Jack A. Weil, 107; his Western shirts clothed movie, rock stars
DENVER - Jack A. Weil, founder of the Rockmount Ranch Wear company whose snap-button Western shirts became popular with movie stars and rock musicians, has died. He was 107.
Mr. Weil died Wednesday at home, said Steve Weil, his grandson, president of the business his grandfather started in downtown Denver in 1946.
Steve Weil said his grandfather was the first to design Western shirts with snap buttons and also created pockets with jagged, sawtooth-pattern flaps. The snaps are often topped with real or synthetic mother of pearl.
"I learned fast you can't sell to cowboys; they have no money," the elder Weil said in a 2001 Associated Press interview. "You have to appeal to the cowboy in everyone and sell to them."
Mr. Weil's shirts have been worn in movies by Elvis Presley, Clark Gable (in his last film, "The Misfits"), and Heath Ledger ("Brokeback Mountain"). Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, and Eric Clapton have also sported the shirts.
In a 2004 Associated Press story on the company, blues and rock veteran Al Kooper said he had ordered shirts from Rockmount that week. "One of the biggest impressions on me is Elvis Presley; he wore Rockmount shirts," Kooper said.
Rockmount designed shirts for Colorado's House delegation for the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month.
The price of a shirt has gone from about $2 in the 1940s to $60 and up today, mostly because the Weils kept manufacturing operations in the United States.
"I never wanted to be the richest man in the cemetery," he told his grandson.
Jack Weil remained chief executive officer of Rockmount and went to work daily until a few days before his death, his grandson said. He was believed to be the oldest chief executive in the world.
Born in Evansville, Ind., in 1901, Mr. Weil learned apparel manufacturing while working at an overalls factory during World War I. He later was a salesman in Denver and first got into the Western field by helping a friend sell cowboy hats.
Rockmount was a wholesale-only business for its first 55 years but opened a retail outlet after Denver lost many of its mainstay stores, his grandson said.