Remembering SF’s Favorite Luxury Retailer Wilkes Bashford

Wilkes Bashford and Duchie
Wilkes Bashford and Duchie

Photo Credit: Mitchell Stores

Luxury clothier Wllkes Bashford, who epitomized style and brought elegance to San Francisco, passed away on Saturday, Jan. 16 after a brief battle with prostate cancer. While we defer to Carolyne Zinko of the San Francisco Chronicle for his obituary, we share some of the overwhelming amount of social media posts acknowledging the passing of this 82-year-old fashion legend whose eponymous store at 375 Sutter Street celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

The memorial for Bashford will be held at Grace Cathedral at 11 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 29.

It was just last month that his best friend, Willie Brown, who writes a weekly column in the Chronicle, wrote this:

“When it comes to holiday parties, Dede Wilsey’s is always the best… …and of course, there is the couch. For the past 15 years, at least one person who has sat on the couch during the party has passed away within the year. I know, because I’ve been keeping tabs. I saw Wilkes Bashford heading for it this year. I steered him away.”

Undoubtedly, Bashford will be missed tremendously by many, including the longtime staff at his eponymous store. Here’s some of what people are saying:

Wilkes Bashford store:
“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of Wilkes Bashford last night. He was surrounded by loved ones and friends in his home. Wilkes was a true retail pioneer. He helped create the luxury fashion business that we all live everyday. He defined the word gentleman with uncanny wit and social grace. We will miss our good friend.”

Wilkes Bashford and Aubrey Brewster
Wilkes Bashford and Aubrey Brewster

Photo Credit: Brewster

Aubrey Brewster:
There have been moments throughout history when dynamic, charismatic, above-average, even divinely blessed individuals are born. They contain a golden aura and radiate love, elegance, and grace, highly dynamic personalities that move to the beats of their own drum, and others can’t help but dance with them, that was WILKES BASHFORD.
Armistead Maupin once compared San Francisco as the Lost City of Atlantis, a City built on gold, a City with a guiding lighthouse, and a magical pyramid. Well Wilkes was her King. Wilkes has always been a part of the fabric of San Francisco, as a fashion institution, a symbol of the luxurious elegance that shines the best light of our beautiful City, and as an ambassador. I’ve had the privilege of having him as a dear friend for most of my life. This week I’ve lost two glorious men that inspired me in both fashion and grace, and have been in a deep funk, left wondering now what? Well, I’ll grieve for a while, but then I’ll remember again, the lessons that Wilkes taught; put on a smile, open that door, and welcome each day with a contagious smile and a bright attitude. And I will always keep this essence in my heart. I have never, in my entire life met a more kinder, gentler, sweeter, elegant, adoring, good-spirited, and gracious man, than that of Mr. Wilkes Bashford; and I will never forget what he brought to my life, and those he’s ever come in contact. Today, San Francisco mourns her King. I love you Wilkes, and Godspeed.”

Sonya Molodetskaya:
“You may have lost your battle to cancer, but you are still my hero…RIP Wilkes Bashford.”

Paula West:
“I have just found out that Wilkes Bashford, one of the kindest, most generous, people I have ever known has passed away. He was a father figure to me. What a class act! He made everyone around him feel special…”

Marybeth La Motte:
“Rest in peace, Wilkes Bashford. Thank you for bringing so much style to the Bay Area!”

Charleston Pierce:
“RIP Mr Wilkes Bashford
San Francisco Bay Area Fashion ICON
Rest in Peace my friend.”

Bahya Oumlil-Murad:
“Goodbye Wilkes. Rest in peace”

Natalia Urrutia Kirkland:
“No longer here Wilks Ashford but never forgotten. San Francisco will miss you, Rest In Peace Wilks.
San Francisco llora la muerte de Wilks Bashford. Te echaremos mucho de menos como el gran diseñador de moda, como la magnifica persona que eras pero sobre todo por tu labor filantrópica en la ciudad de San Francisco. DESCANSA EN PAZ, WILKS”

J. Riccardo Benavides:
“Great memory. Easily the most visionary haberdasher the men’s retail industry has ever known.”

Liam Mayclem:
“Our city just lost one of its brightest stars, the man who dressed us up & made us laugh- WILKES BASHFORD. Sleep with the angels my friend.”

Ralph Ron DiGennaro:
“R.I.P. Wilkes Bashford. Easily the most visionary haberdasher the men’s retail industry has ever known. Fashion mattered not to Mr. Bashford, only quality and genuine style, which was all one found in his iconic San Francisco store. It was the only language he spoke. Sadly, we’ll not see his like again. Travel well to your next destination, WB, and don’t forget a pocket square. But never would you.”

Kent Wallace:
Had a fitful sleep, hallucinations, sweats, just downright frightful. Woke up to find out (thru Ken Allison) that my dear, dear friend Wilkes Bashford died last night! One of San Francisco’s true legends (right up there with Emperor Norton in my book). Haberdasher and bon vivant Wilkes was my family.
He was my best man for wedding number 5 at the Cal/Neva in Lake Tahoe. He and Mayor Willie Brown pulled some strings so that Willie could perform the ceremony!
Richie Cole (see previous post) was there and played sax during and after the ceremony, while Cha Cha (who recenlty passed himself) sent cannoli (shells and filling seperate, which Espo and Calabrese expertly assembled).
When Wilkes opened his Wilkes Sport shop in Mendocino, he was quick to take out and continue to run a Full Page ad in my OutLook monthly paper.
Wilkes likened my daughter Betty Wallace and I to the characters in the film Paper Moon and I’ll especially never forget those epic lunches at Le Central, where Wilkes occupied the booth of honor with his friends Herb Caen and Willie Brown!
What an extreme honor to have known this world class man and dearest soul.
I’m heartbroken and will seek the comforts of a single Wild Turkey today–that’s what I always drank when I was with Wilkes–perhaps you’ll do the same…
Unlike many of us S.F. expats, who indeed left our heart in San Francisco, Wilkes gave his heart to the City by the Bay!
I assure you there is not a dachshund on the planet with a dry eye today–If you know Wilkes; you know what I mean.

Nadine Martin:
I just went to facebook and discovered that Wilkes Bashford passed away last night. I know he had been battling cancer but am still in shock. I have worked for Wilkes for 13 years, and by far, this has been my favorite place to work in my long history of retail. He truly truly cared about his people unlike most companies these days. He wanted to make sure we were happy and paid us fairly, gave us free health care and great parties. There was no party better than our holiday parties at the Starlite room. I remember walking in to mounds of chocolate around the bar and food galore everywhere. We all dressed to the nines to honor the one that did it the best. He will be truly missed by me and the rest of Wilkes Bashford team–some who have worked with him for 40 years. We lost a very special man.

Juanita More:
“When I was in high school I had a part-time job after school working as a dishwasher in a kitchen in the East Bay. I would save every penny I made and come into the city to go shopping at the Wilkes Bashford store on Sutter Street to buy myself a pair of shoes. The shoe salon was quite the scene in those days with its full-bar, gorgeous sales clerks and row after row of the most gorgeous shoes from designers like Vittorio Ricci, Maud Frizon, Charles Jordan and more. Years later he came over to my apartment one evening and I played records for him and ended up DJing one of his fashion shows. Wilkes Bashford was such a sweet, stylish and innovative man who created a very unique shopping experience in San Francisco.”

Katie Brooke Callahan:
“I never thought this day would come. I cannot stop crying. I can only think right now of his little dachshund. I hope that sweet doggy get’s re homed to one of Wilkes very best friends. Fabulous article on Wilkes in WWD.”

Nyla Patzner:
“RIP Wilkes Bashford. Such sad news. Every year it seems another chapter closes in SF. I remember my first job out of college I worked in PR for Seabourn Cruise Line and my boss, Ernie Beyl would have weekly (liquid) lunches with Wilkes, Willie Brown and Ed Moose. Willie’s limo would swing by and pick them all up…always in suits, always cocktails and always the best restaurants. Such style and such a loss.”

Monty Sander:
“Oh, gee, sorry to hear . . back in the 70’s when the store was across the street from the current location, Saturday was like one big cocktail party . . . Everyone showed up, there was an open bar and lots of clothes and shoes were sold to people getting ready for Saturday night in SF. He had only the most beautiful people working there. Last I knew, the lovely Sharon, I think, was still working in the “new” store. He was an icon and will be missed as one of San Francisco’s unique individuals . .such a nice guy.”

Wilkes Bashford at Le Central in San Francisco
Wilkes Bashford at Le Central in San Francisco

Photo Credit: Kelly E. Carter

Clint Werner:
“Tears today, such a loss. My dear dear friend the San Francisco icon Wilkes Bashford has died. Wilkes was pure San Francisco, he embodied every thing that makes this city the greatest city on Earth. He was bright and enthusiastic and kind and sophisticated without being snobbish. He was also a solid dachshund person, that’s how I met him. I took my Byron out of my flat we hit the sidewalk and suddenly a chauffeured (Wilkes couldn’t drive) town car careened into the bus zone and a man jumped out and ran over to us. My thought, “Oh crap, it’s the landlord and I am so busted for having a dog against the lease agreement.” But Wilkes ran over and collapsed to his knees in front of Byron and said, “This is the most beautiful dachshund I’ve ever seen, except for mine!” We immediately became close friends. We had two great dinners together last year including this one on my birthday. He was so bright and charming and wonderful. He’s getting kisses from his sweet Cali girl at the bridge. RIP Wilkes, I got your name for my next boy puppy!”

Sean Kali-rai:
“Every great city has iconic landmarks and fascinating people that make it world class. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge and the late Wilkes Bashford. Wilkes was a friend with whom I had lunch at Le Central, played dice and taught me how to dress at an entirely different level of sophistication. Thank you Wilkes for the laughs, the wonderful memories and hours and hours of conversation. Thank you also for introducing me to ‪#‎Kiton‬, ‪#‎Brioni‬ & ‪#‎Oxxford‬. You lived with a passion, thank you for sharing some of that with me. You will be missed.”

‎Alan Tomkins-Raney:
“Wilkes Bashford, in addition to his important role in San Francisco society, hosted the first fundraiser – a dog fashion show- for Pets Are Wonderful Support for People With AIDS/ARC in 1987. His pioneering event helped to bring publicity to PAWS and foreshadowed the importance that animal companions would play for people with AIDS. Nearly 30 years later, the human-animal bond is more understood and now integrated into society. In the early days of the AIDS pandemic, animal companions offered support and unconditional love that friends and family could not always offer. San Francisco will miss his presence.”

Ronn Owens:
“So sorry to learn of the passing of fashion icon Wilkes Bashford. In addition to his passion for fashion, he was a great supporter of San Francisco charities like Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. He and I, along with Muttville’s Sherri Franklin, took part in Muttville’s Haute Dog fashion show last February. He was in fine form there, energizing the audience and helping to raise money for a good cause. Wilkes was a bright light in San Francisco for decades and his spirit will be greatly missed. May he rest in peace.”

David Chiu:
“I met Wilkes Bashford when we both served on the board of Partners Ending Domestic Abuse. In addition to his impact on fashion, he was tireless in his philanthropy and compassion for a myriad of causes. Wilkes, we will miss you.”

Stabe Wilson:
“Damn, just heard Wilkes Bashford passed away. He was always a warm person to me. For the past 25 years I’ve gotten clothes from him. Not sure what my wardrobe will look like going forward. I will miss him dearly. I know he’s now the haberdasher for all the angels in heaven.”

Cynthia Robins:
“This has been a very expensive week…we have lost some very unique and irreplaceable people—Bowie, Alan Rickman and from my old town, San Francisco, clothier, Wilkes Bashford, just as unique and just as irreplaceable.”

Wilkes Bashford and Carolyn Tyler
Wilkes Bashford and Carolyn Tyler

Photo Credit: Courtesy Carolyn Tyler

Carolyn Tyler:
“Have just heard of the passing of Wilkes Bashford. He was such a delight and San Francisco was better because of him. Rest in peace.. You will be missed.”

Deborah Santana:
“I am so sad to hear of my dear friend, Wilkes Bashford’s passing today. He was the kindest, brightest, sharpest San Francisco “cat.” I love him dearly forever, with gratitude for all he gave to MoAD & the City with his luminous heart.”

Padraic Ryan:
“As my City continues to transform into something I barely recognize and we lose the icons that defined us, this one hurts for sure. Just learned we lost Mr. Wilkes Bashford. A man of incomparable style, class and philanthropy. RIP Wilkes. All I know is god’s shoes and belt better match.”