When Lands’ End founder Gary Comer wanted to shift his business from sailing hardware to apparel, Bernie Roer helped create the clothing catalog that made the company a big success.
He helped select its outdoorsy clothing, designed the pages, directed photo shoots and even recruited his kids or people he met to be models for the catalog.
Its 1977 rollout of apparel was a direct marketing triumph, Mr. Roer recalled in a 2013 interview with Women’s Wear Daily.
“It was like riding a racehorse,” he said. “We were doubling sales every year.”
A former creative director for Lands’ End, Mr. Roer died July 26 of heart failure at his home in Naples, Florida, according to his daughter. He was 96.
“Bernie Roer had an enormous impact on the early success of Lands’ End as a company and the establishment of the Lands’ End brand,” said Jerome Griffith, the company’s chief executive officer.
“He was able to take the merchandising and branding strategy and images that Gary Comer wanted and translate that into the look of the catalog,” said David Zentmyer, a former Lands’ End senior vice president.
Comer — a philanthropist who went on to fund Comer Children’s Hospital — was “the one that dreamed it up,” Zentmyer said, “but Bernie was right at his side.”
“They created a couple billion-dollar company, but, more important, they created a company people loved working for and that people loved to shop,” said John Maher, another former senior vice president.
Together, they rode a wave fed by the preppy look and increased use of credit cards. Comer and Mr. Roer also helped introduce the free 1-800 customer service number and an innovative no-questions-asked return policy, Zentmyer said.
Mr. Roer’s own sporty, preppy sense of style mirrored that of Lands’ End customers.
“My dad always looked like he was either getting off the golf course or a sailboat or going to the country club for dinner,” said his daughter Meghan Barber. “Navy blue jacket, pastel button-down shirt, white bucks.”
Mr. Roer grew up one of three brothers in Jefferson Park during the Great Depression. His mother Emelia used a wheelchair because of the after-effects of polio. His father Oscar was a tie-cutter.
Young Bernie caddied at a place where he’d later be a 40-year member: the Park Ridge Country Club. He also set pins at a bowling alley and worked as a soda jerk at the old Musket & Henriksen pharmacy at Lawrence and Elston.
He attended Lane Technical High School, where “he did the artwork for his yearbook,” his daughter said.
After graduating in 1943, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in the South Pacific as a navigator on a bomber.
After the war, he studied art on the GI Bill at the Ray-Vogue School on Michigan Avenue.
He met Joan McHugh, who would become his wife of 72 years, at a “Sunday night Catholic dance,” their daughter said. They got married in 1949 at St. Ferdinand’s church and raised their family in Park Ridge.
He landed his first advertising job at Young & Rubicam in the 1950s. Over the next decade, he worked for Campbell-Mithun on accounts including Hamm’s beer and then moved to N.W. Ayer.
Comer’s first catalog — hawking sailing equipment — misplaced the apostrophe in “Land’s End,” and he decided to keep it that way. In the mid-1970s he recruited Mr. Roer to expand the catalog’s clothing. The company, now based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, had its headquarters then at 2317 N. Elston Ave.
Photo shoots for summer gear happened in places like Naples, Florida. Winter shoots might be done in Jackson, Wyoming, or Taos, New Mexico. To find models, “Lands’ End just put an ad in the Taos paper. These male and female ski bum types showed up,” former creative director Al Shackelford said. “They got very fresh-looking, real people.”
While Mr. Roer and his photographer were out at dinner, they occasionally would invite the men and women who took their orders to be models, his daughter said, though sometimes, he found, “They looked better at night over drinks than the next morning.”
He loved to golf. He also loved sporty cars. At different times, he drove a little red MG, a Firebird and a couple of Saab convertibles.
The family home was filled with watercolors, oils and pastels that Mr. Roer painted.
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include daughters Kathy Roer and Kris Rollwagen, sons Mark and Charlie, 13 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and his brother Don.
A funeral Mass is planned for 10 a.m. Sept. 4 at St. Paul of the Cross Church in Park Ridge.