Born: Jessica Gagnon in Presque Isle, Maine, 19 June 1930. Education: Studied at Boston University; received Bachelor of Arts degree, San Jose State University, California, 1963; no formal training in design. Family: Married Al Staples, 1949 (died, 1964); married Fred McClintock (divorced, 1967); children: Scott. Career: School teacher, Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1966-68, Long Island, New York, 1968, and Sunnyvale, California, 1964-65 and 1968-69; partner/designer, Gunne Sax Company, San Francisco, from 1969, company renamed Jessica McClintock, 1986; girls line and Jessica McClintock Contemporary line introduced, 1979; Romantic Renaissance bridal collection introduced, 1980; Scott McClintock line of women's clothes introduced, 1982; first sleepwear collection presented, 1985; Scott McClintock sportswear line introduced, 1986; Jessica McClintock Collection introduced, 1987; first boutique opened, San Francisco, 1980; second shop opened, Costa Mesa, California, 1986; signature fragrance introduced, 1987; Beverly Hills store opened, 1991; introduced fabrics; new Young at Heart bed and bath line, 1996; signed license with Barth & Dreyfuss for kitchen accessories line, 1996; opened two new strores, 1998; had 27 shops by 30th anniversary, 1999; signed license for 50-piece furniture collection, 2000; introduced area rugs, 2001; fragrances include Jessica McClintock, Jessica, and Jess. Awards: Ernie award, 1981; California Designers award, 1985; American Printed Fabrics Council Tommy award, 1986; Press Appreciation award, 1986; Dallas Fashion award, 1988; Merit award in Design, 1989. Address: 1400 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, U.S.A. Website: www.jessicamcclintock.com.
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At the height of the hippie movement, Jessica McClintock joined the San Franciscan Gunne Sax Company to design their long, calico, lace-trimmed dresses, very popular with the young. Besides "granny" dresses, McClintock also designed lace-trimmed denim clothes and combined lace with linen. By the 1970s she had added prom dresses and wedding gowns, continuing to use lavish lace trim, which had become her trademark.
When the more contemporary Jessica McClintock line was introduced in 1979, Gunne Sax became the little girls' division, for which the calico, ruffled lace trimmed dresses were eminently suitable. In her San Francisco shop McClintock sold accessories, cosmetics, and her higher-priced designs, but it was for her feminine alternative to the hard-edged emerging high tech trends in fashion that she became known. A moderately priced Scott McClintock line specialized in misses' dresses and sportswear, all with the romantic McClintock look, but more sophisticated than Gunne Sax.
Gunne Sax dresses for teenagers featured ribbons, ruffles, Victorian lace collars, ballerina length skirts. In the mid-1980s McClintock drew her inspiration for misses' dresses from the 1920s, combining straight silhouettes, loose enough for maternity wear, with Victorian details of lace insertions, peplums, or high collars. McClintock designed 2,500 outfits per year, each with her unique romantic touches and femininity. The Jessica McClintock label, aimed at women in their 20s and 30s, offered special occasion ready-to-wear at relatively moderate designer label prices.
The use of man-made materials (polyester, acetate, nylon, rayon) made the lavishly decorated heirloom looks possible at a lower price. Cotton and linen are also used by McClintock, resulting in tea-gown-length Edwardian-inspired dresses in ecru, suitable not only for attendance at weddings, but for wear by the bride for a second or third, less formal, occasion. McClintock expanded into sleepwear, also romantic and nostalgic.
McClintock studied what teenagers wore to incorporate new trends, such as sundresses or the can-can skirts of 1987, and interpreted them in her own manner. Unlike Jeanne Lanvin's matching mother-daughter outfits, McClintock designed coordinating little girl-mother or older sister dresses. The fabrics, colors, and trims might be the same, but the styling and placement of trimmings differed. In keeping with mainstream fashion's more opulent evening looks, McClintock began adding deep color and black velvets into her collection, creating long, unabashedly romantic gowns. Tight décolleté bodices edged with heavy white or metallic gold Venetian lace contrasted with lush velvets falling to the floor, sometimes with a bustle effect, were more demurely echoed in little girls' dresses reminiscent of The Little Princess.
McClintock dresses were the sort that might be taken out of a trunk to be worn over and over again when a woman tires of her mundane everyday clothes. For juniors, the Scott McClintock line even offered short black velvet halter dresses, without any lace, paired with black velvet jackets. Additional sophistication was developed by the use of velvets brocaded with metallic, stiff bouffant taffeta skirts topped by metallic floral brocade jackets. More recent additions were a short sexy strapless black lace dress sparkling with all-over paillettes.
The McClintock name ran into some trouble in the middle 1990s due to sweatshop allegations, especially with the group Asian Immigrant Women Advocates. One of the McClintock's contractors was investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor, and due to several violations the McClintock business was listed among the violators published in the quarterly Garment Enforcement Report. McClintock vowed to investigate the charges and problems, and in subsequent Dept. of Labor reports was on both the violatiors list as well as the Trendsetter's list of businesses setting an excellent labor example. Commenting to Women's Wear Daily (22 November 1996) on the firm's presence on both lists simultaneously, McClintock said, "You can try your best to solve all the problems, but it's almost impossible to monitor them all the time."
By the end of the 1990s McClintock frocks were still in style—both as new apparel and even more so as retro fashion. Prom gowns were a major hit in 1997 as pastels and flowers were again the favorites of young women. Even the Jessica McClintock fragrance, introduced years earlier, remained a perennial bestseller among new scents like Clavin Klein's CK One and CK Be, and Tommy Hilfiger's Tommy Girl. In a Women's Wear Daily survey of the Top 100 most recognized apparel and accessories brands in the industry, Jessica McClintock ranked a surprising seventh, behind such varied powerhouses as Cartier, Tiffany, and Timberland.
In the 21st century the McClintock look continued to be nostalgic dresses with a sense of mystery, appropriate for both mothers and daughters. Yet over the ensuing three decades, the McClintock brand had come to emcompass far more than its well known dresses; the name graced a myriad of products including sportswear, separates, sleepwear, hosiery, baby bedding, fragrances, linens, bath collections, kitchen textiles, upholstery fabrics, furniture, and area rugs. Additonally, the company had joined of ranks of Internet retailers, introducing a website with style updates, store locations, and online sales.
—Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker;
updated by Sydonie Benét