To anyone in the vintage clothing business, Gunne Sax isn’t exactly an obscure label however, there are misconceptions about its early years.
Carol Miller graduated from fashion design at Oakland California’s Laney College in 1965. She then studied draping and design in Paris before returning to the Bay area in the spring of 1967. Eleanor (Elle) Bailey, who had attended Vogue School of Design in Chicago, had worked in the fashion industry for years before retiring to raise her family. Getting back into the business, Bailey was contracted to do some work for a school, where she met Miller. The two hit it off and by December of 1967 Bailey and Miller had joined together to launch a line of junior wear under the label Gunne Sax. The name Gunne Sax was a play on the name ‘gunny sack’ (the most humble of burlap bags), and ‘sex’. By the following summer Gunne Sax was making small runs of working girl daytime dresses (shirtdresses with white collars and patch pockets, doubleknit jersey dresses, and plaid coatdresses with self scarves…) and distributing them through boutiques, mostly in the Bay area, until I Magnin called ordering 144 units of one design for fall. The venture went big overnight.
Despite the success, it seems there was a falling out between the partners. Elle bought out Carol Miller in 1969 and Jessica McClintock was brought in as a new investor, who wanted to take the company in a different design direction. McClintock wanted to create hippy-inspired granny-gowns with laced bodices and flounced skirts – a combination of saloon girl and Medieval maiden rolled together. The differences in opinion lead Elle Bailey to sell outright to Jessica McClintock the following year who soon added her name to the label. McLintock’s style became a huge hit and the leading prom dress fashion of the 1970s. Eventually, the company was renamed after her, and Gunne Sax became one of many Jessica McLintock lines, that included Gunnies, Scott McClintock, and J.G. Saxe.
Jessica McLintock died March 2021
Feb 9, 2016: Vintage Traveller posted a more personal history of this label written by Elle Bailey: