December 01, 1975 12:00 PM

There’s not much to do in Salado, Texas (pop. 400), as a visitor once complained, “except watch the pickup trucks.” The nearest city is Temple, 13 miles away. Dallas is 146 miles north. And yet Salado has become an extraordinary high-fashion outpost—the destination of so many rich, well-dressed women across the country that the village built an airstrip so private planes could fly in.

The magnet is a shop called simply Grace Jones—and it draws women from as far away as Mexico and Washington, D.C., who come to stock up on clothes with labels like Geoffrey Beene, Norman Norell, Halston, Bill Blass, Galanos and Givenchy. The first families of Texas shop there, and so do such prominent out-of-staters as Mrs. Bing Crosby, Mrs. Lee Marvin, Liz Carpenter, Jane Murchison and Jessica Cato, wife of the State Department’s chief of protocol. “I don’t buy a thing except from Grace,” says Mrs. Jeanne Sonfield, a Houston socialite. “She understands the look that I want.”

Grace Jones, the 50ish, blond slip of a Texan who turned the old Salado Bank building into a fashion institution, has never advertised. “It’s all word of mouth,” she says, based on her reputation for personally dressing each customer. With 30 major labels at their disposal, Grace’s customers feel confident she will guide them to the right choice.

“I want my customers to be singled out as the best-dressed at any function,” says Grace, who prefers that her customers call for an appointment first. “If I don’t have anything for them, there’s no reason to come down and waste all that time,” she explains, adding: “They trust that I’m going to bring back from New York the best of the market.”

Grace Jones behaves as if she invented personal service. Her salon, for instance, includes handsome private dressing rooms, a staff of maids to run packages out to parked limos, a pick-up service at the airstrip and the best-stocked bar this side of the Pecos. On her regular trips to New York and Paris, she shops with individual clients in mind: “I know their life-styles and their wardrobes.” With a sense of what is right for them, Grace will often substitute the belt on one dress, add a delicate cloth flower to another. And she frankly tells a woman buying an expensive coat, “No, don’t wear the collar that way.” Her customers feel so secure in Grace’s hands that prices (ranging from $200 to $2,000) are rarely discussed. Says Grace, “That’s something we talk about later, if necessary.”

A onetime fashion model herself (with both Huntington Hartford and Powers), Grace was a test-and ferry-pilot in World War II. She met her husband, Curran L. “Jack” Jones, when the plane she was ferrying was grounded at Florida’s Perry Air Field, where Jack was in command of a bomber squadron. When Jack was posted to Japan, Grace gave fashion shows for officers’ wives. “Some of my most chic outfits were put together from post exchanges in Korea,” she says. After Jack retired in 1961, the childless couple decided on Salado on the old Texas trail, near where they had earlier bought some land. (Jack raises horses and recently added a tack shop to her store.)

It did not take long for word to spread that Grace had set up her own trading post. “She’s a modern pioneer,” says New York designer Ron Amey, who, along with the likes of Blass, Beene and Jean-Louis, regularly trek down to Salado to show their new lines to Grace’s prize customers.

Some of those shoppers think nothing of putting up at Salado’s Stagecoach Inn for a week and spending as much as $12,000 on clothes. To Grace and Jack Jones, who frequently throw elaborate barbecues, the guests are part of the fun. “I used to shop for my friends,” Grace Jones says. “This isn’t too much different. I’m now just shopping for more friends.”

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