By  on February 20, 2008

Grace Jones, a retailer who introduced central Texans to designer labels in the Sixties, died of pneumonia Saturday at her home in Gonzales, Tex., said a friend, Jane Sibley. She was 87.

Jones championed Valentino, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Geoffrey Beene and other designer labels at her namesake boutique in Salado, Tex., which she owned and operated from 1961 until 2000.

She was a fourth-generation Texan and her family's roots in the Lone Star State were so deep that the town of Rosanky was named after her great-grandfather, a German immigrant. Jones is credited with cultivating Salado's retail scene and making it an alternative to shopping in Dallas or Austin.

Jones took a circuitous route before getting into fashion. In 1943, after reading an article in Look magazine about the need for licensed female pilots for the new Women's Airforce Service Pilots — female civilian pilots who flew U.S. military aircraft — she obtained her private license and joined the WASPs. After completing her training, she ferried planes, including B-17 bombers, out of Dallas' Love Field. She served as the commander of the WASPs stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, near Waco, until the unit was disbanded near the end of World War II.

Asked by an interviewer how she handled fear as a pilot, Jones said: "There was no need or time for fear or negative emotions."

She married Lt. Col. Jack Jones in 1946, and he was stationed in Berlin during the Berlin Airlift and then did a tour of duty in Japan. She was named one of the five best-dressed women in Japan and became the first American to learn how to perform a Japanese tea ceremony. President Dwight D. Eisenhower later gave her the unofficial title of an "ambassador abroad" in Japan, Sibley said.

When her husband was assigned to New York, Jones recognized the potential of the emerging television industry and pursued a modeling career. She wound up plugging brands such as Kodak and Ford. After the couple returned to Texas in 1961, she opened her store, equipped with a helipad and landing strip for her well-heeled shoppers. Before the shop opened, she visited local bankers, who would presumably share the news with their wives. Jones elevated benefit fashion shows to black-tie affairs, using professional models and having plenty of well-dressed society women wearing clothes from her store.Sibley recalled how Jones deftly handled a benefit fashion show featuring Jean Louis that almost went awry. During a dinner for the designer at Sibley's home the night before the event, Jones got word that a plane carrying the clothes had been hijacked.

Actress Loretta Young, a Jean Louis devotee, was phoned and told to pack up all her Jean Louis gowns and adornments since arrangements had been made for her to fly to Texas. While Kathy Crosby, another Jean Louis fan and the wife of Bing Crosby, was unable to do the same, one of Sibley's dinner guests that night, actress Gene Tierney, offered to join Young as an understudy model, Sibley said. "That was one of Grace's most outstanding fashion shows," Sibley said.

Jones also served on several boards, including the University of Texas' School of Architecture, the Institute for Humanities in Salado and the National Wildflower Research Center with her friend, the late Lady Bird Johnson.

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