Members Only Co-Founder Herb Goldsmith Dead at 92

From a distinctive jacket to a series of controversial ads, Goldsmith left his mark on fashion and media

Herb Goldsmith at a book event
Herb Goldsmith's career spanned clothing, theatrical productions, bold ads and a memoir.
Trimark Press
By Tobias Carroll / March 15, 2020 4:03 pm

The history of fashion abounds with people who have created distinctive articles of clothing, some of them emblematic of an era. Members Only founder Herb Goldsmith, who died on February 22 from lymphoma, certainly fits into that category. Members Only’s distinctive leather jackets were iconic of a certain brand of cool — especially in the 1980s. The jackets continue to be made today; they’ve also had a long pop-cultural reach, from a memorable appearance on The Sopranos to featuring prominently in a certain cult work of anti-comedy.

But Goldsmith’s distinctive jacket isn’t the only thing he’ll be remembered for. As The New York Times reports, Goldsmith shifted Members Only’s advertising strategy towards, essentially, branded public service announcements in the late 1980s — a maneuver that now seems very ahead of its time. As the Times phrases it:

Mr. Goldsmith said that by the mid-’80s, he felt his celebrity campaigns had grown stale. His agency, Korey Kay & Partners, proposed public service announcements. He quickly committed the company’s entire $6 million advertising budget in 1986 and $12 million the next year.

The ads included everything from NBA star Buck Williams criticizing cocaine use to an television spot that used footage of authoritarian leaders to make the case for why viewers should vote.

In a 2016 article for Mental Floss, Jake Rossen wrote that “Members Only and its two owners had built a $100 million clothing empire by bucking trends and defying convention. ”

Goldsmith’s work also included time spent as a theatrical producer — including an acclaimed 2005 Broadway production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. His memoir, Only the Best Will Do!, was published in 2012. And the Members Only jacket remains iconic.

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