What Design Defines You? Part II

June 05, 2016


“If you could pick an item – be it clothing, jewelry, or an accessory – from any time in your life that truly defined you (or continues to define you now), what would that be?”

Judith Pierpont

The elegant Judith Pierpont.

The elegant Judith Pierpont.

One of Chicago’s most talented leaders, Judith Pierpont just completed her three-year term as Casino President. This summer, she and her husband Jim are off to Edinburgh, where she taught college-level economics. More recently, she founded the Edinburgh Junior Executive Program, a summer tutorial for American students age 14-18 to study economics in the home of Adam Smith. 

A Garden Club of America award winner in floral design, Judith creates a signature look by putting her knowledge of textiles and appreciation of beauty to good use.

“A white organza, three-piece evening gown of my design, sewn in India, captures me metaphorically from childhood to the present. I have always adored designing clothing, while also being an avid admirer of exquisitely-made clothing. This ensemble further embodies my values: integrity, personal initiative, respect for others, an economic system of free-enterprise – concurrent with its privileges and responsibilities – all wrapped up in a desire to become acquainted with cultures around the world. Of course, I have enjoyed dressing up for a lovely evening of dinner and dancing with friends, whether as a little girl in Toronto (twirling around the drawing room in a long ballet skirt), a young adult in Beirut, at the Nightingale Ball in London’s Barclay Square, or at Chicago’s Casino!

“A very talented entrepreneur in Mumbai, whom I met on my first visit in 2000, has a tiny storefront with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling stacks of fabric bolts from which to choose elegant cottons or silks. All are produced in her factory and may be dyed to order.  A design sketch, measurements taken, and two days later a fitting, then the completed garment arrives in another few days with hand embroidery, a perfect fit, and all details appearing as requested. 

“After having made several items for me on each of two visits, she agreed enthusiastically on my third visit to embark on the evening gown project to our mutual great pleasure. The exceptional woman whose enterprise this is – from inception to its present success – reflects my values and makes the ensemble all the more delightful to wear on the many occasions I have danced the night away.”

Margaret Unetich

The lovely Margaret Unetich and son.

The lovely Margaret Unetich and son.

Vivacious volunteer and dedicated mother of four, Margaret Unetich never leaves home without her favorite accessories. Whether she is off to her children’s school, the Lycée Français de Chicago, where she heads their board’s development committee, or to a planning session for the Woman’s Board of the Alliance Française, or a meeting of the Women’s Board of Northwestern Hospital, where she chairs a yearly holiday party for female patients and their children, who participate in the hospital’s HIV clinic, Margaret never leaves her accessories of choice behind.

“My favorite accessories are my Hermès bangles, which I find to be timeless in style. For me, they always add the final touches to my outfit as I walk out the door, and help me feel that I have brought an outfit together (even if I’m feeling scattered in a thousand directions). I think my kids would tell you that they always know when I am headed out somewhere because they hear my bangles clanging together!”

Biba Roesch

Style maven, Copenhagen-born Biba Roesch.

Style maven, Copenhagen-born Biba Roesch.

Knowing Biba Roesch makes you want to book a trip to her native Denmark – she represents her country so well, capturing the Danish look of casual chic (though she says she has always added a little something to this basic base).

Biba recalls of growing up:

“I was born in Copenhagen. After the war, things were

scarce, but my mother always made the best of things. She made sure she always looked freshly dressed and had on light makeup every morning, as she had learned during her training as a nurse before she married that nurses should look good for their patients. 

Both my parents encouraged us to look well, and I have believed since that time that even with a few means everybody can look good. 

“My aunt Bodil, called Christy, worked at Elizabeth Arden here in Chicago. She bought Seventeen for my sister and me whenever she visited. There we got such good ideas as teenagers. But we always looked to Paris for our inspiration. When I went there at 17, I learned the important lesson to own a few, but very good, things.  At the time, a cashmere twinset with a gabardine skirt or pants – you could wear this year-round, with a beautiful scarf, shoes, and a handbag (and of course good grooming). If you could not afford couture, you wear their fragrance (like Chanel, Dior and Givenchy), and feel like you are wearing couture.”

Of her favorite items in her jewelry case, Biba shared her fondness for the baubles sold at the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art gift shops, which she describes as “chic and very light for packing.”

Regarding the less sparkly items she adores, she shares:

“I bought a fun jumpsuit in Palm Springs a couple of years ago. I wear it for my birthdays there and it still fits. I feel fresh and young when I wear it, but my true fashion item is the Hermès scarf.  I received my first from a very happy French guest when I worked at the Mayfair Regent hotel. I now have a wonderful collection and have given one to each of my daughters. I feel you can wear one at any age and any season and always be elegant and chic – that plus a great haircut and you are prepared.

“But really, I think that a friendly smile is true elegance and the cheapest accessory, n’est pas?”

Sally Kalmbach

The chicest of city guides, Sally Kalmbach.

The chicest of city guides, Sally Kalmbach.

Sally Kalmbach delights Chicago visitors from around the world with her walking tours and lectures, many featuring impressive women who defined our city by their stories and leadership. New this spring, and offered every Saturday, are “Lasting Legacies: The Grand Dames of McCormickville” at 10:30 am and “Mansions and Millionaires: The McCormickville Walking Tour” at 1:00 pm.

Sally is presenting a new lecture through the Driehaus Museum entitled “Chicago’s Leading Ladies: The Women Who Left a Lasting Legacy on the City of Chicago.” As a historian and great storyteller, Sally has the uncanny ability to bring these women to life.

“Mrs. James Ward Thorne wore hats in her studio while constructing the miniature rooms now in the Art Institute, dollhouses and shadowboxes. Herma Clark, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune who discussed the issues of the day in a lively manner in a popular column, had a definite feeling about hats. In one of her columns of 1911, she discussed the new trend of wearing hats inside your home while entertaining. She thought it was ridiculous!

“Katherine Dexter McCormick entered MIT in 1900 to obtain a degree in science, and was the first woman to graduate in that field at MIT. One of Katherine’s early battles for equality occurred in the chemistry lab. She advocated for women to attend classes without hats. At that time most were very wide-brimmed and she won the battle based on safety issues.”

It’s not surprising that Sally knew how these women felt about the hats they wore, hearing her recall the very favorite fashionable items in her home growing up:

“I grew up in a home where hats were always a part of my mother’s ensemble. She was always dressed in a lovely suit lined in a beautiful fabric that sometimes matched the trim of the hat. I loved to dress up and hats were a major part of the outfit.”

To sign up for Sally’s tours, including a summer Thorne Room visit at the Art Institute of Chicago, writesskalmbach@yahoo.com.