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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Ikram Saman was born and raised in Israel. As a little girl, she was obsessed with changing her dolls’ clothes. “I’m sure it’s every little girl’s passion, but mine stuck,” she says. When she was 14, she moved to Chicago with her mother and brother and attended Cathedral High School. Her mother had come to pursue cancer treatments at the University of Chicago. It was difficult for the family, Ikram says, but “times like those are what you make of them.” After her mother died, Ikram started working as a waitress and a babysitter and then as a sales associate. Eventually she landed at Clown, a children’s clothing store on Oak Street, and it was then that she would see Joan Weinstein walking up and down the street, going between Ultimo and the Armani, Jil Sander, and Sonia Rykiel boutiques that Weinstein also oversaw. “I had never met her, but I just adored her,” says Goldman. “She had such presence. One day I decided that I wanted to work for her.”

In 1990, Ikram got her wish. She worked mainly in the women’s department and occasionally in the men’s section. There she perfected her style of dealing with privileged shoppers looking for high fashion. “I learned everything from Joan: relationships, creativity, styling,” she says. In 1995, she married Joshua Goldman, a lawyer and a photography collector. His parents, Jean and Steven, are well known in the art community. In 1999, they donated their collection of Renaissance drawings to the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as the money to build the Jean and Steven Goldman Study Center there. Suddenly working was no longer a necessity for Ikram. “You know, shortly after we got married, I asked Josh what he envisioned as my life now,” says Goldman. “And he said, ‘Oh, you know, philanthropic work, charity work.’ And I said, ‘Boy, have you married the wrong girl.’”

She kept working at Ultimo. “Ikram has a rare capacity to do both big picture concepts and small details,” says Weinstein, who is now a paid consultant for her protégée’s store. “She breathes fashion, but she also has a great head for business.” Those traits served her well when, in 1999, Weinstein retired from Ultimo. Goldman also left the store. In 2001, she opened her own boutique. She picked red as her signature color, but none of the shades in the Pantone book worked; she needed a custom color, something with no orange and no blue but a hint of brown. It took 17 tries to get the color on the wall right. She set up her office so that she is back by the dressing rooms; that way she is only steps away from helping any customer. Her first rule: her office door never closes. Anyone—customers, staff, friends who drop by—can walk up and talk to her. “When I was a shopper, I never got much satisfaction out of going to department stores,” Goldman says. “And in the smaller boutiques, something was always missing. I wanted a different kind of service here: educated, friendly, hardworking. And I wanted the place to be fun.”

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It’s a cold, rainy afternoon—the drabness is in strong contrast with the light, wispy spring fashions of silk chiffon and gauzy linen that Goldman has been viewing on the computer in her office. These are her spring selections—dresses from Rodarte, Rochas, and Lanvin—but there are people who need fashion today. Shoppers are in the store, and the staff is serving them delicate cups of tea on square metal platters. A young woman in her 20s, wearing a denim miniskirt and Ugg boots, wants Fiji water instead. No problem. One 40ish woman is looking at the purses by Chrome Hearts. Large and delicately detailed with small sterling silver hearts, stars, and skulls, the bags range from $1,800 to $2,700, so the woman is proceeding cautiously with her decision. She tries holding one and then another over her shoulder and then stretched out in front of her to view.

Goldman has left her office and come to assist the woman. “Look,” she says, “you should think about whether you are a shoulder person or a handle-in-the-hand person. That will focus your choices.” She pulls out two purses. “Try this one and then this one.” She steps back from the woman a moment, giving her both physical and psychological space. OK, the woman has it down to three possibilities. “Shane,” Goldman calls out, “get my bag from the back.” When Goldman’s own purse, the $2,100 Chrome Hearts gym bag version, is brought out, Goldman hands it to the shopper.

“Now, here is the same one but filled with stuff,” she says. “So you can see how it looks, and you can feel it on your shoulder. Of course, you probably won’t be lugging as much junk as I am, but this makes it more real.” Indeed, it does. The woman has settled on a sleek shoulder-bag version with a leather fleur-de-lis pattern but not much silver detailing. “I mean, is it enough, do you think?” the woman asks. “Should I go for something with more?”

Goldman looks at her for a moment, head to toe. “You know, this is really your style. The little skulls—you’ll tire of them over time.” Sold.

Minutes later, Goldman is back in her office returning phone calls. A small woman in her late 30s enters the store. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and she is wearing a baseball cap, a quilted jacket, and sneakers. She has a black-tie event to attend in Miami, she tells Shane, but she is not sure she even needs anything new. “I have things, you know, so maybe I just want a new top or something. I’m just looking.” He lets her peruse the racks for a few minutes. Then he starts pulling out possibilities: a green chiffon cocktail dress by Lanvin, a silver sheath by Isabel Toledo. She ends up in a dressing room with about eight items and starts trying them on. But nothing is hitting the right note for her.

Suddenly Goldman shoots out of her office with an urgency that would be suitable for a hospital emergency room. She knows what she wants this woman to try on. Shane follows close behind. “Put your arms out,” Goldman tells him, and he sticks out his hands as if to hold a skein of yarn. Goldman pulls a white Peter Soronen bustier with black soutache detailing off a hanger and puts it over Shane’s arms. While he holds it tight, she quickly unlaces the corset, then grabs a slim black lace Thakoon skirt.

Back in the dressing room, the shopper—who moments ago was ready to leave—is perking up. Black-and-white Jimmy Choo heels are brought in, then a collar necklace of jet-black beading. The woman steps into the mirrored viewing room transformed. No longer nondescript, she now looks breathtakingly chic. A snug little Azzedine Alaia black cardigan is brought over and draped around her shoulders. Sold. Can she come back tomorrow with some items she already owns and see if anything goes with them? “Sure,” says Goldman, “bring in whatever you want and we’ll play a little.”

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