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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Goldman chooses pieces that she loves. “Which doesn’t mean that I could wear them,” she says. “I just go with what I love.” If it sells, that’s great. But some of the pieces she buys end up in her personal archives—a collection of exceptional designs that she keeps in an off-site storage area and occasionally offers for sale in her store. One new addition might be a filmy white chiffon Comme des Garçons bridal dress, priced at $6,000. A woman wanted to buy it the other day, but Goldman talked her out of it. “She wasn’t right for it,” she explains. “It should go to a bride, someone really tall and with a short haircut. Or it should go to my archives.” Currently in the store is a 1963 Chanel evening gown from Goldman’s archives: midnight blue with long sleeves and tiny gold knot buttons, a full skirt, and a crinoline underneath. “It’s nice to be able to bring out these pieces, add them to the mix, and see if someone wants them. If not, they have a good home with me.”

She keeps her customers in mind when attending the shows in New York, Paris, and Milan (she knows who likes long sleeves and who is having hot flashes), but her choices tend to be more fearless than consumer driven. Two examples: a $62,000 alligator trench coat by Proenza Schouler and an Elsa Schiaparelli–inspired Yamamoto black felt coat embellished with crystals and rhinestones for $6,300. To her mind, they are the best in their class, and so naturally they belong in her store. Her customers range in age from the 20s on up. “It’s a slightly younger crowd than the one I used to help at Ultimo,” says Goldman. “Here it’s students, worker bees, everyone who loves fashion. Fashion has changed; today it’s a jeans-and-a-great-top culture, for the most part. So you start there and you build.”

At Ikram, the jeans by Notify are $230, and the T-shirts by Clu are $90. Throw in a $1,600 plastic-and-lace pea coat by Thakoon and you’re set. Or today, for example, two dressing rooms are “wrecks,” declares Goldman. They are filled with dresses and jackets and pants and sweaters and shoes and boots and necklaces and purses that are all sold, one entire dressing room’s worth to a 32-year-old woman and the other to someone who is 40. “Don’t look,” says Goldman, walking by the rooms. “They’re disasters right now.” But actually the rooms are like mini museums, the boots toppled over on the carpeting, the jackets precariously perched on hangers, the jewelry tossed down on a bench: still lifes of today’s desires.

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Those in attendance this afternoon are not exactly an Ikram crowd. Sure, one woman is wearing a Duro Olowu patchwork dress, and there are some beautifully fitted black jackets. But then there are the ladies in the St. John suits and the holiday-themed sweaters. It is the annual Christmas luncheon benefit put on by the Oak Brook Chapter of the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago: Cornish hen and wild rice at the Drury Lane in Oak Brook, then a fashion show by Ikram. Backstage, Goldman, in a Junya Watanabe top, black pants, and flats, is uncharacteristically nervous. “Can’t talk, can’t talk,” she says, fanning herself with the Infant Welfare Society’s ad book.

But once the fashion show starts, Goldman’s obsession for details pays off, and everything is perfect: stunning young women with straight hair and ramrod posture parade on the U-shaped runway. The biggest hits are the gowns by Lanvin, Valentino, and Rodarte—floaty Greek goddess numbers—while the most murmurs are prompted by the see-through blouses from Alexander McQueen and Rochas.

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Afterward, the atmosphere backstage is celebratory. Joan Weinstein, who helped dress the models, is there; so is Josh Goldman. “I deserve some credit,” he says with a smile. “I’m the only man here in a crowd of 1,000 women.”

Ikram rushes up. “Was it OK? The models weren’t too skinny? There wasn’t too much nudity?” Slowly, she begins to recover from the jitters. “You’ve got to love your life,” she says, turning philosophical. “Appreciate it more, enjoy it because this is it.” To that end, she and her husband will zip off on a friend’s private jet to Miami the next day to attend an art expo. “It’s going to be fun,” she says. “I’m going to take a big break from work.” She will be back at the store in two days. Years ago, when she worked at Ultimo, someone told her that if you really want something, you have to go after it. “You have to breathe it, smell it, feel it, touch it, dream it. Put away what doesn’t work, concentrate on what does, and create it.” She’s doing just that.

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