The designer: Danielle Weingarten, 28, Chicago
Signature:Minimalism. Each collection is based on one basic color (black for fall, white for spring). A contrast-think the pink shimmer of a jacket's silk lining-keeps things interesting.
Background: After interning at Calvin Klein in London and working as a buyer at Macy's East in New York, Weingarten took a job with Spiegel so she could live in Chicago, closer to family. When Spiegel filed for bankruptcy two years later, she decided to start her own clothing line.
Inspiration: Childhood visits to France, where her mother was born. "I have always been inspired by the European outdoor city life. Women rush around carrying baguettes, shopping bags, and children. These women look beautiful and effortlessly chic."
Where she shops: Neiman's or Saks-mixed with pieces from H&M
Design philosophy:"Every woman has curves. My clothes are not meant to hide the female figure but to show it off."
Find it: At Habit (1951 W. Division St.; 773-342-0093, www.habitchicago.com).
The designer: Joy Teiken, 38, Minneapolis
Signature:Vintage-inspired suits and silky party dresses that pop with polka dots and oversize blooms
Background: Teiken's handiwork started as a side business to her teaching career. She made hats (her first for her mother, who was dying of breast cancer), then handbags and couture wedding gowns, until she could afford to pursue fashion full-time. She now has show rooms in Minneapolis and New York City.
Inspiration: "Right now I'm inspired by the bird feeder that sits outside my office window. I don't follow other designers, and I've never really studied anyone."
Where she shops: Thrift stores
Design philosophy:"I design for a personality:the women who wear Joynoelle love attention."
Find it: At the Joynoelle Minneapolis show room (2115 Como Ave. SE, Minneapolis; 612-209-7822, www.joynoelle.com).
The designer: Sujata Gazder, 36, Chicago
Signature:East-meets-West, an aesthetic created with beautifully embroidered lace, vibrant colors, and heavy silks that show Gazder's passion for color
Background: When the ornate ethnic clothing and rich jewel tones of India (where she grew up) sparked her interest in fashion design, Gazder started making clothing for her friends. But it wasn't until her final days in the musical performance program at Roosevelt University that she decided to tackle her childhood passion.
Inspiration: Other cultures, period clothing, and nature, as well as Christian Dior, Elie Saab, Valentino, and Indian designers Ritu Kumar and Ritu Beri
Where she shops: India, England, and New York City, where she buys fabric to make her own clothing
Design philosophy: "I have never been one for fads. I try to create pieces that have timeless appeal."
Find it: At www.sujatagazder.com.
The designer: Shanel Regier, 25, Milwaukee
Signature:Sheer fabrics with structured upholstery; bare skin in unexpected places. Regier puts a free-spirited, often naughty, spin on Victorian-inspired gowns and breezy bandage dresses.
Background: Regier grew up in a Nebraska town with a population of less than 300; a sculpture major at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, she stumbled upon her future career while experimenting with wearable sculpture.
Inspiration: The collection shown here-flower petals. Always-Balenciaga, John Galliano, art, and 18th- and 19th-century fashion
Where she shops: Secondhand stores
Design philosophy: "My goal is to transform the female figure. I like the tailored look-and how it really accentuates the body, paired with extra fabric to create three-dimensional contours and silhouette."
Find it: At Lela (321 N. Broadway, Milwaukee; 414-727-4855, www.lelaboutique .com).
The designers: Itthi Metanee (pictured left) and Vatit Virashpanth, both 33, Chicago
Signature:Intricate hand-detailing; always muted colors like nude, ivory, and gray. "If we can find a fabric that you can't call a color at all, that's our color. Like a dust," says Metanee. For fun, they'll throw in a bright hint of color-say, orange or gold.
Background: By age 18, Virashpanth and Metanee were working as costume designers in Bangkok, where their clients included Shiseido, the Bangkok Playhouse, and Christian Dior. After coming to the United States to go to school (Vatit to Atlanta for fashion, Itthi to Chicago for theatre), they chose Chicago "for the beauty of the city" to launch their inaugural ready-to-wear line.
Inspiration: Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld, and Valentino Where they shop: Barneys
Design philosophy: "We try to capture a couture feeling," Metanee says. "The dress should have a personality, but [the woman] shouldn't be overpowered by the dress."
Find it: At Mira Couture (1 E. Delaware Place; 312-255-1699, www.miracouture.com) and Helen Yi (1645 N. Damen Ave.; 773-252-3838).
The designer: Marlena Serbanescu, 50, Chicago
Signature:A combination of yarn with fabrics-think the beautifully crocheted décolleté of a cocktail dress.
Background: "My fashion education grew from necessity," says the Romanian-born Serbanescu, whose grandmother taught her how to knit socks when she was seven. After she immigrated to the United States in 1988, she worked a series of odd housekeeping and office jobs, saving money to open a basement shop, which grew into a successful Lincoln Park atelier. A year and a half ago, she took the leap from made-to-order to ready-to-wear.
Inspiration: "Small details I carry around with me, like a flower I've kept flattened in a book . . . or a page from Architectural Digest."
Where she shops: Macy's (formerly Marshall Field's), Saks, and Neiman's
Design philosophy: "I express myself in the details, which are always different and always feminine, much like a woman. Too much detail can make her dizzy; too little can make her unsophisticated."
Find it: At Frances Heffernan (810 Elm St., Winnetka; 847-446-2112, www.francesheffernan.com), Satin Filly (714 W. Northwest Hwy., Barrington; 847-381-1019), and Vibrato (1515 Sheridan Rd., Wilmette; 847-853-1434).
Photography by Lisa Predko