Apparel manufacturer Kellwood Co on Monday announced the death of its chairman emeritus, Fred Wenzel.

The St Louis-based firm said the 86-year-old passed away on Friday after a long illness. He was the company's first chairman in 1964 and held the titles of chairman and president until 1976, when he relinquished the office of president, continuing as CEO until 1984.

Under Mr Wenzel's leadership, Kellwood grew from an association of 15 separate companies into one of the nation’s largest publicly held soft goods marketers with sales of over $2.3 billion in 2002.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr Wenzel," said Hal Upbin, Kellwood chairman, president, and CEO. "Kellwood’s foundation was built with his integrity, character, and business principles. His legacy and spirit are at the heart of what Kellwood is today."