Chicago is my hometown, but I’ve been away long enough that it often feels like a new city to me. Shopping is the one area where this is most evident. I’ve turned down many streets that I used to know well, only to be confronted with unfamiliar storefronts (The Meatloaf Bakery, anyone??) Chicago retail, much like that of the rest of the country, has been hit hard. But some stalwarts have survived, and I suspect they’ll weather the bad economy.
Chicago has the usual collection of posh department stores. Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Barneys are all there. But one of the joys of shopping a city is its independent stores. You can really get a sense of the residents and style of a city.
To this end, I decided to hit up some high-end boutiques. I was hoping to find some amazing deal that I could never find in NYC, like the Proenza tie-dyed t-shirts on sale for $100. A girl can dream, right?
I went first to Ikram (873 N. Rush). Ikram Goldman, the owner, has been thrust into the limelight lately as the behind-the-scenes guru helping Michelle Obama on her journey to American fashion icon. I have to admit I was expecting a lot of Jason Wu, cardigans, and sheath dresses.
I walked into a chocolate brown, warmly lit store that immediately says posh. But like most things in Chicago, it was also understated and friendly. An Adam Lambert-sans-guyliner doppelganger came up to me immediately. I asked him about the Proenzas, and alas, they were sold out.
But my sales guy was a fountain of knowledge; he walked me from rack to rack. A green and floaty McQueen printed dress much like the one SJP wore to the CFDA Awards (“obviously we’ve sold a ton of McQueen this year”). A generous rack of Rodarte (“lots of gallery owners here LOVE Rodarte”). And a lament on the retail cycle (“It’s going to be a million degrees here soon and we’re already getting in fall leather.”) The fall leather in question was a gorgeous quilted pseudo-Victorian Céline jacket. Yum.
I could have stayed in there forever fondling the well-edited collection. The only disappointing thing was that I didn’t see a single item on sale. June is a transitional retail month and I should have seen lots of spring on sale. (Editor's note: I've heard from Chicago retailers that they don't do as many sales as New York retailers do. That's because shoppers in Chicago tend to buy a lot at once, instead of shopping every weekend, which means constant sales aren't as necessary.)
I hopped into my rental car and sped over to River North to get to Blake (212 W. Chicago) before it closed. After trying to figure out the new parking meter system, I was left with 10 minutes to shop.
Blake is in an old Post Office building and there is no signage announcing its presence. The windows are empty with nary a mannequin in sight. The interior is white and stark. The salesgirls are sort of like the decor.
Blake has a decidedly different feel from Ikram, which will ensure its survival. The goods were hipper and more avant garde. There was tons of Dries, Marni, and Alaia. The best part? Most of the store was on sale. I spotted a gorgeous Givenchy trench marked down to $1400 from $2020. Some Dries pieces were a mere $200.
My one complaint was with the salespeople. They were both slightly annoyed that I came in so late and told me that they were in the process of closing up and that if I saw something I needed in another size, I could come in another time to try it on. Um, thanks?
I also got sort of a hard sell. I tried on a massively discounted Céline top, only to have her tell me that the new fall version was much cuter and would probably fit better. Both true, but it was also more than twice the price. They were obviously not happy that I walked out with nothing. But I will definitely check out Blake again when I have more time. The sales were truly impressive.
June, while not the best month for shopping, is definitely the best month to see Chicago. You have two weeks left before the disgusting summer humidity hits.
(Note: Chicago also has a thriving vintage scene. I did not have time to explore this, but please check out the adorable Isa and her Chicago style blog for a taste. She’s given me so much information about vintage in Chicago that I wasn’t able to use this trip.)