By Judy Carmack Bross
Ellen Stirling’s dazzling look at the recent 100th anniversary celebration of The Lake Forest Shop saluted not only a century of glamour at a shop first begun by her grandmother in 1922 but also two of her most in demand designers. Dressed in a double ruffle blouse by ALGO of Switzerland and floral sequined jacket by Lourdes Chavez, Stirling greeted guests in the same Market Square location founded by her paternal grandmother Margaret Baxter Foster. She proudly introduced her daughters who had encouraged her to take over the shop from her own mother Adair Foster who took over what was then called The Lake Forest Sports Shop in 1949.
Stirling introduced Moroccan designer Cyril Verdavainne to guests, calling him a beacon for the future. “His fabrics and designs are absolute standouts and the flow of his skirts very innovative,” Stirling said.
Known not only for her fashion sense but her entrepreneurship and philanthropy, Stirling told us a bit about her grandmother. “She loved playing and shopping with Coco Chanel,” Ellen related. “She said, ‘If Coco can do this in Paris, why can’t I do it in Chicago?’”
Ellen herself returned from abroad in 1987 to a challenge from her father to turn around the store, which had spread itself across several branches. At the time, the University of Chicago art history major had been living in London with her husband, Jim, and their three daughters. “My daughters said ‘go ahead, mom’. With all the late nights and trips to New York, my family has been wonderful.”
Philippe Goetschel and Sandy Deromedi
Christian Basedow and Leslie Basedow
Stirling related her response to the challenge.
“We closed all the branches, bringing it all back to Lake Forest to have one bright and shining business. By 1992, we turned it around, but it was my staff and my clients who made all the difference. And the best advice I ever got was to know your clients and be an active listener. You don’t have a second chance to make a first impression.”
Sherry Lea Holson, Ellen Stirling, Diana Deromedi, Melanie Deromedi, Sandy Deromedi
Friends and Emily Schiller of The Style Dujour (on the right) xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Along the way the venerable stop took the word Sports from its name. “It was a wintery Christmas Eve and a man had come in desperately seeking a bowling ball as a present,” she recalled.
Through the years Stirling has staged thousands of fashion shows, many for charity. “It is all about making models feel wonderful and have a good time,” she said. “You want fashion to reflect who you are…and maybe with a bit of attitude.”
|Dee Dee Martin and Ellen Stirling||
Diana Deromedi, Melanie Deromedi, Sandy Deromedi
Her own experiences have been wonderfully diverse. “My wackiest experience? We were in New York and a designer I was working with invited me to a party because one of his favorite muses was to be modeling there. It turned out to be at the Playboy Mansion and the model was lying on the table completely nude. It was an entirely different world.”
With all the changes in shopping due to both the pandemic and the ease of online shopping, how does Stirling describe in person shopping today? “I suspect that when people are going out shopping, it is for a specific reason not just to wander the shops.”
“Do you need a new warm sweater or possibly a dress for a cocktail party? My advice is to insure that whatever you get is quality and that you really love it. You want to keep it in your closet and go back to it. Choose a color that you love and flatters you.”
We asked Ellen what colors she particularly likes. “All shades of green and I love pink. Lately I find myself in blues as well. My mother always wanted to see me in navy but I rebelled. Now I am loving navy. It is very good to expand your horizons in many ways,”
We asked Stirling what is the secret of the surviving and thriving of The Lake Forest Shop—always operated by the same family—in the days of mergers and closings.
We are all about service and making our customers feel their absolute best,” Stirling said. “It is all about our team, and they deserve sincere recognition for what they have done.”
“Sometimes I will walk by a fitting room and hear a buzz of laughter and my staff asking the most important question: ‘how do you feel in this?’ It is a happy experience for all.”
Each October for the past 20 years Ellen has offered “Shop Your Cause” to customers, with part of their purchases going to a variety of non-profits. Organizations participating this year are: Lake Forest Preservation Foundation, Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest Open Lands, Mothers Trust Foundation, Gorton Community Center, Stirling Hall, Elawa Farm Foundation, The Boys & Girls Club of Lake County, Northshore Community Foundation, Women’s Board of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and Bravo Waukegan.
And what’s coming up next for The Lake Forest Shop? “We have something brewing but are not talking about it yet,” Ellen said. Something very special, knowing this remarkable fashion icon and business role model.