology holds an oral history recording conducted with John Weitz and video recordings of his fashion shows.

Processing note

Because John Weitz Designs consistently re-used older materials in new advertising campaigns, multiple copies of materials in a variety of formats were encountered throughout the files. Additionally, many reproductions of clippings, photographs, and other printed materials were created in the preparation of press kits and mailings. When multiple copies were encountered during the processing of this collection, a sample was retained, with preference given to formats closest to the original (i.e., negatives, sketches) and to the final product. Materials documenting the design process, such as proofs with markings or reproduced sketches with annotations have also been saved.

File titles have been changed or altered when the original title was absent, unclear, repetitive, or inaccurately labeled.
Title
Guide to the John Weitz papers
Status
Completed
Author
New School Archives and Special Collections Staff
Date
September 19, 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
English