MR is saddened to report the passing of Al Arden, menswear rep, talented designer, entrepreneur, and impresario, who at age 82 lost his battle with prostate cancer. He died on March 13th at his NYC home with his beautiful wife Helen at this side.
Friend and colleague Frank Schipani called him “the best salesman I ever knew and always a mensch… Al was a wonderful guy with Hollywood looks and an innate ability to forecast fashion. He created a huge business for Zanella pants in the U.S. by re-engineering the fit so it worked for American men. These were the most expensive pants in the market but everyone wanted them. (Al and Helen were models for the early Zanella ads in the States!)
“Al then started repping more advanced, directional collections, and somehow everything he carried sold out in top stores. He was cutting-edge (I remember him looking amazing wearing a black cape) and he could spot fashion from miles away. I’m grateful I got to spend time with him shortly before he died.”
Another business friend, David Rubenstein of Rubenstein’s in New Orleans, called Arden the consummate showman. “When you were shopping a collection in his showroom, it wasn’t about draping the pants and sportcoats across a table. Al would leave the room, put on the pants and sportcoat, add a scarf, and then dramatically re-enter the room looking fabulous. It didn’t hurt that he was movie-star handsome and always happy. He was the easiest guy to get along with, and he could sell you anything. His collections performed so well that of course you’d come back, and bring your friends!”
Few knew Arden better than Kjell Wikenstam, who relates that in addition to his well-known success with Zanella, Al once owned a record shop in Vegas, was friends with Sammy Davis Jr., outfitted Michael Jackson for his TV appearances, and much more. He brought many new European brands to America, had a store in Soho featuring avant-garde Japanese designers, and ultimately decided to freelance with the Trybus group. Says Gary Trybus, who worked closely with Al for many years, “Al was a super salesman and talented designer with a dynamic personality. It was a pleasure traveling with him to France and especially to Italy since he spoke fluent Italian and knew the country well. He was a tremendous asset to us at Trybus; I’m grateful to have spent quality time with him.”
No one would argue that the love of Arden’s life was his elegant wife Helen, who shares how they met. “It was at a trade show and I was modeling for one of his friends. Al saw me at the booth and asked his friend for my number, but since I had a date with that friend that evening, he didn’t provide it. But I tracked Al down and we had dinner that night, bonding immediately (despite standing up his friend). We got married a year or so later; this was 42 years ago…”
According to Helen, her parents were born-again Christians who were not too thrilled about her marrying someone Jewish. “My mother was worried because he didn’t believe in Jesus. But Al, in his inimitable way, quickly won her over, spending much time with her in the kitchen, teaching her to cook Mexican food, always helping her clean up after. They became great friends.”
Helen describes her husband as “very intense but incredibly generous and kind. I’m now hearing all these stories from neighbors in the building about the many ways Al helped them over the years. And such nice feedback from his retail clients about how Al was always so honest, always doing the right thing. He truly connected with his customers: from Barney Pressman and Murry Pearlstein to the NBA players for whom he made B&T clothing. From celebrities to ordinary types, Al loved people. He was a born salesman and adored fashion, designing, importing. His determination when he believed in something was incredible: he went back to Italy five times before Zanella let him rep the line. When Zanella refused to make their pants in black (the fashion in Italy was navy, even the mills eschewed black), Al approached Loro Piana (who made black cloth only for the Vatican) and convinced them to produce black fabric for Zanella. When he believed in something, Al made it happen; he never took no for an answer.”
For those so inclined, Helen suggests that a donation to a prostate cancer organization would be a wonderful way to help conquer this terrible disease.
RIP Al Arden: you will be greatly missed.