Jessica McClintock, influential San Francisco designer who dressed ladies in calico and lace, dies at 90

From her headquarters on Potrero Hill, Jessica McClintock ran a clothing empire that at its peak ran dozens of stores across the country, supplying women with dresses, handbags, watches, glasses and a perfume reminiscent of Jasmine.

The influential designer died in her sleep on February 16, in the middle of what her website called the Month of Romance, “when most weddings are planned.” McClintock was 90 years old.

McClintock sold fantasy as well as plaster. Her silky, silky creations cost three figures, not four or five. In later years they were sold at Marshall’s, not Saks, and Nordstrom Rack, not Nordstrom. But at the height of her empire, in the 1970s and 1980s, she adorned dozens of women in calico, jute, and lace for proms, graduations, and the wedding altar.

One of them was Hillary Rodham, who wore a ruffled long sleeve McClintock dress when she married her law school sweetheart, Bill Clinton, in 1975.

The Jessica McClintock look was called the Prairie Girl aesthetic and was very, very tall until it wasn’t like that in any way.

Her success was a mixture of inspiration and an almost burdensome work ethic.

“Time is everything,” she liked to say. “The competition is tough. Decisions have to be made quickly. “

McClintock was born Jessica Gagnon on June 19, 1930. Gagnon, the daughter of a shoe retailer and beautician, was from Presque Isle, Maine. She learned tailoring from her grandmother and never officially studied design. She graduated from San Jose State University and taught young students at Nimitz Elementary School in Sunnyvale in the 1960s. Her first husband, Al Staples, died in 1963. She and her second husband, Fred McClintock, a commercial airline pilot whom she once referred to as “the love of my life,” were divorced in 1967.

Jessica McClintock’s reinvention as Style Maven began a few years later. She remembered selling barefoot dresses in Berkeley in 1969. A year later, she invested $ 5,000 in a friend’s clothes store in San Francisco called Gunne Sax, and in a few years her fashion was being sold worldwide. She opened her first store in San Francisco in 1981. Your empire is said to have annual sales of $ 100 million.

Not only did McClintock work long hours, he asked her colleagues to do the same. Her half-brother and vice president of the company, Jack Herich, thought moving to California in the 1960s to work for McClintock would lead to an easy life.

“I thought I was going to be a beach goer,” he said in 2011. “I’ve been to the beach once every 40 years.”

McClintock’s half-century career was not without controversy. Two decades ago, a clothing store in the Mission District that was sewing their clothes was found to be in breach of labor standards and liable for unpaid wages. She and others paid $ 120,000 to settle the case.

After their stores closed, McClintock’s fashion and other products were licensed and continued to be sold in non-valet stores. She was still at work in her eighties overseeing licensing deals and marketing strategies. A Chronicle reporter asked her in 2011 if it was okay to sell mid-thigh strapless dresses to young girls.

“Are you kidding?” McClintock said. “With everything in the world today? Everything is so seductive! Sure, I’ll keep the clothes short. But the girls can wear leggings. “

On the McClintock corporate website, which it survives, the domain was described as “an enchanted lifestyle brand … always in touch with the desires of young women”.

In 2018, McClintock and her son established the Scott and Jessica McClintock Foundation to support environmental efforts, particularly those related to elephants, rhinos and mountain lions.

She is survived by her son Scott. A memorial service will be held in San Francisco at a later date.

Steve Rubenstein is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @SteveRubeSF

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