FIG LEAVES AND FORTUNES: A Fashion Company Named Warnaco by John W. Field

FIG LEAVES AND FORTUNES: A Fashion Company Named Warnaco

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A bittersweet corporate history that has an entrepreneurial beginning, a venturesome middle, and, for many, a sad end. A great-grandson of one of the two Warner brothers who launched a corset-making firm, Field provides an elegiac account of how an archetypal family business prospered in post-Civil War Bridgeport, Conn. The key to the enduring success of the founders (both of whom were practicing physicians) was their ability to supply women with foundation garments that afforded them a welcome degree of comfort while dressing in the hourglass fashions of the day. The one-product company prospered until the 1920's, when Jazz Age flappers forsook most of their underwear. Thanks to the tough-minded leadership of the author's father, however, Warner's survived this change in clothing styles and the Depression years. Field joined the corporate fold in 1946 after spending WW II as an overseas correspondent for Life magazine. Following more than a decade of clashes with his conservative, autocratic parent over the company's course, he led a quiet coup that made him CEO. During the author's tenure, Warnaco diversified aggressively and profitably into fast-growing apparel markets. Pell-mell expansion exacted a toll, however, and Field arranged for a new management team to take over at the start of 1977, two years before his scheduled retirement at 65. With barely concealed rancor, he recounts how his successors instituted trendy policies that, while yielding big earnings over the short run, undermined prospects for stable long-term gains. When yet another executive regime tried to take Warnaco private in 1985, it lost control to the outsiders who are now running the show. If Field becomes waspish in recounting the miscalculations of those who came after him, he shoulders a fair share of blame for the company's latter-day misfortunes and offers an evocative record of a consequential enterprise that has parallels throughout American industry. The elegant text is profusely illustrated with period-piece ads and their sexy modern counterparts, as well as family portraits.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Phoenix