Hidden behind the Food Network-famous Chicago restaurateurs, bigger-than-life Bulls and Bears players, and the city’s legendary theaters is a quiet, often overlooked community. They’re the artisans and visionaries crafting practical leather goods and embellished frocks. These gifted fashion and accessories designers call the Windy City home, and are quickly putting the locale on the map as a design haven. Maria Pinto has created countless outfits for fellow South Sider first lady Michelle Obama. Local design duo (and School of the Art Institute of Chicago professors) Creatures of the Wind just snapped up the coveted CFDA award for Emerging Talent in WWD. A bevy of accessories designers have made much noise in the marketplace by skillfully marrying old world craftsmanship with super contemporary designs. Whether you are in the market for a red carpet-ready gown, effortlessly chic blazer, versatile footwear or hand-stitched leather bags, you will score first-rate fashions in the Second City.
2 Penny Blue
Au courant blazers created by Marie Whitney—the wife of Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein—are go-anywhere closet staples beloved for their tailored fit and youthful hues. For shoppers with price tag shock, rest assured, the woven silk or hand-died pieces are worth every penny. 2 Penny Blue donates a school uniform to a girl in need in Africa with every jacket purchased.
Trained architect Annie Mohop designs eco-friendly footwear that can be worn hundreds of ways by maneuvering the interchangeable ties. Her casual sandals come with assorted ribbon or sari ties that can be bowtied, criss-crossed, doubled over, or looped again and again. The saris used in her designs are recycled, and fund a non-profit organization in India that supports fair-trade wages for women.
Drift is all about statement making specs—sunglasses and prescription—with soul. The biodegradable Italian acetate frames and sustainable wood temples are handcrafted locally in the city. The styles are modishly sophisticated in a Ray Ban-meets-Elvis Costello kind of way. The Delta Blues collection uses century-old cypress salvaged from the Mississippi Delta, and gives wearers an easy, carefree expression.
Known for voluminous cuts and dramatic necklines encrusted with Swarovski crystals, Azeeza Khan’s glitzy, Indian-inspired label is a favorite of Chicago socialites. Her pristine white showroom at 900 North Michigan Avenue is always stocked with glamorous party-ready dresses and perfect “wow factor” accessories, including the oversized woven-wire and beaded cuff encrusted with crystals and stones such as turquoise or lapis.
Defy Manufacturing Company
These totes, backpacks, messenger bags, and carry-alls are the epitome of modern utilitarian. The gender-neutral pieces are finessed from repurposed materials like vintage sailcloth, WWII army tents, and military-grade truck tarp. Each artisanal piece expresses art director-turned-designer Chris Tag’s devotion to the authentic spirit of manufacturing. After a fellow commuter asked to purchase his handmade bag from him in 2008, Tag realized there was still a market for all-American goods.