By DAVID JONES
ALWAYS STYLISH: Miss Jackson’s president Deborah Palazzo shows off some of the newer garments offered by the famous shop founded almost a century ago. Palazzo has been in New York City recently looking for the latest and finest in fashions and accessories.
DAVID JONES for GTR Newspapers
Nelle Shields Jackson never met Deborah Palazzo. After all, the latter was a toddler when Nelle died. But one has the feeling the two would have gotten along famously.
They both share the twin goals of service and elegance, and Palazzo is uniquely qualified to carry on Jackson’s goals: She has been, since 2001, the president of Miss Jackson’s, the shop that for decades has served Tulsa’s needs for taste and refinement since Jackson began it in 1907.
Who knows where Palazzo would be now if, back in 1907, Mrs. J. H. Evans hadn’t wandered into McCreery and Company’s department store in Pittsburgh, PA. It was a day when the sky was filled with a choking black dust that came from the coal burning all around. It just so happened that Nelle Jackson was working there as a personal shopper and was assigned to help Mrs. Evans.
“You should come to Tulsa,” Mrs. Evans advised Miss Jackson.
“Does the sun shine there?” Miss Jackson asked.
“Does the sun shine there? Not only does the sun shine all day long but you should see our glorious sunsets.”
It must have been a convincing argument. Within weeks Miss Jackson had turned her back on the crime-ridden, coal-clogged environs of Pittsburgh, population 322,000, for the pristine vistas of Tulsa, Indian Territory, population a shade under 8,000.
Many Tulsans know the rest of the story. Within two years she had opened her own shop, the oil boom gave her a host of wealthy clients, she earned a reputation for demanding and providing excellence and in the giddy economic surge of Tulsa in the 1920s she prospered.
Miss Jackson died in 1966 but her name has lived on as the peak of high fashion in Tulsa.
The store has undergone some fascinating ownership changes. Purchased in 1962 by A. Ray Smith whose other holdings included the Tulsa (baseball) Oilers, it was quickly sold to the Vandever Company, which moved it to Utica Square from downtown. From there it was purchased by the Fisher family and then, in 2001, by Utica Square Shopping Center. Through it all Miss Jackson’s remained a fashion plate.
So what is the season going to look like as Tulsa heads into the second century of Miss Jackson’s influence on the fashion scene?
“Younger,” is Palazzo’s terse answer. “We are changing while being careful not to alienate our existing clientele. We’re reaching out to a younger demographic with a more contemporary selection. If you’re looking for words I’d use modern, a bit edgy, ageless.”
Denim is a part of Miss Jackson’s scene, but these are denims Levi Strauss never envisioned. The prices range from $88 to $238.
“When I say young,” Palazzo says, “I’m thinking more in terms of attitude than calendar age. We will always emphasize beautiful fashions for any lifestyle.”
The retro look, she says, is in. Styles from the art deco of the ‘30s to the fashions of the ‘70s are popular but, Palazzo says, they’re not replicas. You won’t feel like you’ve wandered into the set of an old Joan Crawford movie.
“The styles of today incorporate pieces of those earlier times but are not slavishly reproducing them.”
The fashions, she says, are cross-generational. “It’s not unusual to have mothers and daughters walk into the store and leave with five dresses that they’ll share.”
Miss Jackson’s has clothing that would enhance any fashion model but they also have lines for the more amply endowed. “Designer dresses are not necessarily for tiny figures. We have clothing up to size 18 and can special order clothes up to size 22 in some lines.”
Miss Jackson’s is known for its women’s clothing but there is something for men as well. Where Bruce G. Weber used to have his jewelry corner Miss Jackson’s has added its own jewelry department, featuring a number of watches, rings and other accessories for both men and women. Their offerings of fine china and crystal continue along with a selection of cosmetics and fragrances.
“We even have scents from Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy,” Palazzo says. “These were first put together in the 15th or 16th century and so all the ingredients are natural. I think we’re only one of a dozen or so stores in the United States that carries them.”
Finding such items takes a lot of work, and Miss Jackson has five buyers who scour markets in New York, Dallas, Las Vegas, Atlanta and even London looking for the unusual and the magnificent. Each buyer is in charge of selling what he or she selects.
And so Miss Jackson’s heads into its second century, its standards undiluted by the passage of time.
Think what Tulsa might have missed if on that long-ago day in Pittsburgh the sky had been clear.