A Half-Century of Style
The fashion industry might look dramatically different since BARBARA/JEAN opened its doors in 1972, but through every fad, trend and transition, our ethos has remained the same: to bring the world’s very best designers and products to the women of Arkansas.
1972 - early 1980s
In the early 1970s, Barbara Baber and Jean Chaffin watched as, due to a lack of local options, their friends traveled to other cities to shop. Seeing an opportunity to help both their friends and the community, they opened Barbara/Jean, in the same location where it remains today.
“Barbara/Jean was the first women’s specialty store in Little Rock with clothes and accessories from American designers. We allowed women in Little Rock to stay in town to shop.” – Barbara Baber
The shop was a rousing success, and in the late 1970s, BARBARA/JEAN added a cosmetics and skincare department, expanding the services it offered to its clients. On a trip to San Francisco in 1979, Barbara discovered a French line called J. Tiktiner, which became BARBARA/JEAN’s first ever European designer and trunk show. Soon, a shoe department was added, and Arkansas women were able to wear the world’s best designers from head to toe while shopping in the heart of their community. Soon, BARBARA/JEAN caught the eye of Women’s Wear Daily, and was the subject of a June 1982 article titled, “Barbara/Jean carves its niche in Little Rock.”
1980s - 1990s
In 1985, co-founder Jean Chaffin left the company and Barbara’s daughter, Greer Grace, joined her in ownership of the business. Greer brought ten years of business experience to the company, and BARBARA/JEAN experienced exceptional growth and recognition during the 1980s and 1990s. Sales figures went from three hundred thousand in 1973 to over five million in the early 2000s, and the store’s square footage more than doubled. The store added departments for executive business women and modern sportswear. In 1993, Greer assumed control of the company, with Baber acting in a consulting capacity.
“We have always kept our finger on the pulse of fashion. One of the most important aspects to the success of the store has been our philosophy to react to changes by changing ourselves. Barbara/Jean has to be the leader in innovation in order to succeed.” – Greer Grace
Greer and the store found themselves in the national spotlight in 1993 when Hillary Clinton wore a Sarah Phillips gown from BARBARA/JEAN to President Clinton’s inaugural ball. Everyone from Women’s Wear Daily to People Magazine to Vogue noted that Hillary Rodham Clinton was a loyal customer at BARBARA/JEAN. The gown, as well as a suit she wore during her husband’s acceptance speech, both Sarah Phillips from BARBARA/JEAN, are now on display in the Smithsonian.
The late 1990s saw continued growth and success, with BARBARA/JEAN purchasing the space next door—a former salon—to create what is now our contemporary department. Meanwhile, the BARBARA/JEAN cosmetic department received the Laszlo Institute’s Award for #1 Sales Specialty Stores in1993, 1994, 1999 and 2001.
2000s - Present
In 2001, BARBARA/JEAN’s senior buyer Christine Bailey made the executive decision to shift the store’s focus to European designers. Christine had joined BARBARA/JEAN as a sales associate in 1992. With a Fashion Merchandising degree from Stephens College, Christine brought an expertise in selling, buying and merchandising, and would go on to purchase the business from Greer in 2008.
“We have a really good mix of American and European designers, but we set ourselves apart by shopping the world. Not just New York. Our European offerings will continue to grow.” – Christine Bailey
BARBARA/JEAN continued to see national and worldwide recognition in the early aughts. In 2005 and again in 2010, we were selected to partner with the Italian Trade Commission for a runway show featuring Italian designers. In August 2006, Vogue Magazine wrote a two-page spread about BARBARA/JEAN, featuring up-and-coming design duo Ruffian. That same year, Harper’s Bazaar selected BARBARA/JEAN as a Style Leader for fashion merchandise and outstanding customer service. In 2012, BARBARA/JEAN became the first store in the region to include a Lafayette 148 New York shop-in-shop.
When Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson approached BARBARA/JEAN in 2014 with the offer to partner for an exclusive runway show during the first ever Woman of Inspiration event benefitting Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, the team was thrilled to contribute to a meaningful cause. For the first event, BARBARA/JEAN featured the Fall/Winter 2015 collection from Lafayette 148 New York, and as the event has grown from luncheon to black-tie gala, BARBARA/JEAN has continued to be the exclusive runway show each year, featuring the first runway presentations in Arkansas from Kaufman Franco, Carolina Herrera, and Lourdes Chavez.
In 2017, BARBARA/JEAN celebrated 45 years of offering the world’s best merchandise and highest levels of customer service to Arkansas women. Throughout its history, BARBARA/JEAN has earned its reputation for high visibility and generous contributions to its community, as well as an excellent reputation in the fashion industry for fiscal responsibility and long-term relationships with our many exclusive resources. To this day, it continues to be a pillar of professionalism, luxury and service in Little Rock.