By  on July 19, 2011

Donald Magnin, who helped build Joseph Magnin Co., the San Francisco-based women’s high-fashion store, into one of the largest specialty stores in the country, died Wednesday in his Russian Hill home of cancer. He was 84.

The oldest son of Anna and Cyril Magnin, Donald Magnin was a fourth-generation San Franciscan. He worked with his father; brother Jerry; brother-in-law Walter Newman, and sister, Ellen Magnin Newman to develop the Joseph Magnin retail chain, often traveling to Paris and Milan with family members to find the latest in European fashion.

“He was a true merchant — the type that doesn’t exist the same way today, or at least not to the same extent. He was smart and intuitive, and Joseph Magnin was such a leader in its day with many ‘firsts,’” said his daughter, Ann Magnin, a New York fashion publicist. “He was a merchant and had an instinctive way about fashion, giftware and the home. He knew what was going to be popular, and cast a pretty wide net.”

Joseph Magnin, which expanded into 32 stores, became known for its youthful, hip and cutting-edge merchandise.Among some of the groundbreaking developments were opening the first Gucci in-store shop, merchandising electronics in the men’s department and creating custom boxes and wrapping for the holidays, which became collectors’ items, said Ann Magnin.

After graduating from Stanford University in 1949, Donald Magnin served in the Merchant Marines in the Pacific Rim from 1944 to 1945 and in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War. He was married to his wife, Elaine, who died in 2001, for 42 years.

Donald Magnin began his career as a teenager in the mailroom of his family business, Joseph Magnin, founded and named for Donald’s grandfather in 1915.Joseph Magnin was the son of Isaac Magnin, who built I. Magnin with his wife and four sons, but then Joseph left to start his own eponymous retail store.

Donald Magnin rose to executive vice president, general merchandise manager when Joseph Magnin was sold in 1969 to Amfac Inc. of Hawaii, which eventually folded it in 1984 after declaring bankruptcy. After a brief time with the new owners, he left and founded Domain, an importer of specialty gift items and worked there until he retired in 1995. For 21 years, Magnin also worked for the San Francisco Parking Authority, 13 years as its chairman. The 616-space Performing Arts Garage near Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco is named in his honor.

In addition to his daughter Ann, sister Ellen and brother Jerry, Magnin is survived by a son, Jeff; daughter, Susan Magnin-Greinetz, and five grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the University of California-San Francisco Foundation, Comprehensive Cancer Center or the San Francisco Art Institute.

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