American department store chain
Founded: by Mary Ann Magnin in San Francisco, 1876. Company History: First branch opened in Santa Barbara, 1912; Los Angeles store opened, 1938, flagship San Francisco store opened, 1948; sold to Bullock's, 1943; to Federated Department Stores, 1964, which was acquired by Campeau Corporation (after an attempted merger with R.H. Macy Corporation); R.H. Macy Corporation purchases I. Magnin stores, 1988; Federated and R.H. Macy merge, announcing closure of I. Magnin chain, 1994; several stores bought by Saks Fifth Avenue and others, 1994-95; remaining Magnin stores renamed as other Federated retailers.
On I. MAGNIN:
Crawford, M.D.C., The Ways of Fashion, New York, 1948.
Riley, Robert, Fashion Makers, New York, 1968.
Birmingham, Nan Tillson, Store, New York, 1978.
Hendrickson, Robert, The Grand Emporiums, Briarcliff Manor, New York, 1979.
Frick, Devin Thomas, I. Magnin & Company: A California Legacy, Garden Groce, California, 2000.
Stabiner, Karen, "Store Wars," in Savvy (New York), July 1988.
Ginsberg, Steve, "I. Magnin: Seeking Solutions in the 1990s," in WWD, 9 October 1990.
Adelson, Andrea, "Retail Dinosaur Tries to Put Off Extinction," in the New York Times, 10 April 1993.
Schmeltzer, John, "A Merger on 34th Street," in the Chicago Tribune, 15 July 1994.
Adelson, Andrea, "R.H. Macy Planning to Close I. Magnin Specialty Stores," in the New York Times, 19 November 1994.***
Founded by Mary Ann Magnin in 1876, I. Magnin & Company has always stood for beautiful designs of a high quality. They were responsible for making women in San Francisco, California, among the best dressed in the world.
Mary Ann and Isaac Magnin were married in London, England, though both were originally from Holland. They moved to San Francisco in the 1870s, traveling by boat around Cape Horn. They had eight children. Mary Ann did not want her husband working on ceilings as a wood carver, because he might fall and be crippled, leaving her with a large family to support. As a result she used her skills as an accomplished seamstress to make baby clothes which Isaac sold, carrying the items in a pack on his back. Before long they were able to open the first I. Magnin in San Francisco, selling needles, thread, and notions.
The store expanded to include the fashions Mary Ann made, including trousseau, and exquisite lingerie which she made for the fashion-starved ladies of Nob Hill, San Francisco. She made nightgowns, chemises and drawers, bridal gowns, and baby clothes, ordering her lace and linen from Europe. Owing to transportation costs, these items were expensive. Nevertheless, the orders increased and she was able to hire helpers. Her four sons—John, Grover, Joseph, and Sam—were encouraged to learn about fabrics and, most importantly, quality.
Magnin's moved to a larger store, but the 1906 earthquake destroyed it. Mary Ann and Isaac operated their business from their own home until they could rebuild. San Francisco was a thriving community of people who had money to spend and was an excellent market for the luxury goods available at I. Magnin. Eventually one son, John, moved to New York where he opened a buying office. While on a visit there, Mary Ann was so impressed with a marble floor she saw at B. Altman's store that she had one put into her own store. Magnin's store was elegant and designed as a stage for their fashions. Marble, crystal, and gold leaf were used extensively throughout; just as Mary Ann emphasized the best quality in fashion, she also demanded the best for the setting.
I. Magnin showcased the work of the major designers of the times, Jeanne Lanvin, Hattie Carnegie, and Christian Dior, where they introduced their new designs to the West Coast and the United States. The customers were wealthy—the Magnin woman purchased the best of everything, and price was no consideration. Magnin's was noted for fine apparel and having fashion firsts sometimes a year before they reached other stores. Quality, as Mary Ann impressed on her sons at an early age, was always an important ingredient in the operation of I. Magnin.
In her book Store (New York, 1978) Nan Tillson Birmingham described I. Magnin's doorman who would greet the car as customers arrived to shop for their school clothes. Clothing was selected by a personal shopper who would have them hanging in the dressing rooms, waiting for the approval of the shoppers. Service to the customer was another aspect of the Magnin shopping experience.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the ownership of I. Magnin changed hands many times. In 1988 when R.H. Macy Corporation bought the luxury chain, the future still seemed bright. By 1993 R.H. Macy was struggling and attempted to revitalize the I. Magnin stores, to no avail. The following year, overwhelmed by debt, Macy closed its first Magnin store, located on Chicago's famed Miracle Mile. Federated Department Stores then stepped in and proposed a merger with the stricken R.H. Macy; in the deal all remaining I. Magnin stores were slated for closure. Several individual stores were bought by Saks Fifth Avenue and other upscale retailers, and the once world renowned I. Magnin name ceased to exist.
updated by Owen James