Herb Goldsmith 1927-2020

Members Only magazine ad, Gatlin brothers modelling, c. 1983

Herb Goldsmith was the man behind the Members Only brand. Born in the Bronx on September 3, 1927, his father was a traveling salesman for the garment company Chief Apparel. Herb served in Northern Italy during World War II where he worked as a disc jockey on Armed Forces Radio. Afterwards he went to Long Island University on a G.I. bill and graduated in 1950 with a degree in marketing. He then went to work for his father who, with partner Edwin Wachtel, had founded the company Europe Craft Imports.

While working for this company, Herb came up with the idea of using celebrities to sell clothes, including Tony Curtis and Bing Crosby. In the 1970s he came up with the name ‘Members Only’ for a clothing line – the idea was borrowed from a sign he saw at the Long Island Country Club. In 1978 Herb copied the idea for a jacket with epaulets and a Nehru collar he had seen on a trip to Germany, adding a ‘member’s only’ tag below the breast pocket, and offering his version in a rainbow of colours. The line was so successful, the whole company was renamed Member’s Only.

In 1986 he felt celebrity advertising was becoming stale, so he took the company’s six million dollar advertising budget and switched to making sponsored public service announcements. The first public service campaign addressed the crack epidemic, the second urged people to vote. Some television stations refused to show the spots but they received advertising industry awards and sales climbed 25% over the next four years.

Herb sold his company and left the garment business in 1992 to become an investor and broadway producer. Members Only jackets are still being made. Herb Goldsmith died February 22.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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