MR magazine is sad to report the loss of our wonderful friend Cecile Platovsky, founder of esteemed sweater brand Tricots St Raphael, who died last week of natural causes in her New York City home at age 97.
Among 20th-century female designers in menswear, Cecile was a true pioneer. Small in stature but with a larger-than-life personality, she was dynamic, driven, creative, curious, confident but never arrogant, tough but caring, and always exceedingly elegant in her colorful custom-tailored suits, matching accessories, beautiful fine jewelry, and perfectly coiffed hair. She was also a spiritual person, always questioning, always giving back, a teacher, and a scholar with an innate appreciation of the arts. What’s more, there was a unique charm about her, a combination of the European accent (she was born in Belgium) and a genuine interest in people that shone through all her encounters. And how she loved to have fun, living life to the fullest, and sharing her joie de vivre with everyone who needed a hug. Her warm and welcoming Shabbat dinners in her magnificent art-filled West Side apartment were legendary. And how proud she was of her three sons (Gerald, Daniel, and Ronald), their wives, her ten grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, all their extended families and so many wonderful friends.
Tricots St Raphael, the knitwear business Cecile launched in 1973 at a time when the industry was run by men, was for her a dream come true: she’d wanted to design since she was a young girl; her exceptional ability to mix rich colors and distinctive patterns was unmatched. The story goes that she chose to produce in Uruguay because it was famous for wool so she assumed they’d have knitting facilities. Arriving with the name of a single manufacturer there, she contacted him and they designed a collection. Bringing samples back to a supporter in NYC, he encouraged her to do a fashion show, which generated great press and an inquiry from the buyer at Neiman Marcus. The brand ultimately became a backbone resource at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks, and better specialty stores across the country. Cecile was especially proud of the ‘Partners in Excellence’ award she received from Nordstrom acknowledging “quality, value, service, and business ethics.” Her son Ronny Platovsky, who had the pleasure of working with his mom for 18 years, remembers traveling to Seattle with her in 1995 to receive this award. “She spoke in front of 1,500 people with no notes,” he recalls with pride. “She was cheered by the audience with an ovation for a powerful and energetic speech. I feel grateful that her determination, conviction, confidence, and optimism have been passed to her children and grandchildren.”
Surely, this optimism came from her mom, Leah Swergold, who brought up her two sons and one daughter in precarious hiding during the Holocaust. “I don’t remember ever seeing her in a bad mood,” Cecile once told this writer. “She had this amazing stoicism, an ability to ‘make do’ with whatever came her way. I was her little princess but she made sure to teach me all that she thought a woman should know, including how to wash, iron, cook, clean. She’d say to me, ‘I don’t know what life will bring you but even if you’re lucky enough to have all the household help in the world, you’ll need to know what to expect from people…’” Another quote Cecile loved from her mom: “When you don’t have all the ingredients for a total meal, serve a great dessert. By that point, people will forget everything else!”
And from her dad Aaron Swergold, Cecile learned spirituality, a profound sense of believing in something beyond ourselves. “At his funeral at age 86,” Cecile once told this writer, “the rabbi said he would love to know what Mr. Swergold did to have had so much love and devotion from his children.” And what he did, according to Cecile, was simply to love them. “He gave us lots of love and taught us integrity. He was always part of our lives, always very much involved.”
A beautiful message for all of us who are parents. Thank you, Cecile, for so many inspiring life lessons.
For those so inclined, a donation to a fashion-related charity in Cecile’s memory would be a lovely gesture.