Hillary White Jean tells her side of the convoluted con that ensnared the Main Line.
by Melissa Jacobs
Hillary White Jean walks into Radnor Memorial Library as if dressed for a chic Sunday brunch, complete with a fedora, Marc Jacobs bag, fur-covered clogs and oversized sunglasses. She always looks glamorous; no one said she didn’t have style. But they have said that she is a con artist, a fraud, a member of the Haitian mafia, and worse.
In a drama befitting a “Real Housewives” bad girl, Hillary White Jean has gone from a media darling to a disgraced outcast. The social media flaying came after news spread of Hillary’s three failed boutiques – one in Glen Mills, two in Wayne, all of them opened and closed between 2020-2022. In those same two years, Hillary racked up thousands of dollars of debt owed to landlords, fashion designers, and other small businesses.
How did this happen? What made Hillary think that doing business this way was acceptable? Why did people trust her? Who is Hillary White Jean? If she tells us, will we believe her?
Sitting in an anonymously white room in the library, Hillary is a long way from her vibrant, chic boutiques and the glamorous lifestyle she depicted on her social media accounts. She’s no longer traipsing around the Hamptons or Miami in photos that were real yet somehow felt heavily curated. Something was just … off. In certain Main Line circles, Hillary’s business dealings were considered strange, if not suspicious, from the minute she opened her Wayne boutique.
But now, sitting with her husband and son at the library, Hillary says the recent attention she received is inaccurate and unfair. Businesses close every day, she says, and many declare bankruptcy to clear their unpaid debts. Hillary does not understand why she’s been targeted and humiliated.
“I’m not a con artist,” she says. “I’m not a criminal. I’m nothing like that. I am a very kind-hearted person. Everybody that I owed, I intended to pay them. And I apologize to those that I’ve hurt. From the bottom of my heart.”
She still lives in Wayne, despite the scandal. “It’s horrible to tell you the truth,” she says. “I’m scared. I don’t go anywhere. It’s a small town and everyone knows me. It’s devastating. Whatever happened, I didn’t intentionally make it happen. I didn’t do it maliciously to hurt people.”
Hillary says that she is depressed, even suicidal, which her husband and son confirm. More than anything, she wants to tell her side of the story. That, she thinks, will clear her. It may, or it may add fuel to the red-hot fire. But it seems fair to let her speak. And so, Hillary White Jean starts to tell her story.
Before Hillary White Jean owned boutiques in Pennsylvania, she owned salons in Delaware. Hillary’s first career was as a hair stylist; she speaks of it often. A Google search of her name and “Delaware” turned up the first of her business troubles.
It’s worth pausing to explain Hillary’s name. Her legal name is Hillary White Jean-Joseph, as proven by the passport and driver’s license she offered. Joseph is the last name of her first husband and their two children. Jean is the last name of her current husband, Claudel Jean, and their 15-year old daughter. These surnames are also first names, which creates some confusion, and Hillary has used different combinations of her names in various businesses.
“That didn’t go well,” Hillary said. “Since I was building it from scratch, the landlord gave me six months free rent. With the permits and construction, it went on longer and I ran out of money. After that, the landlord and I didn’t like each other. I lost a lot of money. I closed it down.”
Hillary’s very first business was a hair salon on 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Called Tower of Beauty in French, it was open for 4½ years, closing after 9/11 devastated Midtown. Later, Hillary opened a salon in Chelsea on 24th Street spending, she says, over $200,000 on its décor.
Hillary’s ex-husband was her first boyfriend; they married when she was 19. That may seem young, but by the time Hillary was 19, she’d already experienced severe trauma.
Born on New Year’s Day in Port-au-Prince, Hillary grew up under the regime of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Haiti was a poverty-stricken country wracked with violence, much of it stemming from political chaos. Hillary said that her father was a member of the Duvalier party and that he was killed when Aristide came into power in 1991.
By then, Hillary was in the U.S., taken there by her mother, an artisan from a small village who was never taught to read or write. In Haiti, Hillary attended an all-girls Catholic school. “My mother did the best she could to make sure I had the best life I could in Haiti,” Hillary said. “She sent me to the best school.”
But her mother knew that the U.S. had a better educational system. So when Hillary was in high school, she moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, where she had family. At the time, Hillary spoke French and Haitian Creole, not English. When she got to Connecticut, she learned English through a forced immersion process. Eventually, her mother went back to Haiti, leaving Hillary in the care of her wealthy family members.
Wealth provided a luxurious Connecticut life for Hillary, but there was a dark side to it. When she was in high school, Hillary was sexually molested by her godfather, a man who promised to protect her. When she spoke to teachers about it, her godfather punished her by making her sleep in the kitchen and taking away her clothes. “I was going to school wearing the same clothes, the same underwear,” Hillary says. “When my teachers knew something was wrong, they took me to the counselor. I had to talk about it. Then, they put me in a shelter. I was there by myself.”
With no family, no money, and no command of the English language, Hillary didn’t have a lot of choices. Her then boyfriend, who is also Haitian, welcomed her into his family. Hillary offers this story in a perfunctory way to explain why she was married at age 19. She doesn’t use the abuse or living in a shelter to garner sympathy. Indeed, she is unemotional about it, as if it happened to someone else. But no one walks away from that unscathed. How that trauma affected Hillary is a matter of speculation.
By 2004, she was ready to leave her first marriage and start a new life. With her sons, she settled in Delaware. On July 4, 2005, Hillary met Claudel Jean at a barbecue. Also from Port-au-Prince, Claudel moved to the US when he was 21 and now works in New York as a manager. When Hillary decided that she wanted to open a boutique in Glen Mills, PA, Claudel supported her.
In October 2020, Hillary signed the lease for Lady M, her Glen Mills boutique. Opened by Jan. 2021, the boutique closed within 8 months, and never quite made sense.
For starters, there weren’t many clothes in the boutique. Now, Hillary says this was because she started the store by reselling clothes from her own closet. She also bought clothes on sale at other stores and resold them at Lady M. The clothes were never labelled as such.
“I signed the lease, so I needed to open, but I had no merchandise,” Hillary says. “I have a closet full of fashion. So this is how I was going to start: with the clothes in my closet. It was things I barely wore, or wore just once. Someone told me to open as a consignment store, but I didn’t know anything about consignment.”
Consignment is a fairly universal concept, but in any case, Lady M closed by July 2021. Did the landlord let her out of the lease? “No, not quite,” Hillary says. “The sales weren’t too good. I was behind in the rent. I owed a few months, but my attorney was in touch with the management. We set date for me to move and I left. That’s why they didn’t sue me.”
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