Recession Roadkill: Maria Pinto

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In what is certainly turning 2010 into the winter of fashion discontent, the onetime Michelle Obama fave Maria Pinto told the Sun-Times she is closing up shop.

Mrs. O’s Ikram Connection

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Today’s New York Times carries an extensive report on the role Chicago boutique owner Ikram Goldman has been playing of late, as sort of an unofficial stylist for the First Lady.  According to the Times, Ikram “has played an unprecedented role since the election, serving as gatekeeper between the fashion industry and the first lady.All details regarding the making of Mrs. Obama’s wardrobe for the inaugural were overseen by Ms. Goldman, who kept designers in the dark about whether their outfit would be chosen.” Read the entire article here. (Registration required.)

Chicago, Fashion Capital

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As the inauguration approaches and the iconization of Michelle Obama continues, the Washington Post visited Chicago to capture its fashion essence. Too bad they chose the least-fashionable week of the year. Brrr….

Now that’s Fashion Focus Chicago!

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The Sun-Times today carries a report that, not only was Michelle Obama wearing a Maria Pinto dress during her electrifying speech at the Democratic Convention Monday night, but that Barack Obama will make his speech tonight in a custom-made suit by Chicago’s own Hart Schaffner Marx. Noteworthy fact: Barack’s a 40-long with a 33 waist.

Michelle Obama in a Maria Pinto dress

Open for Business: Maria Pinto

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At first glance the interior of designer Maria Pinto’s West Loop boutique looks simple and chic, with a neutral color palate, an unfussy layout and minimal decor. But upon closer inspection the space is covered in details. The hand-painted charcoal gray mural on the walls is actually an enlargement of a lace pattern from Pinto’s collection. Pillars around the room are covered in Bisazza mosaic tiles. The entrance to the fitting-room area is draped in chain mail, and a Louis XIV-style leather chair, dipped in bright gold latex, sits regally in a fitting room. The aesthetic is “opulent minimalism,” a phrase that also accurately describes Pinto’s luxurious yet wearable women’s clothing.

Pinto’s new store is the latest addition to the bustling West Loop, an area that Pinto targeted immediately after starting her space search in early 2007. “I like the energy,” Pinto says of the neighborhood. “It’s industrial but there’s this sophistication as well. It has a nice community feeling.” Once inside the doors of the boutique, the neighborhood fades away. From entrance to exit, clients of Maria Pinto are treated to a shopping experience. Milan-made chairs provide comfort, mellow music soothes the soul and fitting rooms the size of a small bedroom make the try-on process utterly divine.

“I hate when you have to step out to be fitted,” Pinto says. “I want people to be able to decompress, to have their husbands or friends come in.” The extra space is perfect for sampling Pinto’s line, which combines classic silhouettes with playful, ornate detailing (think perfectly placed cut chiffon, feathers and sequins). But it’s not just Pinto’s collection that is featured in the boutique. “I’m also carrying things that I use in my own closet, things that complement the collection,” she says. Belts by Farenheit and jewelry from India are featured alongside sweaters from Nepal. Pinto even provides for the gents with a small array of Pinto-designed cummerbunds, ties and bowties.

Sure, a client list that includes Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey might intimidate even the most confident shopper. But the vast new space allows for a variety of price points. “Within the collection you can easily find pieces for under $300,” Pinto says. (Molly Each)

Maria Pinto is located at 135 North Jefferson, (312)648-1335,