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Chicago's Fashion Industry

Steve Rosengard Design, Elise Bergman, Price Walton, Jill Alberts Jewelry and Joelle Nadine Design, LLC

   Pressed to describe Chicago’s fashion industry, there’s a lot to say. The city boasts some 250 designers, four fashion design colleges, world-class boutiques and department stores, reality television contestants and a huge fan base. Surely you noted Michelle Obama sporting Chicago-based Maria Pinto dresses during the Democratic National Convention. It’s harder to define the collective sartorial style.
   “It’s very individual,” says Melissa Gamble, the city’s director of fashion arts and events. “While all of our designers are aware of and incorporate certain trends, they really have their own aesthetic and independence.”
   One trait they have in common: fierce loyalty to Chicago.
   “I think that’s for a variety of reasons, from having a smaller fashion community that is very supportive of each other to the city itself, with the lake and architecture.”
   Gamble says, [Designers] “get a lot of inspiration from the city.”
   Here are a few close-ups of several Chicago fashion visionaries:

773-327-9609, www.stevenrosengard.com
   Steven Rosengard dressed Barbie dolls and kept going. He made stops at Columbia College Chicago and points abroad, studying fashion history and textiles and making his first dresses. As a couture designer, his day and evening wear reflect the elegance of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Fall 2008: Wool, more than usual. Plaids are big and pairings of black with vibrant colors.
Why Chicago: It’s easier because there are fewer people, especially people doing custom stuff. On the other hand, there isn’t such a large need for it. If you know enough people getting married or doing the fundraiser circuit, you can keep busy.

312-952-7047, www.elisebergman.com
   While attending the University of Michigan, Elise Bergman created her first collection of daytime dresses, one-of-a-kind fashioned from vintage fabrics. They sold quickly, providing the confidence to come home and start her label. She uses silks, cottons and other sustainable materials, often in combos. Her hallmark: investment dresses worn multiple ways.
Inspiration: Family, music, art, architecture—I try to take something from everything around me.
Fall 2008: My signature pieces re-done in fall-weight fabrics and different textures; new sweaters and knit hat accessories.


407 S. Dearborn St., 312-731-0156
   Couture veterans Roger Price and Tommy Walton’s innovative designs are both glam and hip, often employing nearly extinct skills such as embroidery, millinery and feather-work for an international private and celebrity clientele. Also, Walton teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Fall 2008: Ornamental structure with fabric. A lot of surface embellishment. We have a jacket with origami-pleated sleeves and a headpiece with three Swarovski crystal scorpions.
Inspiration: A lot of historical inspirations. We love Josephine Baker, a showgirl in Paris in the 1920s, and all the great couturiers and Bob Mackie. We’re very inspired by music and listen to it all the time.

469 Roger Williams, Highland Park, 847-681-1630, www.jillalberts.com
   On her way to a political career, Jill Alberts took classes in jewelry design to relax. Then her designs—vintage looks with a modern flair—began to sell. Trunk shows and personal appearances took too much time away from her children, so she opened her store in March. Much of her work is reproduction or original design, often inspired by decades past.
Fall 2008:  We’re cutting drusy agates. One part is polished, so it’s smooth, and another part is raw. Then we dip them in platinum and gold and set them in pave diamonds. It’s an organic look with high sheen.
Inspiration: Other women, whether Kate Moss or Grace Kelly or my neighbor. I think about what I would like to design for them.
Cool Experience: Vera Wang bought some pieces.

312-951-9774, www.joellenadine.com
   Joelle Minassian designs and hand-sews handbags and small leather goods, using Italian leathers and hardware. She earned design degrees from the Fashion Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin, then spent six years in Italy designing for Versace, Ferre and Cavalli, where she learned first-hand the techniques of fine craftsmanship. She received the Fashion Group International’s “Rising Star” award for accessories in 2006.
Inspiration:  I start with raw materials, like hides and hardware from my vendors. The tactile feel, colors, finishes, textures and drape intrigue me.
Fall 2008: Clutches and day-bags in novelty leathers, some with sterling silver elements.
Cool Experience: Being hired to design for Versace’s Versus line.
Why Chicago: I l-o-v-e my hometown. I also appreciate that Mayor Daley has enthusiastically encouraged fashion in Chicago. o

Published: October 11, 2008
Issue: November 2008 Investing In Chicago