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Revolutionary Style

[whitespace] MAC (Modern Appeal Clothing)
Male Order: MAC for men makes a peerless metropolitan mark in SF.

MAC (Modern Appeal Clothing) dresses the new avant-garde

By Diana Rupp

Merging a '60s French aesthetic with Überlounge, MAC for men epitomizes the cosmopolitan flavor of downtown's Claude Lane. With its bachelor-pad assemblage of dogeared art books, high-tech designer furniture, tailored suits and Serge Gainsbourg background music, the store's atmosphere reveals its creators' intelligence and love of pop culture.

"Sometimes I feel like we're an oddball high school science project," owner Ben Ospital jokes. "We're in constant flux. Nobody can accuse us of being a cookie-cutter store."

The MAC women's store, located a short walk away on North Beach's landmark Grant Street, also sports a one-of-a-kind interior. It resembles an 18th-century boudoir, replete with divan, folding screens, striped wallpaper and paintings hung with ribbon.

The luxurious surroundings are matched by the clothing, each item of which shares three basic qualities: rich color, quality fabric and a timeless cut. A good example of MAC's flair for detail is a burgundy knee-length wool skirt by Romeo Gigli that has a series of pleats on its front, each one slightly higher than the next. Its unusual construction is both alluring and subtle.

"The designs we carry are for women with their own personally developed sense of what looks good," says Chris Ospital, Ben's sister and business partner. "They wear these clothes with a heroic measure, not as victims."

Although the Ospitals are proud of their success, they regret that their business is somewhat of an anomaly in the current retail environment. Like most native San Franciscans, they bemoan the infiltration of corporate chains into the city's historic neighborhoods.

"More than ever, people have to seek out and develop a personal philosophy for themselves," Ben says. "All you see are armies of people wearing khakis."

Chris and Ben often promote from within San Francisco's burgeoning design scene. Much of MAC's inventory is from the Bay Area, such as MMSW Workwear, Lat Naylor Think Tank, Choses Utiles and Dema.

Although their racks have carried garments created by some of world's top designers--such as Helmut Lang, Kenzo, Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood--none has arrived there by virtue of a high-profile name alone.

"Manufactured things often fall flat because there isn't a person behind them," Ben explains. "It's not heartfelt."

This cannot be said of Hank Ford, one of MAC's nascent designers.

"She's a modern woman, living in San Francisco, who's doing an amazing roster of things, including making beautiful clothes."

Ben and Chris opened the first incarnation of MAC in 1980 along with an additional partner, their mother, Jeri. For the past 18 years this family-owned business has remained true to a bold and intensely personal vision, much to the delight of its loyal customers.

"We're lucky to have a small core group of people who appreciate what we do," Chris says. "It's a great exchange."

One might even call their following a loyal cadre that understands MAC's revolutionary style--which brings up an interesting twist of kismet involving the Grant Street location. While renovating, the MAC partners discovered that the walls had once been painted a lipstick red: Unwittingly, they had installed their shop in what had been America's first Communist bookstore. Working in the former gathering place of revolutionaries is a coincidence the Ospitals can't help but relish.

MAC is located at 5 Claude Lane and 1543 Grant St.

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From the March 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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