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Originally named Newman-Levinson, the company changed its name to Newman-Magnin and later to Joseph Magnin Co.
The store was located at the corner of Stockton and O'Farrell Streets. At the time, I. Magnin Co. was located at Grant and Geary Streets. However in 1948 when I. Magnin built the new flagship store at Stockton and Geary streets, the two flagship stores were less than a block apart. Initially Joseph Magnin was a midrange purveyor of apparel and millinery and was viewed as a second-rate I. Magnin. Within the garment industry, Joseph Magnin Co. was known as "the other Magnin". For many years Joseph Magnin Co. operated in the shadows of I. Magnin. I. Magnin had many established providers of better fashions and demanded exclusivity; the sellers were barred from selling to Joseph Magnin if they wished to continue to do business with I. Magnin. To partially address this, Joseph Magnin rented the vacant 4th floor of the Stockton/O'Farrell store for a number of years to newly emerging local talent, the designer/manufacturer Eleanor Green, for her design studio and factory.
Joseph Magnin at times did use consumer confusion on the Magnin name to their advantage by calling the store J. Magnin in signage, advertisements, and store bags. The store also self identified as JM.
After World War II, under the leadership of Joseph's son Cyril Magnin, the Joseph Magnin Co. went more upscale and began courting the younger woman's market. JM advertisements were distinctive as being glamorous, sophisticated, trendy and youthful. One newspaper ad went to print without the Magnin name. Cyril was furious until he was told the item had sold out; everyone knew it was a JM ad. Marilyn Monroe purchased the suit she wore when she married Joe DiMaggio in 1954 at JM. As of 1960 the store was one of the first in San Francisco to employ Asian-Americans in customer service.
The store also included the 'Wolves Den' department for men only. Men could shop in a clublike area while seated, served martinis, smoking cigars, and being shown merchandise by JM's most attractive women.
In 1969 Cyril Magnin arranged for the Joseph Magnin Co. to be purchased by Amfac, Inc. of Hawaii. Amfac owned Liberty House, among other stores, on the West Coast and Hawaii. Cyril remained the chairman of the board of JM. Joseph Magnin grew to a chain of thirty-two stores. In 1977, Amfac sold Joseph Magnin Co. to investors led by the Hillman Company and Gibbons, Green & Rice. Hillman sold the stores in 1982; in 1984, Joseph Magnin Co. filed for bankruptcy and closed its stores.