Mary Ann Magnin – the Woman Behind the Man
Recently, I was lucky enough to acquire a beautiful and rare vintage Norman Norell for I.Magnin coat. I’m still doing some research on it, so I will post pictures when I figure out what I will do with the coat-sell it at Debutanteclothing.com or an auction house specializing in vintage clothing and textiles.
As I was doing research, I came across this fascinating and amusing article about Mary Ann Magnin, Mr. Isaac Magnin’s wife, in a 1936 issue of Time magazine. Isn’t the “internets” grand?
What’s even more interesting, from a business perspective, is that the retail store was only in the red twice as of the publication of this article-once during the San Francisco fire and the other during the San Francisco earthquake.
And with stores online going under, even with such low overhead, maybe retail store owners need to look at the Magnin model to stay in the black. What was their secret? Possibly that I. Magnin had exclusives with designers. That’s right. Exclusive Hattie Carnegie and Norman Norells.
But back to the woman behind the man.
Late in the 1870’s, the Magnin’s set out for San Francisco. There Mrs. Magnin picked a shop between the business and residential districts to catch the trade both ways. Isaac Magnin carved and Mrs. Magnin sold notions. An energetic, dominating woman, handy with her needle, Mrs. Magnin began to make and sell fancy baby clothes, gradually branching into trousseaux. The shop followed the fashionable neighborhoods, and before long I. Magnin & Co. was a San Francisco institution. Eventually the business took on a corporate existence, though the public was not let In until 1919.
The most amusing anecdote in this article was how Mary Ann Magnin, with her enterprising ways, decided whom to leave the store operation to after Isaac’s death. She consulted a palmist.
While most of the spotlight shined on the name I. Magnin, the real credit belongs to Mrs. Mary Ann Magnin, who was business savvy enough to find a good store front and started an enterprise from notions and baby clothes.