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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 12, 2004

Mort Feldman of Tori Richard

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Clothing entrepreneur Mort Feldman, whose Tori Richard line of resort wear has been one of Hawai'i's best-known labels for decades, died Monday in Honolulu. He was 83.

Mort Feldman

Feldman's clothing made statements that ranged from the sleek and sophisticated to the outrageous. He sold high-fashion evening wear for women, $5 aloha shirts in the '70s for tourists and celebrated the 25th anniversary of his company with a $25,000 aloha shirt with 47 diamonds, 18-carat gold settings and hand-screened Italian silk.

Feldman was born on Aug. 16, 1921, in Boston. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and wound up in Chicago after the war as working a garment manufacturer's representative.

But post-war shortages made it tough to fill his orders, so he started his own company and made children's outerwear, said one his sons, Joshua Feldman, who serves today as president and chief executive officer of Tori Richard LTD.

He left Chicago for Hawai'i in 1953.

"The story we had, and it's been up for debate for years, is that he had a war buddy out here that he visited and fell in love with the place," Feldman said.

The elder Feldman met clothing designer Janice Moody and together they founded Tori Richard in 1956, naming the company after her daughter Victoria and one of his sons, Richard. For a while, they worked in a Quonset hut on Beretania Street.

At first the fashion house specialized in women's resort wear but later branched out to men's resort wear in the '70s, Joshua Feldman said.

"He looked around and saw there was a real lack of better sportswear," he said. "He saw an opportunity for something upscale."

Mort Feldman was not a clothing designer but he did design the prints used in many of the things he sold.

"He loved art," Joshua Feldman said. "At the end of the day, we were selling art. He had a real affinity for that. He was an artist, entirely self-taught with his own built-in aesthetic."

Friends in the garment trade are mourning the loss. Jim Romig, chairman of the board of Hilo Hattie Inc., said Feldman was one of the most talented print designers the industry has known.

"Mort Feldman was a genius with an incredible eye for style and panache," Romig said. "Nobody came close to him."

Feldman and Moody divorced years later and she died in 1977.

Feldman also was involved in many successful real estate projects, including Marina Towers and the nearly $1 million renovation of the old Primo Brewery on Cooke Street. The brewery became the Tori Richard headquarters for several years. The company is now in Kalihi.

But Feldman's high-fashion profile prompted an incident that changed his life, his son said.

In 1969, three men wearing gorilla masks invaded his Waialae Golf Course home. Feldman, two daughters and a maid were bound and gagged by the thieves who took off with money, furs and a large coin collection. They were never caught.

"Diamond shirts aside, he wasn't flamboyant after that," Joshua Feldman said. "He was a lot more humble."

Feldman is survived by his partner and companion, Darnette Narvaez; daughter Lisa Feldman; sons Jerrold, Richard and Joshua; hanai daughter Tori Wickland and six grandchildren.

Friends are invited to celebrate Feldman's life at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Pacific Club. The family requests no floral gifts. Donations can be made to the Honolulu Academy of Arts or the American Cancer Society.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.