Obituary: Bernard Lansky

by Harry Sheff

MEMPHIS—Bernard Lansky, the legendary “Clothier to the King” who outfitted Elvis Presley and many other of rock’s early stars at his Memphis shop Lansky Brothers, has died at the age of 85.

Lansky opened his menswear store in 1946, first selling army surplus. In the 1950s, he shifted to a men’s fashion business. He started selling clothing to Elvis Presley when the King of Rock was in high school. Lansky has been a Memphis institution for more than six decades, most recently at the Lansky shop in the Peabody Hotel. In 2009 he was recognized with a sign on Beale Street. In January, Lansky’s son Hal and granddaughter Julie, who run the Lansky family of stores today, honored Bernard’s 65th year in business.

“He was a great dad and a great teacher,” said Hal Lansky. “He was just so much fun to be around and he never met a stranger. He was a constant selling machine! One of his sayings was, ‘show and tell, show and sell.’ Show the product and you’ll sell the product. I think my dad invented the business card: even as a young child I remember him handing them out everywhere we went. It got kind of embarrassing but over the years he built a hell of a business! Those business cards were the social media of the time. And you’d never catch him without a tape measure. He wouldn’t ask customers what size they were, he’d put the tape on them. He was really good with people whether they were blue collar or a CEO, and they all believed in him.”

“Everyone has a story about him,” said Julie Lansky. “He was my biggest mentor—he taught me the business and the art of the sale. Learning from him over the last ten years has been amazing. I made the right decision getting into the family business! I’m very lucky.”

“There wasn’t a merchant I enjoyed visiting anywhere in the world more than Mr. Bernard Lansky,” said MR Magazine‘s editor-in-chief Karen Alberg Grossman. “To watch him in action on the selling floor was like taking a college course in salesmanship. He could charm anyone into buying anything! His passion for his work was truly contagious and it was impossible not to have fun in his store. But more than that, Bernard Lansky had a unique natural ability to connect with people, all kinds of people, and make them feel special. That was his true gift to the universe. Our industry has lost a legend.”

“I’m lucky enough to have known Bernard Lansky since I was 20,” commented Richard Binder of 34 Heritage. “He was the Mensch of Mensches, a true gentleman, unbelievably kind, considerate and respectful. He was also a marketing genius. A very special man unlike any other, a world without Bernard Lansky is the end of an era.”

Sean Heiter, national sales manager at Robert Graham recalled, “When we first started selling Lansky’s about ten years ago, Bernie was still coming to New York City and Neal Kusnetz and I would get a big kick out of the fact that he’d always greet us with ‘Hey dudes…’ ‘May we all have the style of Elvis,’ was a classic Bernard Lansky expression. But the one we really loved was ‘If Elvis were alive today, he’d be wearing Robert Graham…’ (And in fact, Lansky’s has done an amazing job selling Elvis shirts that we make for them, most recently 130 shirts in a couple of hours…) On a personal note, the Lanskys are my favorite family in the world. They even set me and my band up with a gig at BB King’s. You won’t find nicer people anywhere!”

Michael Isaacson of Tulliano said, “There wasn’t a finer man in the industry: funny, sincere, loyal, honorable… I met Bernard Lansky in 1963 when I flew to Memphis to sell him goods. It was the Elvis era and the store was packed and he worked the selling floor like a pro. He kept me there the entire day and then drove me to the airport: I thought it was because he enjoyed my company but the truth was he didn’t want me selling any of his competitors. We became very close and I went to all the Lansky family celebrations over the years. He was a sweetheart of a guy. For me, it’s like losing my dad.”

Bernard Lansky is survived by his wife of 64 years, Joyce; son Hal; daughter Anise Belz; five granddaughters, Lia Lansky Pulver, Julie Lansky, Melisa Lansky Weisman, Rachel Belz and Rebecca Belz; and two great-grandsons, Ethan and Max. He is also survived by his siblings Mildred Krasner, Frank Lansky, Bernice Banes and Alvin Lansky.

Services are scheduled for Friday, November 16 at 11am at Baron Hirsch Synagogue, 400 South Yates Road in Memphis; the public is welcome. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be directed to Baron Hirsch Synagogue, Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab or Mid-South Chapter of Alzheimer‘s Association.