Jill Ricciardone has a lot of responsibility. As the third generation running the family business, women’s clothing store Feinstein’s, it’s down to her to keep one of Arkansas’ most respected names in fashion flourishing. But fashion isn’t like any other business; there is no science or formula. It’s an art, an intuition beyond explanation. How does one know what people are going to want to wear in six months or a year’s time? Whether red is going to be more popular than white? How the women of Arkansas will respond to the trends from New York?
Predicting the desires her clients don’t even know they have yet is just one of Ricciardone’s innumerable roles, but it’s something she has become particularly good at. “Our clients are like family,” Ricciardone says as I meet her at the Feinstein’s store on an impossibly hot August day. “We’ve been dressing generations of women, we know our clients’ mothers, their daughters. People will come in just to say hi; they remember our birthdays, they are more like friends. This is what makes it all worthwhile and brings me joy, the human interaction and getting to know people.”
Despite having had no intention of entering the fashion industry, Ricciardone is every inch the fashion maven, with her perfectly coiffed hair, stylish dress by Lafayette 148 New York, and Stuart Weitzman heels. “Originally I wanted to go into law,” she explains. “But my life just seemed to be steered toward fashion.”
Retail is in Ricciardone’s blood. Her ancestors had been merchants in Little Rock since before the Civil War, and Preston Pfeifer, Ricciardone’s great-grandfather, was one of the four Pfeifer brothers who set up the phenomenally successful Pfeifer’s department store in downtown Little Rock in the early 1900s. The family was recognized as one of the four most successful business families in Arkansas, running the store until 1963, when it was purchased by Dillard’s.
Ricciardone’s grandfather, Howard Feinstein, worked for most of his life as the Merchandise Manager at the Pfeifer’s and retired in 1957. His wife, Nancy, daughter of Preston, however, found her husband’s sudden constant presence in the house too much to bear. “He cramped her style,” says Ricciardone. “So she just came home one day and announced to him that she had rented a store space for him to set up a women’s clothing store.”
“The Feinstein’s logo is Nancy’s signature,” explains Ricciardone. “And the original name of the store was Feinstein’s California Casuals because they bought their pieces from California, something nobody else at that time was doing, everybody else was buying from New York or Dallas.”
After a brief illness, Howard passed away and the store was suddenly left to Jill’s mother, Ann Williams. Having never been to market before, Ann had to simply guess at which styles to buy and how many of each to order. But her gamble paid off, and soon Feinstein’s will mark 60 years since opening its doors.
Ricciardone’s life, it seems, has been determined by Feinstein’s. “Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in the floor in the alterations room sewing scraps of fabric together, and of the glamorous women that would come through the door. When I finished college I was working in Dallas when I got a call asking if I could fly to New York last minute to go to market to help my mom. While there I was set up on a blind date with the man who would become my husband. It just seems like my destiny was intertwined with Feinstein’s. It led me to the husband and the job I love.”
This October she is marking not only the store’s momentous anniversary but also the 20th anniversary of New York fashion label Lafayette 148 New York, which the store has supported since its inception. It also happens to be the 50th anniversary of Arkansas Children’s Hospital Auxiiliary, which provided Ricciardone with the inspiration for the birthday event. “The community is the reason that we have been in business for so many years, so we wanted to celebrate this special occasion by giving back to the community that we love.”
On Oct. 19, Edward Wilkerson, Fashion Director of Lafayette 148 New York, is making a personal appearance at Feinstein’s, along with an exclusive preview of the Resort 2017 Collection. Together they are bringing New York to Little Rock by hosting a catwalk show to raise funds for the David M. Clark Center for Safe and Healthy Children, which will be bringing all child maltreatment programs under one roof to provide better services and care.
According to Ricciardone, the show will be nothing like those held in Little Rock before. “It’s being art-directed entirely by Lafayette 148 New York to create an authentic New York Fashion Week experience. They have a very modern, clean aesthetic, so it’s going to be something really exciting. And the cause we are supporting is something that I feel is very important.”
For Ricciardone, selling clothes is only one aspect of Feinstein’s. The other is being a positive and contributing member of the community. “Our sales staff are not on commission, we are not in it for the hard sell, we are also a place of respite when people just want to stop in. One of the main things that has been passed down to me from my mother and grandfather, who ran the store before me, is ‘never judge someone by what they are wearing when the come through our door and certainly not until you have walked a mile in their shoes.’ ‘Do unto others’ is the cornerstone of my belief system.”
The Feinstein’s catwalk event will be held at the Clinton Presidential Library on Oct. 19. Doors open at noon. Tickets are $148 ($100 tax deductible) and include Champagne and lunch. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (501) 664-7330 or click here. All proceeds from the event will be donated to Arkansas Children’s Hospital Auxiliary to benefit the David M. Clark Center for Safe and Healthy Children.