Summer of Love fashionista led the way to visionary style for rock icons
When it comes to her Saturday-morning farmers’ market routine at the Ferry Building, Jeanne Rose appreciates punctuality. She leaves her house in the Haight at 7:30 a.m. Upon arrival, she starts her shopping path at the northwest corner. She stops at her carrot guy, her greens guy, her granola woman.
“I believe in eating well, and eating organically grown,” Rose says, pushing her long black hair back as the wind musses it. She eats breakfast — Mexican food from the Primavera stand — while looking out at the Bay Bridge. The streaks of gray around her face are one of the indications of her recent 80th birthday, which she celebrated with a bash at Water Bar. Rose’s energy and everyday sense of bon viveur usually lead new acquaintances to place her age at least a decade younger.
The vendors know her by name (pronounced like the mythical genie in the bottle), but few know who she is in the scheme of San Francisco’s fashion history. In her simple cotton separates and flowing top, she could be any member of the hippie generation enjoying her senior years and still living the values of the era.
Jeanne Rose, once known as “Jeanne the Tailor,” was one of several key designers who gave the Summer of Love its revolutionary style 50 years ago.
The de Young Museum celebrates that original hippie moment this spring with “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll” (through Aug 20), a new exhibition that brings together over 300 artifacts, from rock posters to photographs. But it’s the counterculture fashion of the era, from Rose and other local designers and shopkeepers, that is the backbone.
“1967 was way, way fun,” Rose says. But the era wasn’t just about the freedom of the scene: For the designer, the ’60s were a time of creativity, professional success and personal discovery that shaped everything that came after.
Jeanne Rose was born Jean Colón in 1937 in Antioch. Her earliest memories are the almond orchards there, which spurred “an appreciation of the natural world.” She inherited a love of beautiful clothes from her mother, Aline LaLancette Colón, who taught her to sew. Rose remembers visiting San Francisco a few times a year for shopping trips post-WWII and taking in the flavor of the city.
“Even though Antioch is only 50 miles or so from San Francisco, it felt like a world away,” she says. Years later, she would gravitate to the city again.
Rose was, in the hippie lingo of the day, “tuned in” when she moved to San Francisco in 1964, but she was not a dropout. She had earned a bachelor’s degree in science at San Jose State and “almost a master’s degree in marine biology” from the University of Miami. Unlike the other kids coming to the Haight in those years, she was about five years older, divorced and pregnant with her daughter, Amber.
She soon began dividing her time between the Haight and the Sun Gallery in Big Sur, “two of the most happening places in the world at the time.” Post-pregnancy, she also dropped LSD for the first time that year.
“I remember being very conscious of how things felt, of how things around me looked, of the trees around me,” Rose remembers. “I realized how important it was for me to have natural things, to create things consciously. I know it sounds maybe too simple now, but I thought by creating handmade, beautiful things for someone else, I was helping the world.”
“People wanted things that were handmade and individual,” says “Summer of Love” curator Jill D’Alessandro of the Haight scene. “It wasn’t a rejection of American society, it was a rejection of what was currently going on in America. They weren’t buying into mass commodity, and the community in San Francisco and the Bay Area were able to support all these independent designers.”
Even though she had been making her own clothes since grade school, Rose says she “fell into” fashion professionally. “I had made some clothes for me and my daughter, Amber,” Rose says. “My boyfriend at the time was a drummer, and he told me he needed something to wear for a gig at the Fillmore. I made him a simple white shirt out of this beautiful home-spun cotton I had.”
Sewn on Rose’s 100-year-old treadle Singer sewing machine (“from an old mansion on Broadway they were tearing down”), her designs utilized natural fabrics, vibrant colors and patterns, and ethnic influences — hallmarks that came to define San Francisco fashion of the era. The breathable fabrics, comfortable construction and sense of showmanship made them perfect for the stage. Requests came in from other musicians for custom Jeanne creations: Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish; Peter and Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane; Ron McClure of Charles Lloyd Quartet; Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals; Peter Albin from Big Brother and the Holding Company; and Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead.
While Rose (who also designed under the names Jeanne Colón, Jeanne the Tailor and her label New Age Creations in Cloth) became best known for outfitting male rock stars, she also created ready-to-wear women’s pieces for small boutiques in San Francisco and Berkeley. Creations like her San Francisco Fog Suit for women emphasized organic shape and freedom of movement. The Sequoia pants and top mimicked the lines and colors of the tree. The DMT dress was named for the psychedelic compound dimethyltryptamine with a pattern designed to be reminiscent of the DMT trip.
“Jeanne was one of the first (in the S.F. scene) to create from a deeply personal aesthetic,” D’Alessandro says. “This movement out of San Francisco was more about questioning the social mores of American society and I think for Jeanne it was really important. She took that sense of enlightenment and purpose she got from those experiences on LSD and took it somewhere creative and personal.”
Rose remembers taking her daughter to the house the Jefferson Airplane occupied on Fulton Street, where Amber loved to visit the python that lived in the billiard table. A spread in Rolling Stone magazine shows Gary Duncan of Quicksilver Messenger Service, members of Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company all wearing her designs. A 1967 photo for a story in the California Living magazine in the Sunday Examiner & Chronicle features Rose, Amber and a set of women modeling her designs against a tree in Yerba Buena Park. Among the models in the now-iconic photo was Janis Joplin in a Jeanne-made poncho.
Palo Alto fashion collector Christine Suppes was 14 and living in Hillsborough when the California Living story was published. “When I saw the photograph, I immediately knew two things,” Suppes says. “One, that Jeanne was obviously the hippest woman ever. Two, that I wanted to be a fashion editor and wear those clothes.”
Suppes and her best friend, Dawn Aronson, were so enraptured with the clothes that they made their own versions: Suppes re-created a cowl-necked paisley dress, Aronson a San Francisco Fog Suit. Suppes, author of “Electric Fashion” (2015) with photographer Frederic Aranda, is including Rose in her next book, “California Elegance.”
By the late ’60s, Rose says, the scene in the Haight was vastly different. She took her last LSD trip with members of Jefferson Airplane the night the cover of their 1969 album “Bless its Pointed Little Head” was shot at the Fulton house. She says that by the time the national media descended to cover the Summer of Love, “it was already effectively over.” Harder drugs had entered the scene, and many of the activist-minded hippies had moved to Berkeley.
“I didn’t realize that there were people who had different, less positive experiences than I did,” Rose says of LSD. “I thought everyone used LSD like I did, and that people would take those values with them.” In 1972 she published her first book, “Herbs and Things,” and began a career in the then-new area of herbalism and aromatherapy.
While Jeanne the Tailor receded into the memories of another era, Jeanne Rose the teacher and author took center stage in the world of herbs. She went on to write 22 books on the subject, remarry (she’s had “three-plus” husbands total) and have a son, Bryan. Rose has lived in the same house in the Haight since 1969.
And like the fashion of the day, interest in her designs has never entirely gone away. The de Young show is just the latest that has included her fashions, but arguably the most complete exhibition of the era.
By 9:30 a.m., Rose has completed her rounds at the farmers’ market and is having her customary glass of Saturday Champagne at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. As the tourists and shoppers pass by, more than a few wear clothes informed by Rose’s design heyday.
The ongoing fascination with hippie style is also apparent in men’s and women’s collections by designers like Anna Sui, John Varvatos, former Saint Laurent designer Hedi Slimane, and Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte.
Fifty years later, did Rose imagine that the looks she helped popularize would still be worn by young people?
“We really thought we could change the world,” she says, remembering the spirit of the times. “I guess it’s nice that something actually did rub off.”
Tony Bravo is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll”: April 8-Aug. 20, de Young Museum. Tickets: $30. https://deyoung.famsf.org