Classic SFDepartments

Modern Appealing Clothing and the Art of “Ospitality”

By David Nash

Modern Appealing Clothing — MAC for short — is one of San Francisco’s rarified retail institutions. For 38 years, Jeri Ospital, her son, Ben, and daughter, Chris, have owned and operated what is arguably the most cutting edge and curated fashion outposts in the Bay Area, if not all of California. While they’ve neighborhood-hopped a handful of times over the last four decades, MAC currently has two off-the-beaten-path locations — a flagship in Hayes Valley and a smaller spot in Dogpatch.

Siblings Ben and Chris Ospital by Tri Nguyen.

The Ospitals travel twice yearly to London and Japan on buying trips, and quarterly to Paris. Their stock list includes the best of the Belgians (Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Bierendonck, Sophie D’Hoo-re and Dirk Van Saene), the most avant-garde Jap-anese (Comme des Garçons, Nooy and Engineered Garments), as well as local talent like Lemon Twist, Harwood and Dema.

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the list of designers they represent are MAC’s regular clients, including filmmaker John Waters, two-time Academy Award-winner Frances McDormand, comic siblings David and Amy Sedaris and writer Dave Eggers.

“And we have so many amazing clients from Twitter, Google and Apple,” adds Chris Ospital. “Technology gets a bad rap, that it’s all jeans and hoodies, but it’s not.”

“When we started, we had the idea that if everyone [who shopped with us] told at least 20 other people something good about what we do, it would work,” says Ben Ospital. “And it’s the same to this day — our own form of social networking.”

MAC, which doesn’t advertise apart from occasional Instagram posts, opened in 1980 on Post at Leavenworth, in a former alterations shop. Their initial footprint was barely a few hundred square feet, but eventually, through its homespun marketing strategy, in a few short years MAC became the city’s epicenter for new and innovative style.

“Mom, Chris and I opened MAC on a total shoestring budget,” adds Ben. “We’d all been living and working in New York and decided to come back [to San Francisco]. It was the late ‘70s and New York had really been happening — all those designers starting out with new ways of doing things — we thought it was a pivotal time [in fashion].”

In New York the Ospitals were each uniquely connected to various designers through their work in fashion and retail — up-and-coming designers like Anna Sui, Todd Oldham, Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood.

“They were artists and creatives,” explains Chris. “It was a really fun scene — all those people have become institutions and we were part of that culture. It was fun to bring them here to San Francisco, [to have] all those fresh faces in our store.

“The siblings remember that period fondly, recalling some of their earliest fashion world experiences. “I ended up working in the buying office at Saks Fifth Avenue,” Ben recalls. “And Saks was so incredible in the way that it really catered to the client. I had such a great boss — if it was Saturday, and a client needed a dress for Monday, she would get on the phone and call Bill Blass at his cabin in upstate New York!”

“I applied at [Bloomingdale’s] the second day I was in New York, because I knew the store and they had a great shoe department,” laughs Chris. “It was the time of Charles Jourdan, when Guy Bourdin was doing all those ads [for Jourdan] with the girls in heels [appearing to be] murdered. Every Sunday the ads would run, and every Monday the phones would ring off the hook! It was a fun place to work.” That same feeling of fun and excitement — along with a healthy clientele — has helped to keep MAC relevant over the years.

“There’s a high loyalty factor here and we feel this huge debt to San Francisco,” says Ben. “People like Dodie Rosekrans could shop anywhere, and they em-braced us. We’ve always tried to be really authentic and not an overly serious retailer.”

Part of that authenticity includes collaborations with acclaimed artists and other creatives. Their next “artist in residence” will be Andrea Cammarosano, an Italian designer and conceptual artist who created a custom print for Walter Van Bierendonck’s F/W 2018/19 collection.

Cammarosano’s installation CLUTTER — a mix of drawings, photographs, objects and performance — will be on view (and available for purchase) through the end of September. Later this fall MAC will welcome celebrity photographer Henny Garfunkel for an unprecedented interactive portrait experience.

“We always say we sold Fred and Wilma Flintstone their wedding outfits … because we’ve been around so long,” jokes Ben. “Really, we just try to have as much fun as possible and hope it rubs off on our community.”

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