Robert E. Gray, co-founder of Irvine-based St. John Knits International Inc., died Tuesday.

He was 86.

Gray started St. John Knits with his wife, Marie, in 1962.

The two grew the company into a major fashion brand, with high-end knitwear for women that is today sold internationally in stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom.

The company also operates 27 St. John Knits stores.

The Grays sold St. John Knits to New York-based private equity firm Vestar Capital Partners in 1999.

Their daughter, Kelly Gray, was president of the company for several years. She later launched her own line, called Royal Underground, and continues to serve as creative consultant for St. John Knits.

Their son, Mike Gray, also served as president of St. John Knits.

“Bob's legacy lives on to this day,” said St. John Chief Executive Glenn McMahon. “Bob, Marie and Kelly built an iconic American brand that is regarded today as one of the pillars of the industry.”