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She always wanted a career in fashion, so as a young woman in China, where she was born, Joanie Char studied pattern making. In 1962, at the age of 17 Char came to the US, where she met her future husband, Frank Char, in an English language class. The two of them opened a fabric import shop that specialized in outstanding silks.

A couple of years later the Chars opened a boutique in San Francisco, from which they could sell dresses designed by Joanie, made with the luxurious natural-fiber fabrics they imported from China. Her dress designs of simple shapes with subtle details, good fit, and made of luxurious natural materials of bright colors were sometimes called wearable works of art.

The Official Gazette of the US Patent and Trademark Office noted the Joanie Char trademark was first used in commerce in 1975. The trademark application was filed in 1988 and the products under the umbrella of that trademark were blazers, blouses, blousons, capes, cardigans, culottes, dresses, gowns, halters, jackets, jerseys, pants, pantsuits, pullovers, scarves, shifts, skirts, slacks, sport coats, suits, sweaters, and tunics.

In 1977 the Chars sold their retail store and opened a manufacturing firm. Almost immediately her line was embraced by the large specialty stores in San Francisco and sales increased dramatically. A 1982 article about Char’s designs commented “She works with a limited repertory of forms and colors, but produces an amazing number of variations.” They added “There are three basic types of dresses in her line—a two-piece with a gently gathered skirt, a bloused dress with an elastic waist and a tie belt, and a loose-fitting chemise, which she calls a ‘float.’”

Major stores that carried the Joanie Char line included Neiman-Marcus, Lord & Taylor, and Nordstrom. In 1984 she opened a Joanie Char boutique in Los Angeles and in 1985 she opened a New York store.

Joanie Char’s company always stressed natural fibers (cotton, wool, linen, silks) and noted her customer was the working woman. In 2000 a travel guide to the best places in San Francisco observed that Char’s natural-fiber creations were exclusively available at that shop. In 2012 those Joanie Char uncomplicated, simple lines had the potential to be a particular benefit to women with physical or cognitive challenges, so Char designed a stylish adaptive clothing line for Simple Closures, a San Francisco adaptive clothing company.

Joanie Char’s observation of and willingness to adapt her fashion creations to her customers’ needs gave a foundation for her long career. This was most recently emphasized by a 2014 travel guide recommendation to visit her San Francisco store, to shop her sportswear line—a reflection of her response to her customers’ ever-evolving fashion needs.

Written by LKRanieri

from a 1980s blouse - Courtesy of claireshaeffer

from a 1980s blouse

Courtesy of claireshaeffer