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The Ikram Touch

From our February 2006 issue: The New York Times has proclaimed her namesake women’s boutique “impossibly chic.” She offers the sort of impeccable, pricey designs and objects of desire featured in Vogue. Yet Ikram Goldman’s devoted clients say her secret is her vision and her intuition—and her commitment to refining their personal style

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The hot Zen zone that is Ikram, the fashion boutique at 873 North Rush Street, the shoppers are busy. A 20-something woman—tall and blond and exuding that burnished Lake Forest via Talbots look—is trying on earrings. She wants something to wear for “both evenings out and with jeans,” she says, and she keeps going back and forth between two dangling faux-jeweled choices.

One pair costs $960 and the other $1,050, and although to observers the choice is clear (the $960 earrings get lost in her long hair), she just can’t decide. No matter; her salesperson is well schooled in the art of being helpful without being intrusive.

A woman in her early 40s, wearing a sleek-fitting coat and Prada shoes, is looking at a shoulder-strap Miu Miu purse for her daughter. The black bag is beautiful and buttery; its leather gleams in the afternoon sun that bounces off the gold-leafed wall panels. The $785 price tag doesn’t faze her. “My daughter’s working now,” she says to Shane Petyko, Ikram’s assistant and right-hand man. “She needs this.”

Farther back, closer to the cinnabar lacquered wall and the large changing rooms where African water carrier sticks are mounted as clothing racks, two women engage in an intense conversation. One is Merle Reskin, a former actress of the 1950s, a socialite, and a patron of the arts (the former Blackstone Theatre is now named after her, a gift from her late husband to DePaul University); the other is Ikram Goldman, 38, the owner and tastemaker of the store. Reskin has just finished a fitting of some Notify pantsuits, and now she has spotted some earrings by the London designer Erickson Beamon: jet-black beaded concentric circles as large as butter plates with little black beads dangling from the ends.

“How much are these?” Reskin asks.

“Three hundred and fifty-five dollars,” says Goldman.

“Can I have them for $350?”

With a little smile, Goldman acknowledges Reskin’s urge to bargain. “All right, $350.”

But then, just as someone starts to carry them back to add to Reskin’s other purchases, Goldman grabs hold of the earrings. “Wait, let me see those on you.”

Reskin, sensing trouble, tries to wave Goldman away. “Shane,” she calls out to Ikram’s assistant, “just put them with my other things.”

Goldman holds the earrings up on either side of Reskin’s face and casts an appraising look. “No, Merle, you can’t have these,” she says. “Your neck’s too short. They don’t look right.”

“What’s the matter with you?” says Reskin, beginning to pout. “I want them.”

“I’ll call the designer,” says Goldman. “He’ll make you a pair with just the two smaller circles. It will be the look you want.”

“How much will this cost me?”

“They’ll cost less.”

Reskin begins to waver. “Well, will they have all the crap on the bottom like these earrings?”

“You will love them,” says Goldman.

“You’d think someone would be allowed to buy a pair of $355 earrings if she wants to,” mutters Reskin, but she has already lost interest in this fight. After all, it was clear from the beginning who was going to win.

“They will be perfect,” Goldman promises in a soothing voice. “They will be perfect.”

Such is the courage of her convictions. For the past four and a half years, ever since Goldman opened her namesake boutique Ikram (pronounced Ee-crom), she has been fearlessly pursuing her fashion vision and selling it to customers who are not sent into sticker shock by the price tags. For those who want—and can afford—to wear a unique mix of American, European, and Japanese designers, Ikram is a treasure-trove of impeccable taste. The store’s look, conceived by the Chicago designer Mario Aranda in collaboration with Ikram’s husband, Joshua Goldman, is modern Asian warmth. Hand-carved Chinese screens are used as closet doors, and Murano glass lights sprout from the ceiling like upside-down mushrooms. The featured designers include Alexander McQueen and Comme des Garçons, Lanvin and Yohji Yamamoto, Azzedine Alaia and Narciso Rodriguez. The New York Times has called Goldman’s store “impossibly chic,” and Vogue regularly highlights clothes by the designers she carries. “Ikram has a great eye, one of the best,” says Joan
Weinstein, who was the powerhouse behind Ultimo, the fashion-forward Oak Street boutique, for 30 years. Goldman herself worked at Ultimo under Weinstein’s tutelage for a decade, and in her own store she has instilled the Weinstein legacy of quality and service. Recently, when Crain’s Chicago Business sent an undercover shopper to test the service of ten of the city’s luxury women’s stores, Ikram was among the four that received a high rating. “Friendly, helpful and knowledgeable,” the reporter noted.

Part of that is the intensive training that Goldman gives her staff of 17 people. But then there is Goldman herself. No imperious fashion dictator, she is a nonthreatening presence with an engaging personality and a voluptuous figure. Talk to her for five minutes and you feel like an old friend. Add to that her ability to read people within seconds and her willingness to work the floor and the dressing rooms personally. “I want this store to be more like you’re going into a friend’s closet and picking out a great outfit,” says Goldman, who today is wearing black pants by Jean Paul Gaultier, a Junya Watanabe long-sleeved black T-shirt, and an If Six Was Nine vintage leopard fur vest held closed with two antique jeweled snake pins. “But instead of borrowing it, she’s giving the outfit to you to keep. And she’s making sure that it fits you perfectly and it’s accessorized exquisitely and it’s tweaked around your personality, so that in the end the outfit is not her, but totally you.”

“The staff is great about determining what your style is and then helping you refine it,” says Kate Neisser, 40, an educational consultant. Neisser buys almost all of her clothes at Ikram because “they put the emphasis not on what they like but on how to make you feel comfortable with what you’re wearing.”

“She taps into your personality and helps you find your best look,” says Melody Hobson, the president of Ariel Capital Management. Hobson, who first started going to Goldman when she worked at Ultimo, buys both her day- and eveningwear at Ikram now. “There is no templated Ikram look that you will see duplicated on all kinds of people,” she says. “It’s just that you look great and you look like yourself. To me, that’s what fashion is about. But more than anything she sells, it’s her heart that I’m attracted to.”

“I’m not afraid of fashion,” says Goldman. “I’m not afraid to play around with it. And if I can help someone else look the way she wants to look, then she’s happy and I’m happy. You can’t please everyone, but you can make some people very happy.”

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Photograph: Anna Knott

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