S.F. mourns a twin with a passion for fashion
SAN FRANCISCO — They were known simply as the San Francisco Twins.
At 5-foot-1 and about 100 pounds apiece, the fashion enthusiasts were an integral part of the city fabric for four decades. With matching furs, hats and high-end purses, they completed each other’s sentences, posed for countless tourist snapshots and modeled for the likes of Reebok, Joe Boxer and IBM.
Now one is gone.
Vivian Brown, 85, who had Alzheimer’s, died in her sleep Wednesday, leaving behind Marian, who was eight minutes younger. The illness, and news of the twins’ financial distress, brought an outpouring of support from city residents in recent months.
Donations managed by Jewish Family and Children Services helped Vivian move into an elegant assisted living facility in Lower Pacific Heights and provided for a car service so Marian could visit “as much as she wanted to,” Development Director Barbara Farber said. “The community really responded.…It’s been a beautiful thing.”
At a benefit concert for the twins in August, the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin and other musicians honored Marian. Cash flowed in to cover her meals at Uncle Vito’s Pizza on Nob Hill, long one of the ladies’ regular haunts.
On Friday, fans offered collective condolences as they swallowed some bitter medicine: The sightings that brought joy to many — of the twins in leopard-print cowboy hats parading up and down Powell Street and window shopping at Union Square — are forever a thing of the past.
In saying goodbye to Vivian, the city has ushered out an era of style.
“All of that has gone, and that’s true of all cities,” said Ann Moller Caen, the widow of Pulitzer Prize-winning San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, who wrote often about the twins. “They’ve lost the elegant few.”
Mayor Ed Lee echoed residents’ grief in online postings throughout the day, saying that “San Francisco is heartbroken” over Vivian’s passing and was “fortunate to have called her a true friend.”
The twins, who were born in Kalamazoo, Mich., and held degrees in business administration, moved to San Francisco in 1973, prompted by Vivian’s chronic bronchial condition. Once on the West Coast, Vivian became a legal secretary and Marian worked at a bank.
But fashion was their passion, and they cut a striking double image.
There were the fitted white suit jackets with pleated skirts, veiled hats and white fur coats; the red wool Ellen Tracy suits with black felt hats and black gloves.
“When you first came to the city and saw them, you might think it was a little joke. But it really wasn’t,” Caen said Friday. “They were very warm and very pleasant to everyone, and they just loved Herb. And he loved them.”
Evelyn Adler recalled that her father, who sold shoes at the Emporium on San Francisco’s Market Street in the 1970s, had regularly waited on “the girls,” as he called them.
“They were always at the very height of sometimes ridiculous fashion,” said Adler, 82. Her father, she said, had talked of how years of wearing pointy shoes left the twins with overlapping toes. (They later embraced lower heels that were “much more suited to their feet,” Adler said.)
As a volunteer for Jewish Family Services, Adler recently shopped for a new wardrobe for Vivian — and was taken aback by the sight of the twins in separate outfits. About a quarter-century ago, the twins admitted to an interviewer that after a six-month attempt to dress differently in their 20s, they had abandoned the project forever. Even their lingerie matched.
They had their regular haunts, which Marian now frequents solo.
David Dubiner, owner of Uncle Vito’s Pizza, said the sisters began coming in nearly two decades ago. They always sat at the table by the window, chatting with tourists for so long that their food had to be reheated.
Vivian often did more talking, Dubiner said, but Marian now holds court for two.
On Thursday evening, Marian arrived alone at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel on Union Square to “have a glass of champagne and toast her sister goodbye,” said Tom Sweeney, chief doorman at the hotel who for the last 37 years watched the twins descend the four blocks from their Nob Hill apartment.
“They’re quite the personalities of San Francisco,” Sweeney said. “We’ll definitely miss Vivian.”
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