San Francisco Chronicle
Wine purchasers’ stake dries up as retailer collapses
Bo Feng, a Chinese investor and collector of fine wines, saw offerings from Berkeley retailer Premier Cru in March 2013 that looked like a bargain: rare French vintages for about $850 a bottle, which was much less than others were charging.
He ordered 1,016 bottles and paid the $844,000 price up front. The first 389 bottles were delivered over the next seven months, and he waited for the rest. And waited some more. He said the
world around them changed.
Today, the influencers of a new generation may prefer hoodies and T-shirts for the office and skip meals to work through lunch — though not for Bashford’s lack of trying.
He changed San Francisco’s sense of fashion and style when he opened his eponymous store in 1966, bringing new designer brands to the city before anyone else — Brioni, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren and Versace. His life’s pleasure was educating generations of shoppers, from old-money San Franciscans to budding tech billionaires, about the finer points of dressing well — and showing them that style was not just about a crisp lapel but also about giving to the community.
So when Bashford, who struggled in recent months with prostate cancer, died Saturday at 82, the city lost not only his constant smile, graciousness and enthusiasm. A piece of old-school San Francisco went with him.
“We’ve lost a legend,” said John Konstin, owner of John’s Grill and a civic booster who worked with Bashford on fundraisers over the years. “He made everyone feel they were part of his inner circle. He loved people, and people loved him.”
Bashford’s store, a mainstay of the city’s cultured class, was one of the few of its kind in the nation when it opened under the Sutter-Stockton garage. Originally a men’s store, it was the first in San Francisco to promote an aesthetic Bashford called the “bold conservative.” He added womenswear in 1978 and later moved a short distance to 375 Sutter St.
‘I was frankly blown away’
Brown, a columnist for The Chronicle and stylish dresser, told the Chronicle in October, “This town was devoid of any attention to quality of fabric or style until Wilkes came along. The first time I walked into the store, I was frankly blown away.”
After the downturn in the economy in 2008, Bashford filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009. His company was acquired by the Mitchells/Richards/Marshs group, a family-owned luxury clothier in Westport, Conn., which invested millions in a remodel of the seven-story store.
It was Bashford’s impeccable taste and his foresight in predicting trends that gave the store an international reputation and attracted the Mitchell family’s investment. Tyler Mitchell, who now manages the Bashford store, recalled working in New York for Brioni in the early 2000s, when Bashford was Brioni’s largest account.
“I remember that on my first visit to San Francisco, we sold 77 Brioni suits and sport coats in one day,” he said. “Seventyseven! I would return to the East Coast boasting to my family how ridiculous this store in San Francisco was, how cool Wilkes was, how passionate the sellers were, how loyal the clients were, and how fun my weekend was. In 2009, I begged my family to buy Wilkes out of the bankruptcy. When they asked who would be willing to move to the West Coast, I recall my hand raising so high it went through the sheet rock in the ceiling.”
Bashford staged glitzy fashion shows in the 1970s and ’80s, and also engaged in philanthropic work for Partners Ending Domestic Abuse and Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, among other causes. He was an ardent fan of dachshunds, and always kept one as a pet. His latest, Duchie, was a constant companion at work and at home.
“Every day there was something Wilkes would talk about or insist that we do for the city,” Brown said hours after the death of Bashford, his best friend. “He was part of the heart of the city.”
In recent years, Bashford devoted efforts to the War Memorial Complex in San Francisco to create a veterans monument. He co-chaired the monument committee with J. Michael Myatt, a retired Marine Corps major general. At the time of his death, Bashford was listed as the president of the War Memorial & Performing Arts Center Board of Trustees. “I think he was most proud,” Brown said, “of his presidency of the board, which had the stalwarts of the cultural philanthropy of the city.”
San Francisco Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz, a longtime client and friend, met Bashford 50 years ago at his original boutique and worked with him on numerous civic affairs.
“Wilkes was the most loyal, warm, kind and ‘open-arms’ kind of friend,” she said. “I will always have this image of Wilkes: upbeat with his mischievous and dazzling smile, an infectious laugh, and his ‘Isn’t life great?’ attitude.”
She and her husband, former Secretary of State George Shultz, often convened theme dinners at North Beach Restaurant, where they gathered a regular group of friends that included Bashford, Brown, Beach Blanket Babylon producer Jo Schuman Silver, event planner Stanlee Gatti, philanthropist Ann Getty and others for conversation about local and national issues.
Said George Shultz, “Wilkes had a wonderful and unique capacity for friendship. And I count myself lucky to have been one of his friends.”
Bashford’s life was centered around the store, and up until 2½ weeks ago, he was working six days a week. As his disease progressed, he lost 50 pounds, friends said, and became too weak to report for duty.
But when he was at work, he treated his employees with the same respect he wished for himself, greeting each of them, from salesperson to tailor, with a big hello every morning. His vast knowledge of style and the retail industry, as well as his keen eye for future fashion trends, is what kept employees working with him for decades, said Sheree Chambers, who worked alongside Bashford for 32 years.
Always there for others
Joe Durst, another longtime employee who was at Bashford’s side on the night he died, said that his boss, although extremely private about his own life, was all about what he could do for others. No matter how sick he became, Durst said, “Given the opportunity to be there for people, he performed.”
Durst fielded more than 70 e-mails from friends and industry figures from around the world on Sunday, including the presidents of Kiton and Brioni.
“It’s a very difficult chapter to close — he was part of the whole sophisticated, elegant group that dressed beautifully and reeked elegance,” Durst said. “All over the world, people loved him. There’s never going to be anyone like him in San Francisco.”
Services are pending.