The Michael Schwab portrait of Wilkes Bashford on the memorial program.
It was on a cold and rainy day at the end of January that I climbed the steep steps to Grace Cathedral for the memorial service of San Francisco icon and refined clothier Wilkes Bashford. He died on January 16th and his eponymous luxury store had just celebrated its 50th anniversary. The store has been a landmark for me since I first moved to San Francisco in the 80's. While it was too expensive for my freelance writer's pay, no one seemed to mind me indulging in going from floor-to-floor and soaking up the beauty of the clothes and examining designer items that I had seen in posh magazines. When I finally did have enough money, I headed straight to the shoe department which had fabulous sales and over the years I bought Jimmy Choo boots and heels, Manolos, Louboutin kitten heels, Lambertson Truex boots and Gravatti boots and shoes. Still expensive at half off, but of such quality that I will wear them for years.
Mounted police stood watch in front of Grace Cathedral to greet the over 900 elegantly attired attendees. They were a wide cross section of socialites, political powerhouses, artists and fashion devotees. From the altar, Charlotte Schultz spoke of his "sprightly step" and "glistening cufflinks, all understated perfection." She said that although his eyeglasses were tinted blue, they were rose colored on the other side. He often asked, "Isn't life great?" And when he asked "How ya doin'?" "What's going on?" he really stopped and listened. The memorial was a celebration of Wilkes and the classic San Francisco that he personified.
His friend of 50 years, Willie Brown, said he was the most decent human being he has ever known. Known for his sharp Italian suits and fine fedoras, Brown talked about buying his first Brioni suit from Wilkes and when they first met, how they connected through a discussion of fabrics and cut.
Kamala Harris, would lunch on Saturdays with Wilkes at the classic San Francisco restaurant , Le Central, just a quick down the hill from his store. They would sit at his table near the window and Wilkes would smile at the passersby and wave vigorously at anyone carrying a Wilkes Bashford shopping bag. Harris said he was fiercely passionate about a number of philanthropic causes for animal rights, the arts and stopping domestic violence.
Tyler Mitchell, a co-owner of the store said that Wilkes taught him that being a gentleman was cool. He showed Tyler the power of holding doors, pulling out chairs and giving two kisses to ladies. Tyler said the best compliment that would make his day was when Wilkes would look him up and down and say, "You look as chic as shit!" All of us in the pews turned to one another to confirm that we heard what we thought we heard. Apparently, it was a huge compliment from Wilkes.
Mr. Bashford was remembered in the store window with his chair, his old typewriter holding an imagined farewell letter and a silhouette of his beloved dachshund Duchess.
A collage of the social whirl of bon vivant Wilkes Bashford. He worked six days a week and reportedly went out seven nights a week for civic appearances, parties and events.
When I leave the store carrying one of their bright orange shopping bags,
I practically skip down Sutter Street.
Portrait by Elaine Badgley Arnoux, published in
The People of San Francisco: Lives of Accomplishment, 1985
From Mr. Bashford's memorial, I learned that although it is sad to say goodbye, when the honored person has lived a full and kind life, a memorial service is life affirming and inspiring. And in Mr. Bashford's case, I left inspired to do more to help others with a smile and a listening ear and to dress elegantly while doing it. His was a well-dressed life well lived.