Ronald Heller, 86, Fashion Designer

Feb. 21, 1931 - Aug. 07, 2017
Ronald Heller, Feb. 21, 1931 - Aug. 07, 2017

Ronald Heller, a fashion designer who at one time had his own boutique in Bergdorf Goodman, died at home in East Hampton on Aug. 7 at the age of 86. He had been diagnosed with arrhythmia earlier this summer, and his health had declined quickly since then.

Mr. Heller was born in London on Feb. 21, 1931, to Leslie and Mary Heller. He grew up in that city, where his father was a kosher butcher, but was evacuated as a child during World War II. Though he gained a place at Cambridge University in 1947, he opted to pursue the law instead. After training for two years to become a lawyer, he found that he was not suited to the profession, his family said, and decided to become a fashion designer.

He left London for a job offer in New York during the “swinging sixties,” his spouse, Bill DeNatale, wrote. There he worked for several manufacturers before establishing his own label in 1980, Ronnie Heller, which had a boutique in Bergdorf Goodman.

It was in the late 1960s that Mr. Heller and Mr. DeNatale, an artist, met, while each worked for different divisions of a clothing manufacturer in Long Island City. They had been together for 51 years, and were married since 2012.

Both traveled frequently to Paris and London for fashion shows. Mr. Heller was “a handsome and sociable character much liked in New York, London, and East Hampton,” where the couple bought a second home in 1981. Mr. DeNatale had been a frequent summer visitor to the South Fork as a child. The couple moved here full time in 2013.

“Ronnie was charming, incredibly witty, and intellectually engaged in history, film, the arts, politics, and architecture,” Mr. DeNatale’s brother, John DeNatale, wrote, adding that “he was the most stylish man I’ve ever met.”

Mr. Heller was proud to have been a part of the gay rights movement in New York City, his brother-in-law wrote. When he and Mr. DeNatale were finally married five years ago there, the judge commented on how short the civil ceremony was. “Ronald straightened his tie and said, ‘The ceremony may have taken a minute, but it took us 40 years to get here,’ ” John DeNatale wrote. Mr. Heller, he said, “was like a brother to me.”

While his career was in fashion, he also had “a special gift for interior design,” his spouse wrote. The couple “developed a wide circle of friends who enjoyed the hospitality and the elegance of their homes.”

In addition to his spouse, Mr. Heller is survived by a brother, Lawrance Heller, and his family in London.

A memorial will be held at a later date.