Irving J. Neuman, president of Haas Tailoring, dies

He was third-generation family member to head business founded in 1897 in Baltimore

  • Irving J. Neuman
Irving J. Neuman
December 18, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Irving J. Neuman, the former president of Haas Tailoring Co. who during the 1980s garnered national media attention for his "Lease a Suit" campaign in an attempt to dress up the nation's executives, died Tuesday from complications of Alzheimer's disease at Gilchrist Hospice Care.

The longtime Cross Keys resident was 88.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Neuman was raised on Rogers Avenue not far from Pimlico Race Course, and graduated in 1941 from Forest Park High School.

After earning his bachelor's degree in 1944 from the Johns Hopkins University, he enlisted in the Army and served with the 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion in the European Theater.

Mr. Neuman's infantry battalion, which was joined by the 28th Armored Tank Battalion, participated in the historic campaign in 1945 for the Remagen bridgehead over the Rhine that allowed Allied troops to enter Germany.

Discharged with the rank of captain, Mr. Neuman was awarded the Bronze Star for "meritorious achievement against the enemy" and a Purple Heart.

In a letter to The Evening Sun regarding the action at the Ludendorf Bridge on the Rhine, he wrote, "As an officer of one of the first infantry companies across the bridge, I shall never forget those few eventful days. … These men seized the hills on the east bank of the Rhine and suffered heavy casualties but neither unit ever retreated a step."

At war's end, Mr. Neuman returned to Baltimore and joined the Haas Tailoring Co., manufacturers of bespoke suits and military officers' uniforms, which was founded in 1897 by his grandfather, Jacob Haas, a German merchant on Broadway near Eastern Avenue.

The company later moved to a building in the old garment district at Paca and Redwood streets, where it produced garments for 50 years until moving in 1968 to a new building on Sinclair Lane in the city's Belair-Edison neighborhood.

In 1970, Mr. Neuman succeeded Milton J. Haas, who had headed the company since 1932.

Through the years, Haas suits — which ranged from $600 to $1,400 — have been worn by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush and Gens. George S. Patton, H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole had been a longtime customer as well as former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Noted lawyers favoring Haas threads have included Steve Jones and the late Johnny Cochran.

Other clients from Hollywood and the sports world included The Temptations, New Edition, Johnny Unitas, Tiger Woods, Moses Malone, James Earl Jones, James Caan, Arsenio Hall, the Harlem Globetrotters and Ravens players.

"Irving was probably one of the smartest men I've ever known. He was a real thinker who thought through things carefully before he ever willingly went into something," said a cousin, John M. Haas of Pikesville, who succeeded Mr. Neuman in 1989 and was the company's last president.

"He was a planner and an analytical person. He was a mentor and like a big brother to me in the business when I was growing up," Mr. Haas said. "Irving would give you his thoughts but would never say to do something a certain way."

In 1980, Mr. Neuman hit on a novel idea as he tried to improve and make more stylish the clothing worn by the nation's corporate executives. He thought they had fallen on sartorial bad times with their narrow-lapel suits and tab collars, and the embracement of double-knit jackets in rainbow hues.

So, for those who didn't get it, he offered help.

"A company may have its counter girls and out-front people looking right, but no one has ever discussed the image of top corporate people," he told The Evening Sun.

"Finally the head of the company says he's tired of his key men dressing like slobs. They are not keeping with the image the company tries to project," he said.

The Guilford Leasing Package, a division of Haas, would have a clothing consultant evaluate the executive's style of dress and make suggestions. Employers would then lease suits to its executives.

At the end of the lease, the executive would return the clothing, and if the contract was renewed by the company, he could select new suits to wear.

Mr. Neuman encouraged companies to renew the contracts. "Styles change, the suit gets a little shabby. You should have a man looking sharp and new, not shopworn," he said.

Mr. Neuman's plan received press coverage in The New York Times and Time Magazine.

Mr. Neuman, who was always impeccably attired, retired in 1989.

Haas was sold in 1999 to Individualized Apparel Group, a subsidiary of Tom James Co., which shuttered the Sinclair Lane plant and moved its operation to its facility in Westminster.

"Dad loved Haas Tailoring — the fabric of his and our lives for so many years," said a daughter, Cathy Neuman of Lutherville. "He also believed in giving back to the community, which is why he so enthusiastically served on so many boards and was quietly philanthropic."

Mr. Neuman had been vice president of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and had served on the boards of Sinai Hospital, where he was also treasurer, and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital.

A collector of modern art, Mr. Neuman was also an avid Orioles and Baltimore Colts fan, and enjoyed playing golf at Suburban Club, where he was a longtime member.

His wife of 22 years, the former Wilma "Mickey" McGuire, died in 1997. An earlier marriage to the former Claire Schwab ended in divorce.

Services were Thursday.

Also surviving are two other daughters, Margery Reed of Philadelphia and Patricia Neuman of Washington; and five grandchildren.

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