Jessica McClintock, 90, Dies; Dressed Generations in Lace and Satin

Jessica McClintock, a fashion designer whose romantic, lacy confections dressed generations of women for their weddings and proms, died on Feb. 16 at her home in San Francisco. She was 90.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said her sister, Mary Santoro.

In 1969, Ms. McClintock was a newly divorced mother and had been teaching science and music to sixth graders in Cupertino, Calif., when she invested $5,000 in a San Francisco dress business called Gunne Sax. (In creating the name, the founders, Eleanor Bailey and Carol Miller, had riffed on the idea of a “sexy gunny sack,” according to Vogue magazine.)

Soon after, Ms. 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.

Dorothy Rodham, said no way: She had to wear something new for her wedding.

Representative Jackie Speier, who serves California’s 14th District, in the Bay Area. Ms. McClintock designed a wedding dress for her. (Ms. Speier called her “the fashion designer for Democrats” because of her inclusive price points, though Ms. 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 Ms. McClintock’s bread and butter was also in gussying up young women for their proms and quinceañeras 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 Ms. 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.

signed an agreement with Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, a community organization, to promote fair labor practices and establish an education fund for garment workers.

In addition to her sister, Ms. McClintock is survived by her son. Her longtime partner, Ben Golluber, who was chief financial officer of the company, died in 1998.

Ms. McClintock retired from the day to day management of her company in 2013, only to return a year later.

Since the early 1980s, the company headquarters were in a commercial building in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, but Ms. McClintock sold the space in about 2016 and thereafter ran the business from her home office.

She lived in a Queen Anne Victorian house in Pacific Heights, which she bought from the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. With a decorator’s help she turned it into a romantic fantasy, with Venetian chandeliers, billowing pink satin curtains, inlaid marble floors and Aubusson carpets — just the right backdrop for the Old World fashions she favored.

“I have a romantic feeling about life,” Ms. McClintock told a reporter in 2007. “I like Merchant-Ivory movies and candlelight and beautiful rooms. I like the patina of age.”

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He Redefined ‘Racist.’ Now He’s Trying to Build a Newsroom.

Dr. Kendi’s book, a memoirish argument that Americans of all races must confront their roles in a racist system, has drawn attention, and controversy, for pulling the word “racist” away from its current usage as a hypercharged word reserved for the clearest cases. He thinks the word should be attached to actions, not people, and used to describe supporting policies — like standardized testing — that produce a racially unequal outcome. The focus on outcomes helped put Dr. Kendi at the center of the long-running argument about the roots of inequality. But when he published his book, he said, he was bracing for criticism from the left. It had become an axiom in some circles that Black Americans can’t be racist by definition. But the people committing racist acts in his book include President Barack Obama and Dr. Kendi himself.

And so Dr. Kendi’s work has influenced a growing newsroom debate over using the word descriptively, as an assertion about policy, rather than as a hazy, charged personal epithet. The 2019 book, and the intense focus on racism after the killing of George Floyd the next year, also transformed Dr. Kendi from a well-regarded but low-key academic networker into a mainstream, best-selling author whose book is sold at Logan Airport. He’s become what one of his friends called “Captain Black America” — a Black academic or journalist who becomes a lightning rod for the right and the object of white liberal adulation, as Ta-Nehisi Coates did after his 2014 Atlantic article making the case for reparations.

“If he didn’t exist, his critics would need to invent him, because he’s a person they can target,” said The New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

Self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to Dr. Kendi. But on his way home to put his daughter to bed Thursday, he gamely submitted to a short interview in the lobby of a Boston University building, double masked and wearing three layers of wool against the cold rain. While I waited, I read on Twitter about Alexi McCammond, a young Black woman forced to resign as the new editor of Teen Vogue after a controversy regarding racist tweets about Asians she sent as a teenager. I asked him about how his view that “racist” isn’t a permanent label for an individual squares with an unforgiving social media culture and a growing corporate culture that has translated his work into formalized training sessions — the subject of a recent critical opinion piece in The Globe.

Dr. Kendi said he would not “police” how people use his work. People should be held accountable when they’re being racist, but I think people should be able to repair the damage,” he said. “I don’t view ‘racist’ as a fixed category.” He added that he did not believe that “if someone said something racist 20 years ago or even two days ago that right now, in this moment, they’re also racist.”

That’s not how most Americans, or most reporters, use the word. But it has a clarity and flexibility that make it valuable whether you buy into Dr. Kendi’s broader worldview, which includes sweeping criticism of American capitalism. And The Emancipator is interesting in part because it’s an opportunity to put his ideas into journalistic practice.

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