Josephine Chaus, Co-Founder and Re-Inventor of Fashion Brand, Dies at 64


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Even in hard times, Josephine Chaus, co-founder of Bernard Chaus Inc., was determined to remain the company’s chief.

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Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

Josephine Chaus, a fashion executive who founded Bernard Chaus Inc. with her husband and later rescued it from the brink of collapse, died on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 64.

The cause was cancer, said her son Ariel, the current chief executive of Chaus.

Mrs. Chaus had a lifelong interest in fashion and was working as a buyer for a store in New Jersey when she met Bernard, her future husband. In 1975 — three years before the couple married — she persuaded him to go into business as partners on a clothing brand, making moderately priced office attire for women. The company later expanded into sportswear, and it went public in 1986.

Like many companies in the apparel industry, Chaus suffered sharp swings in its fortunes. The rise of Liz Claiborne, a rival for space in working women’s wardrobes, and the temporary loss of their crucial account with Macy’s cut into Chaus’ sales and turned its thin profit to a loss. When Bernard died in 1991, at 62, Mrs. Chaus inherited a company in debt and in need of a turnaround.

“I think everyone thought I would stay home and grieve and the company would continue to decline,” Mrs. Chaus told The New York Times in 1993. “But along with the mourning process, I had to go through a fast growing process as well.”

Mrs. Chaus lowered the brand’s prices, consolidated its manufacturing, tightened its shipping logistics and expanded its retail presence, bringing Chaus back from the brink in a way that surprised industry veterans. While she recruited outside executives to help rebuild the brand, she was determined to remain the company’s chief executive, Ariel Chaus said.

“People told her to sell it and be done with it, but she wanted to hold it with the hope that her family would be able to come into it,” he said. “She was a contrarian. She did things her whole life that made people roll their eyes, but at the end of the day, she was right.”

Josephine Augello was born on Aug. 25, 1951, in Brooklyn, where her father, Sam, worked as a shipbuilder at the Navy Yard. She was raised in Searingtown, a community on Long Island, and spent a year at the University of Miami, but she left before receiving a degree because she could not afford to continue.

Besides her son Ariel, she is survived by another son, Aaron; three granddaughters; two brothers, Lenny and Patrick; and her mother, Tina.

The Chaus brand is sold today through Nordstrom, Amazon and other retailers. In 2012, Chaus went private through a merger with the fashion conglomerate the Camuto Group, which acquired all of the shares not held by the Chaus family. Last month, Camuto acquired all of the company’s remaining shares, making Chaus a wholly owned subsidiary.

Ariel Chaus said his mother was delighted that she lived to see the deal signed. Chaus currently has 200 employees and around $300 million a year in wholesale revenue, he said. “The company was her life in so many ways,” he said. “It meant so much for my mom to see that the business had made it back to the success it had in its heyday.”



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