Threading the Needle ~ My Fair J. Press Lady
A trip down Memory Lane; 1959 marked the premiere of the J. Press Ladies’ Department. The initial enthusiasm that spurred the genesis began years prior. While interning at company headquarters during college summers I queried my dad, “How come so many inflated sales in small sizes for Shaggy Dog sweaters and button down shirts?” His succinct reply, “Your Smith College girlfriends.” I should only have been so lucky.
Many of our regular customers lobbied the “Press boys” to provide a ladies’ department that might outfit their wives. Irving Press thought the time and culture ripe for the change egged on by his very with-it fashionista wife Florence. The initial pitch in the 1959 Fall/Winter Brochure heralded Custom Tailored J. Press Ladies’ Suits: “An extraordinary choice is offered by our unusual collection of imported men’s wear fabrics for Ladies’ Suits of the highest quality with ‘Couture’ models created at J. PRESS in the most imaginative, becoming and lasting fashions. Priced from $235.”
The women’s clothing inventory that season included Burberry Fairview Ladies Rainwear, “Weatherproof Antiqued Cotton Poplin fly-front Raglan with the traditional Burberry Glen Check lining.” Frosting on the cake was provided by the English Lambskin Ladies’ Knee-Length Warm Coat crafted entirely from English Lambskins, with their natural fleece as lining.
An expanded 1960 inventory prominently featured Shaggy Dog sweaters and imported Ladies’ specialties. The Shaggy Dog pullover sweaters were available in ten tones of Gorse, Heather and Lovat in addition to Fair Isle Knits and Ladies’ Cardigan style with 8-button front. Handwoven Orkney Island Tweed Skirts specially woven in Shaggy Dog colors filled the bill in Straight Sheath or 6-gore flared models. I gifted Vida, my fiancée soon to be wife, with a ladies’ version J. Press Danish Fisherman Primitive hand knitted Cardigan jacket complementing yours truly in the male version.
Inaugurating a physical presence for the ladies department, our New York store moved in 1961 from its second floor location on the corner of Madison Avenue and 44th Street to much enhanced and enlarged quarters one block west. Irving Press designated a modest space adjacent to the shipping department on the mezzanine floor, a rather suspect area accessible only by stairway untended by a designated salesperson.
The endeavor, hardly emboldened in the Press family genes, gave up the ghost in 1963 allowing Irving and Paul Press full time attention to their father’s shibboleth — Gentlemen’s Tailors, Clothiers and Furnishers.