OPINION: Chicago ready to rise in luxury fashion

(Photo courtesy of Dior)
The interior of Dior in New York City. One can only begin to imagine how Chicago's will compare. (Photo courtesy of Dior)

By Mallory Hughes

Christian Dior. Versace. Rebecca Minkoff.

These three luxury fashion labels are only the most recent brands about to make their mark in the Gold Coast, opening stores and joining other industry giants already in residence including Hermés, Lanvin and Prada.

The flood of single-designer stores opened by well-known international fashion labels could be a major challenge to local boutiques. But, with luck, Chicago’s fashion scene will be vital enough that both will prosper. As single-designer luxury storefronts rapidly enter the market, they will only invigorate the local fashion scene.

Chicago’s profile in the luxury market has been rising. The city is slated to become one of the world’s leading luxury capitals in fashion, beauty and spirits by 2025, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Company.

Predicted Fashion Capitals

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Analyzing the forecasted 2025 market size, McKinsey & Company established the top 20 cities that will be the world’s leading luxury capitals. (McKinsey & Company, Mallory Hughes / Medill)


This same report was said to have played a role in Rebecca Minkoff’s decision to open her first Chicago storefront this fall. Located at 106 E. Oak, it will carry her entire collection from ready-to-wear and denim to jewelry and shoes.

Christian Dior also announced his first Chicago boutique at 935 N. Rush, not far from the Minkoff location.

And then there is Versace, which plans to open a two-level store right next door to Dior, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. This is not the brand’s first foray in Chicago. A Versace store opened here in 1986 but closed 14 years later.

For this new store, Versace has snatched up the other half of the available space at Rush and Oak left vacant when a Urban Outfitters moved a few blocks away to 1100 N. State, where will open a super-hip, super-sized store in May. With three levels and almost 20,000 square-feet of retail space, it is just another big brand jumping on the superstore bandwagon.

(Mallory Hughes / Medill)
The exterior of the new Under Armour brand house. Even the flower pots are branded with their signature logo, as seen here. (Mallory Hughes / Medill)

Earlier this month, another super brand, Under Armour, opened the largest store in the company’s history at the corner of North Michigan Avenue and East Ohio Street. The brand is the official outfitter of Northwestern University Athletics and will also carry apparel for the Cubs, the White Sox and Notre Dame.

In Chicago, the competition is fierce among the high-end retailers, large chains and neighborhood boutiques such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and Ikram and Azeeza. Neighborhood stores can lose money when the industry’s major players rush in. However, in Chicago, all three can prosper because of the stores’ locations.

The luxury retailers and popular chains are often located within blocks of one another; the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast have long been Chicago’s premier shopping destinations.

But the high cost of locating in Chicago’s downtown shopping district will allow neighborhood boutiques to survive and thrive.

[field name=”Emerging Fashion Markets”]

McKinsey & Company analyzed the growth of luxury goods in developing markets. Analysts estimate that by 2025, up-and-coming cities will make up almost a third of the luxury fashion industry. (McKinsey & Company, Mallory Hughes / Medill)


An increase in employment last quarter and rising incomes across Chicago have “given consumers more confidence to spend,” according to a research report by Marcus & Millichap. And, the report stated, optimism is building in Chicago’s retail market.

Local boutiques can differentiate themselves by offering rare luxury brands or local designers whose prices might fall somewhere between the ultra-luxury and the hip retail chain.

Rocky and Luella, 3207 W. Fullerton, opened in September in Logan Square. The owners, Kate Bunton and Julia Korol, told Chicago magazine that their goal is to sell brands that cannot be found anywhere else in the city, like Lespard, of France, and Rachel Rose, of Amsterdam.

Even long-standing local boutiques like p.45 in Wicker Park, 1643 N. Damen, which Tricia Tunstall opened in 1997, can make it in Chicago’s ever-changing retail landscape. The shop offers an array of emerging, nationally recognized and local designers like 3.1 Phillip Lim and Sarah McGuire.

The red laquered exterior of Ikram boutique and café, of which First Lady Michelle Obama has frequented. (Ikram/Courtesy)

If you are looking to go local and ultra-luxury, Chicago has that too. Take Ikram, 15 E. Huron, for example, located just blocks from the Gold Coast in the Near North Side. The owner, Ikram Goldman, provides an exclusive selection of designer and vintage clothing, most of it hand-picked by Goldman herself. Her high profile and luxury goods draw in customers like First Lady Michelle Obama.

In this market assessment, however, there is a wildcard.

While physical retail sales are expected to rise almost 4 percent this year, online retail sales are expected to rise 15 percent, according to Kantar Retail.

However the market shakes itself out, one thing is becoming increasingly clear — Chicagoans might actually care about fashion.

Photo at top: The interior of Dior in New York City. One can only begin to imagine how Chicago’s location will compare. (Dior/Courtesy)