Joseph Magnin

The Gracious Mrs. M N

“You’re working on a book about the old stores? Joseph Magnin? I know Ellen Magnin Newman, and maybe we can arrange for you to talk with her.” YES! I thought. Mrs. Newman was the last of the old guard who were involved with these seminal stores, and I was very excited at the thought of meeting her face to face and hearing her stories. We arranged the meeting through her assistant, then there I was, in her office looking out over Union Square.

Although she is in her late 80s, Mrs. Newman still comes to her office, which is filled with memorabilia from her years at Joseph Magnin and her other business and civic endeavors. 

We settled in and started to talk, and she figured out that she and my father had grown up across the street from each other. That helped give me some credence as I started in asking her about the genesis of JM and her family’s role. Her father, Cyril Magnin, was a true San Francisco original, and had quite a profile as the city’s first Chief of Protocol.

Mrs. Newman was very generous with her stories and her memorabilia. Out came the fantastic JM holiday boxes and many ads, with their snappy visuals. She allowed me to photograph them, and also provided many scans. What a treasure trove, and a fantastic opportunity to hear first-hand how the Magnin family worked their creative magic (Mrs. Newman said her husband thought “we were a bunch of creative geniuses and we were also crazy”) to make JM the “fun” place to shop.

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