What Design Defines You?



May 22, 2016



“One Singular Sensation” – that famous refrain from A Chorus Line says it all. With that ditty in mind, we asked some of our most stylish friends the following question about what item their wardrobes really makes them want to break out into song.  (Next week, more answers from wise and sensational women who have created distinctive looks to love.)

“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?”

Ellen Stirling

The Lake Forest Shops’ Ellen Stirling.

The Lake Forest Shops’ Ellen Stirling.

“After talking with my fashion consultants at the Lake Forest Shop, The look that truly represents me now is the ruffled blouse by Algo of Switzerland. It captures me at a time in my life when I look for elevated feminine elegance and versatility. I love wearing the blouse because it makes me feel special, as with all of Algo’s creations. It is the best.”

For nearly nine decades, discerning shoppers have found their way to the Lake Forest Shop in the suburb’s historic market Square. Begun on a whim by Ellen’s grandmother, Chicago socialite Margaret Baxter Foster, the shop captivates sharp dressers of all ages. The niece of Vogue publisher Condé Nast, Ellen was described by designer Bill Blass as “one of the reasons Lake Forest women are so fashionable.”

Ellen makes sure to keep it that way.

“The Lake Forest Shop is 94 years young. From the best fitter, Jean, to easy tops and one of a kind dresses – and now shoes – we are always pushing forward and looking ahead while staying true to our customer: discerning women everywhere.  We share an abundance of good things. I am reminded daily of our extraordinary customers, designers, friends, and of the equally extraordinary women with whom I work. Our passion for giving back to the community locally and regionally continues to inspire to do and be better!”

Allison McNally

Allison McNally, radiant in rose.

Allison McNally, radiant in rose.

As Chair of the 2016 Passavant Cotillion for the Woman’s Board of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Alison McNally loves working with young people developing the love of voluntarism. Her welcoming and enthusiastic nature naturally brings people together and motivates them to accomplish their goals. Much of her own motivation centers on working with families meeting the challenges of Type 1 diabetes and fighting for a cure for what is often called childhood or juvenile diabetes.

Considering what might be her favorite fashion, Alison, wife of Drew McNally, thought of her grandmother.

“My grandmother, Mary Louise Stepan, loved design, quality, and anything French. One Christmas, while I was in high school, she gave me an Hermes scarf. It was big and fabulous! The colors were the warm jewel tones of fall, crimson red, marigold orange, golden yellow, moss green, and black. The colors and design were woven beautifully into a pattern as can only be so perfectly done by the designers at Hermes. I wore that scarf all the time – it was very special to me. The piece was stylish and warm and somehow had the sweet fragrance of my Grandmother.  And believe it or not, I still have it and still wear it!

“Years later, I am both grateful and nostalgic every time I get my hands on one!   Each season offers an extraordinary design and beautiful colors, which always make me happy. Because of their nice large size (55″ x 55”), they are so versatile! They can be effortlessly thrown over anything from my big down parka – which seems to be the norm these days! – to a cashmere dress coat or silk blouse. A large Hermes scarf is not only a great accessory for travel, as it can dress up a simple outfit while on the go, but it can also serve a great function during those biting windy Chicago days. My favorite use is when I wrap it over my head and use it to cover most of my face. Our daughters laugh at me, but boy is my head warm!”

Nena Ivon

Chicago fashion force, Nena Ivon.

Chicago fashion force, Nena Ivon.

Soon to be starting a daily blog called “Nena’s Notes,” Nena Ivon will always be the narrator you think of when picturing your favorite fashion shows in Chicago. Poised, humorous, and a close friend of many legendary designers, Nena made her job as Saks Fifth Avenue’s Fashion and Special Director an ambassador to the philanthropic community as well. Now a lecturer in the department of Fashion Studies at Columbia College, she continues to coordinate fabulous fashion shows as well as lecture on fashion and lifestyle topics. She recently completed her term as Chair of the Costume Committee of the Chicago History Museum.

“I definitely identify with and am identified by a black turtleneck sweater! How did this begin? I would say when I first began in retail. I was still in high school, working Saturdays, until graduation. There was a dress code: black, brown, navy, and grey. You could wear a white blouse. I chose black, a color (or non-color), and I have worn it ever since. It made me feel sophisticated and grown-up. I was the youngest employee at the time. To me, nothing looks more retail-savvy than black and pearls. It forms the background to the merchandise you present to your clients.

“Eventually, my choice evolved into the black turtleneck sweater. Nothing wrong with my neck, it just works for me. I can add colorful jackets and all manner of jewelry to change it up. Having a season-less wardrobe, it might be cashmere (usually is), silk, cotton (I’m partial to the Gap for this choice) – basically any fabrication. I have so many that the staff at my store wouldn’t sell me any more basics, but I was allowed novelty ones! I often wear my turtleneck to black tie events and glam it up with some sort of glitzy jewelry, bag and/or shoes.”

Robin McCown Mumford

Robin McCown Mumford, photographed by Margee Rock.

Robin McCown Mumford, photographed by Margee Rock.

A native of Mobile, Alabama, the lovely Robin McCown Mumford launched her career at Vogue and today is regarded as one of the top promoters of artists in the country, working with both corporate and private clients.

“I owe my artistic sense to my mother, whose passion was fashion. She loved to design Mardi Gras dresses and ball gowns for her friends, not as a career but just because she loved it. She graduated from the Traphagen School of Fashion and lived in New York at a time when it wasn’t quite fashionable to be there on your own.  I grew up in galleries, at art shows, and around dress makers and framers because those were the places and people she liked to visit.”

When we met with Robin recently, she was wrapped in a brown cashmere shawl, which looked sensational. It turned out this was the look she likes most.

“Ponchos and shawls best define me. I have extraordinarily long arms and they work very well for me.”

Jetta Boschen

Jetta Boschen, photographed by John Reilly.

Jetta Boschen, photographed by John Reilly.

Although she could be mistaken for a model, Jetta Boschen is a busy career woman, enjoying her role as owner of PromoJett Services, Inc., focused on developing and marketing strategies for non-profit, sports, music, and other organizations.

“ My work this summer will take me to art galleries, golf courses, music venues and more, with my philanthropic efforts centered in Winnetka.”

The item Jetta chooses centers on daughters Kinsey, an avid horseback rider graduating this week from DePauw University, and Hadley, a dancer and New Trier student.

“I have always been a sentimental person. I love to surround myself with memories of my loved ones or life experiences. That is why my most precious accessory is my charm bracelet. Looking at my bracelet on my wrist brings back decades of happy remembrances. I’m transported back to my daughters’ horse shows and dance recitals, to far away places I have traveled, and to the places I have lived. The classic and sophisticated style of the bracelet, and the unique charms make it perfect for any outfit. My bracelet has a personality all to itself. Each charm has its own personal story expressing my life’s journeys and representing who I have become.  The charms remind me of wonderful times, whether we were traveling down the Nile or riding in a rickshaw on the harried streets of Jaipur.”

Jenna’s beloved charm bracelet.

Jenna’s beloved charm bracelet.

Linda Heister

Linda Heister, who served as an executive at husband Mark Heister’s atelier.

Linda Heister, who served as an executive at husband Mark Heister’s atelier.

Linda Heister knows fashion inside and out, particularly the beautifully cut dresses once created by her husband Mark Heister.  Linda served as Vice President and Director of Marketing and Sales for Mark Heister Design Inc. Not only were Heister’s designs found at Chicago’s most exclusive stores, the Costume Department of the Chicago History Museum once presented his collection in a one-man show.

“There are many wonderful memories in my closet, but I think one of the fondest is when I had just graduated from college. At that point, I had not begun to seriously collect anything. I remember like it was yesterday walking onto Ultimo on Oak Street, going up to the second floor, and falling in love with an oversize Karung snakeskin Judith Lieder clutch bag. It was outrageously expensive – more than I was making a month – but I had to have it. It was true green and taupe, with a gold frame. It was absolutely gorgeous. I managed to somehow finance it and carried it with great pride for many years.

 “It made me feel like an official adult. Enjoying that extravagant purchase taught me that it’s better to invest in quality rather than quantity, unless of course you are fortunate enough to do a quantity of quantity.”

Linda’s fashion wisdom is timeless and her energy is ceaseless.

“After spending most of my adult life working, first owning a Public Relations and Marketing firm before joining my husband’s atelier, I am now enjoying life and traveling. I occasionally take on a fashion or garden-related consulting job, and I also serve on the board of the English-Speaking Union.”

Read about the fashion memories of other singular sensations in next Sunday’s issue.