Bringing It All Back Home
How do designs go from the runway to boutiques? Three visionary shop owners reveal their strategies
Few retailers have the chutzpah to tell top designers to change their work—and enough clout to be taken seriously. But since opening her shop seven years ago, Ikram Goldman has garnered international acclaim for bringing gutsy runway fashions to the Gold Coast.
IKRAM GOLDMAN THE OWNER AND BUYING DIRECTOR OF IKRAM, 873 North Rush Street, 312-587-1000; ikram.com.
Q: How do you discover new designers?
A: Sometimes I go to salons, but I like off-the-beaten- path finds, like young designers and artists in a rental in the 18th Arrondissement in Paris, or in the Meatpacking District in New York. I generally find out about them through word of mouth.
Q: An example of someone you found this way?
A: A jewelry designer named Sonia Boyajian. This girl is the quirkiest, cleverest thing I’ve ever seen. She constantly explores and experiments with fabrics and stones and does extraordinary jewelry that is almost all one of a kind. I’ve carried her for five years now, and she’s 28. She’s an American whom I found in Paris.
Q: New designers you’re excited about?
A: TOGA is a Japanese collection that I discovered this season. They do incredible knit pieces for every day, but it’s very fashion forward and cool. Azzedine Alaïa is my favorite collection—still.
Q: Do you ever ask designers to make small adjustments to the garment before it reaches your store?
A: Yes. I even tell designers when a sleeve is too long, or when a neckline needs to be higher or lower. They embrace input like this. With Narciso Rodriguez, there was a dress I fell in love with, and
I told him to make the bust line a bit bigger and to take the fabric off the hip. And that’s how it was produced for all of the stores.
I once asked that the zipper be on the back, not the side of a dress, because it ruined the line.
Q: What stores around the world inspire you?
A: I love 10 Corso Como in Milan. It’s eclectic and raw—hands down my favorite store in the world. It has soul, and it has spirit; you want to play with the stuff and know who the designers are, and the displays are beautiful. There is no other store like that.
Q: What looks have you fallen for this season?
A: I absolutely loved Proenza Schouler this season; their cinched waists were so right on. Lanvin was one of the best. It was fluid and comfortable. Nobody else has done anything like that.
Heiji Choy Black has been bringing cachet to her Wicker Park shop for three and a half years. Artistic, delicate, and avant-garde, with a whopping dose of cool factor, Hejfina draws discerning fashion plates who covet hard-to-find labels.
HEIJI CHOY BLACK THE OWNER AND BUYING DIRECTOR OF HEJFINA, 1529 North Milwaukee Avenue, 773-772-0002; hejfina.com.
Q: Where do you buy?
A: I go to Première Classe and Tranoï in Paris. Once a year, I go to London for fashion week. In New York, I buy a lot, but I avoid the trade shows there because most of those lines are too exposed. I mostly go from show room to show room.
Q: You carry a lot of labels that don’t appear elsewhere in Chicago. How do you find them?
A: I travel a lot, and I cash in on new lines through tips and people I discover. I often end up being the first one there.
Q: Do you go to runway shows?
A: In New York I do a lot, and a couple in Paris. In London I go to Topshop’s Next Generation show. I like to check out the emerging designers in the U.K. and Europe, like Peter Jensen and Ann-Sofie Back, who aren’t necessarily commercial designers but who have great designs to offer.
Q: What shows are your favorites?
A: I love Rag & Bone, Vena Cava, Tsumori Chisato, and Zucca.
The shows in Paris are unbelievable—they look at a fashion show as part of the packaging of the line. So much beauty goes into it.
Q: What brand would you like to add to your store?
A: Zucca, which is from Japan and designed by Akira Onozuka.
Q: What looks have you fallen for this season?
A: I bought a lot of color for spring. I still believe in the dress;
it’s a simple, easy piece for women. I’ve bought some nice accents in metallic. Vena Cava did some lovely things in womanly silhouettes; so did Vanessa Bruno.
Q: How do the look and feel of your store contribute to your retailing scheme?
A: When I dreamed of my ideal retail store, I thought of Colette in Paris, but something a bit more artistic, not so trendy. I saw my store a bit more low-key with a focus on what is beautiful. I liked the idea of furniture and art and fashion combined, and looking at what Chicago already had, I believed it could do well here.
Tory Burch has hit the mark nationally by designing clothes that she wants to wear and showcasing them in boutiques that feel like her own living room. With a recently opened Chicago shop, Burch brings her blend of uptown polish and bohemian pop—plus that extra covetable something—to the city.
TORY BURCH THE OWNER AND DESIGNER OF TORY BuRCH, 66 East Walton Street, 312-280-0010; toryburch.com.
Q: When you opened your first store, in New York in 2004, people were a bit surprised that you chose a downtown instead of an uptown location. But that ended up being a successful decision. What made you choose East Walton Street in Chicago?
A: It was a little off the beaten path; I like it when stores become
a destination. It was also about rent; as opposed to Michigan
Avenue, this made more sense for us.
Q: You now have stores all over the United States. What will your Chicago shop have that others won’t?
A: There will be more outerwear, knits, and sweaters. We definitely buy differently for each store, based on weather mostly.
Q: How do the look and feel of your store fit into your
A: I didn’t want my stores to be minimalist. I wanted people to feel they had entered my apartment, for it to feel homey and luxurious. There are big ivory couches, Moroccan rugs over green carpet, bright orange walls, vintage chandeliers, fuchsia peonies. There are brass, Lucite, and mirrored elements, and the stores are scented
Q: What looks of yours are you most in love with this season?
A: There is a yellow sweater set with sequins paired with a high-waisted pencil skirt that I love. It was partly inspired by my mother, and also by Jackie O. We’re becoming known for sequins, which we’ve been doing since 2004. Our customers love them.
Q: Is there any American city that seems most in sync with
A: We don’t really have one Tory Burch customer, and that’s what we’ve been trying to achieve. A 14-year-old can wear the designs, and so can her grandmother.
Q: What do you think made your ballet flats so popular?
A: I’m definitely surprised by what a hit they’ve been. I think people are responding to the logo and the price point. We’re trying
to reinvent them a bit every season.
Favorite spring styles from our experts
From Proenza Schouler’s collection, a favorite of Ikram Goldman
One of Heiji Choy Black’s favorite new looks from Vena Cava
A design from Tory Burch’s line for spring 2008
Photography by Anna Knott
photography: Courtesy of Proenza Schouler, Vena Cava, and Tory Burch