Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Will Rahm Ever Buy His Boutique Jeans from This Store Again?

The Sun-Times’ Mark Konkol has a full-page story that reveals Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s expensive taste in jeans. Konkol’s source is Emanuel’s “denim advisor,” David Shelist, owner of The Denim Lounge in Roscoe Village and on Oak Street. After reading the story, I wondered if Rahm might object to being featured in the Sun-Times story buying such pricey jeans…

The Sun-Times’ Mark Konkol has a full-page story that reveals Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s expensive taste in jeans. Konkol’s source is Emanuel’s “denim advisor,” David Shelist, owner of The Denim Lounge in Roscoe Village and on Oak Street.  

After reading the story, I wondered if Rahm might object to being featured in the Sun-Times story buying such pricey jeans at a time of continuing economic distress. I called Shelist this morning to ask if he thought Rahm would mind the article, and the storeowner said he that he has not heard from the mayor, but that Emanuel was in the store on Sunday shopping for his daughter—before the Sun-Times published the story in this morning’s paper.

Shelist also told me that he went to City Hall with his tailor to take the mayor’s measurements. Shelist said he knew Emanuel “socially” before Rahm was elected, adding that the mayor had “…purchased the jeans and they didn’t fit properly, and we went to City Hall to fit them.” Shelist described for the Sun-Times’s Konkol two “boutique” straight leg jeans that Rahm favors: Paige ($167 on the store’s website) and AG jeans ($168). Konkol notes that the latter style is also a favorite of Eva Longoria and “one of the Kardashians.” When I asked Shelist if the mayor had purchased the jeans from him he said, “I’d rather not tell you.” 

This brought to my mind another Sun-Times story from a few years ago. Six days after the Obamas moved into the White House in 2009, Mike Sneed led her column with an item about Michelle Obama visiting a Michigan Avenue jeweler to exchange earrings Barack had bought her for a reported $5,000 for ones that cost a reported $12,000. Sneed described her source as Goldsmith Ltd. owner Sherry Bender, who was quoted as specifying that Michelle didn’t make the exchange that day; she first checked with her husband; “…then Barack came back in and bought what she wanted—which happened to be what I suggested originally.” 

I was puzzled then—and still am today—why a storeowner would be so indiscreet in revealing details about their high-profile guests and their expensive tastes, especially during a recession. I titled the blog I wrote that day for the Huffington Post, “Whoops! Michelle Will Never Shop There again.”  

Turns out there wasn’t as much backlash as I had thought. I called Ms. Bender today and she said that she received no complaints from Michelle Obama or anyone at the White House after the Sneed item hit. In fact, she said, the response was uniformly positive: “Most women thought it was a really cute story. It gave them license to exchange gifts; it was pretty endearing, human and typical.” I asked Bender if the First Lady is still a customer. “No, but she has not been in Chicago a whole lot,” she replied.

Another memory the Rahm jeans story triggered: my experience with Rod Blagojevich, the only politician I’ve ever interviewed who himself boasted about his fine tailoring and accessories. In a blog post I wrote during his trial, I recalled my interviews with him in 2003 shortly after he became governor. He told me that he was a congressman in the 1990s when he first started to buy suits from Chicago’s exclusive Oxxford. He noted that he shared a “chief” tailor, Rocko, with such politicians as Jay Rockefeller, Bill Daley, George W. Bush—and Rahm Emanuel.

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