Maureen Clavin was born in Los Angeles in 1928, which is to say she belonged to a generation of women who were not expected to work.
She was a wife and mother of three when she accidentally happened upon her professional calling. The moment occurred in the spring of 1963 at the Hillcrest Country Club where she had been a golf-playing member for years and where, on this particular evening, she had looked around the ballroom and seen ladies clad in glorious gowns designed by the era’s arbiters of American style: Galanos and Bill Blass and Oleg Cassini.
These were wealthy women whose vanity, position and pride had led them to the woefully impractical belief that they must never be seen twice in the same attire. What this meant, Maureen realized, was that every woman she knew was burdened with closets full of beautiful dresses they could afford to buy, but could not afford to wear.
It also occurred to her that these orphaned garments could be sold at a fraction of their original cost to women who would otherwise not even dream of owning an Oscar de la Renta beaded gown, or a lime-chiffon Dior. The proceeds would then be divided between Maureen and the wealthy ladies who had owned the clothes initially and were never averse to making some extra room in their closets while obtaining some extra cash.
It was a classic case of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” and for the last 50 years that paradigm fueled Maureen’s emporium, The Address Boutique, which may or may not have been the first designer resale store in Los Angeles, but was indisputably the first that mattered. Having opened in Westchester in late 1963, The Address has been housed on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica for the last 28 years.
As time went on, the clothes Maureen sold were culled from socialites and movie stars. Each item had to be in perfect condition which required her to take on the daunting endeavor of telling women who were accustomed to being ceaselessly fawned over, and whose apparel was housed in 3,000-square-foot closets and displayed on rotating carousels, that their lovely bias-cut Donna Karan or little black Chanel dress could not be sold at The Address Boutique because it had a tiny stain left by a bit of béarnaise sauce, or a minuscule snag where a diamond pin used to be.
This was not a task for the meek, and Maureen was more than up to it. She could be cool and impersonal when she needed to be, but she was also warm and maternal and stunningly generous. I always thought she was the toughest, tender-hearted person one could ever hope to meet.
Under her stewardship, The Address Boutique was more than a store. It was a place that offered something that has gone missing from life as we now know it: The Address Boutique provided community. Maureen didn’t want it to be simply a place to shop, and with that goal in mind she instructed sales personnel in the tender arts of greeting customers and, as she put it, “listening to their wants and needs.” The Address was where customers were remembered and cherished, where there was always a pot of coffee, and bowls of miniature Tootsie Rolls and quarters for the parking machines. Physically, the store was about a mile away from the shiny leviathan that is Santa Monica Place; spiritually, the distance between them is too vast to be charted.
In February, Maureen e-mailed her friends and customers to tell them she might have lung cancer. She had it 30 years previously and, after surgery, been cancer-free ever since. She wrote that she would be going to the hospital for a biopsy and would get back to us in a week when she had a firm diagnosis. She signed off with the words, “Please hold good thoughts for me.”
Six days later she wrote, “My dear friends … thanks to your powerful good thoughts I am home … I do have lung cancer and will know more in the coming days … I will keep you posted … I am very optimistic so … please keep those positive thoughts coming … love, Maureen.”
Those positive thoughts kept coming, but Maureen Clavin died peacefully 11 weeks later, on Tuesday, April 22, at the age of 86. The Address Boutique will be closing in mid-May.
Maureen will be sorely missed by the many who understand that what has been lost, with her passing, is not only a person, but a way of life.
Elizabeth Kaye is a freelance writer and author of the New York Times No. 1 best-selling e-book “Lifeboat No. 8: An Untold Story of Love, Loss and Surviving the Titanic.” To learn more, go to YouTube and type “Lifeboat No. 8.”