Jessica McClintock, a fashion designer whose romantic, lacy confections dressed generations of women for their weddings and proms, died Feb. 16 at her home in San Francisco. She was 90.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said her sister, Mary Santoro.
In 1969, McClintock was a newly divorced mother and had been teaching science and music to sixth graders in Cupertino, California, when she invested $5,000 in a San Francisco dress business called Gunne Sax.
Soon after, McClintock became the sole owner, designer and saleswoman. She had no design training, but she could sew.
Inspired by those she called San Francisco's "flower children," she began making calico, lace and beribboned pastiches known as granny dresses. It was a style — a little bit Victorian, a little bit prairie — that hippies in the Haight-Ashbury section had popularized by putting together the wares of vintage clothing stores.
Gunnes, as McClintock's dresses were known, became a cult item, and Gunne Sax became a wildly successful business. By the mid-1970s, the dresses could be found in department stores across the country. For just over $50 (the equivalent of about $250 today), you might score an ankle-length, cinched-bodice Victorian number at the Dillard's at your local mall.
That is what a 27-year-old Hillary Rodham did for her wedding to Bill Clinton in October 1975 at their home in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Hillary thought she would just throw on a dress from her closet, but her mother, Dorothy Rodham, said no way: She had to wear something new for her wedding.
They headed to Dillard's. "I saw this dress and fell in love with it," Hillary Clinton said. "I felt acutely that it was meant to be. I couldn't have done better if I'd been looking for a month."
Clinton is not the only political figure or celebrity McClintock dressed for a special event. Another is Rep. Jackie Speier, who serves California's 14th District, in the Bay Area. McClintock designed a wedding dress for her. (Speier called her "the fashion designer for Democrats" because of her inclusive price points, though McClintock was a registered Republican.)
Vanna White, who has made a career out of elegantly flipping the letters on the game show "Wheel of Fortune" clad in satiny sheaths, did so for a time in Jessica McClintock gowns.
But McClintock's bread and butter was also in gussying up young women for their proms and quinceaeras and even elementary school graduations, particularly in the heyday of the '70s, as they danced to Fleetwood Mac or Peter Frampton, their hair done in Dorothy Hamill-style bobs.
As the decades marched along, so did McClintock's styles, from pale Victorians and Great Gatsby-esque satins in the 1970s to poofy silk taffeta in the '80s to more streamlined dresses in iridescent silk in the '90s and beyond.
In 1999, when her business, a private company, turned 30, sales were at $140 million, according to Women's Wear Daily. She operated 26 stores around the country, marketed a fragrance, Jessica, and had licensing agreements for handbags, jewelry, china, eyeglasses, bedding and home furnishings.
Jessie Earl Gagnon was born June 19, 1930, in Presque Isle, in northern Maine. Her father, Rene Arthur Gagnon, was a salesman; her mother, Verna (Roberts) Gagnon, was a beautician.