Walk into Maria Pinto's new shop in the West Loop and a black orchid dress triggers flashbacks of a famous grape sheath she designed almost a decade ago — one that favored Michelle Obama more simply and memorably than any other since her husband accepted the Democratic nomination for president.
Much has changed in two terms. As the economy unraveled, Pinto shuttered her fashion business in 2010. As the economy recovered, Pinto re-emerged, too, with a Kickstarter campaign to finance a fresh fashion concept, M2057. Two years later, M2057 has expanded from seven dresses sold on www.m2057.com to seasonal collections. Her holiday assortment launched Wednesday, a week after she opened M2057's first brick-and-mortar shop at 833 W. Washington Blvd., just a few blocks from her pre-recession Maria Pinto store on Jefferson Street.
Deja vu, it isn't. Here in this gallerylike corner store with charcoal wood floors, sculptural mirrors and touches of chartreuse paint, even longtime followers might feel they're meeting the designer for the first time. Here's why.
1. The shop is digital-first. Pinto's new M2057 store is a digital-era hybrid of retail store and e-commerce showroom. Referencing the "guideshop" model of Bonobos, primarily a men's clothing brand, Pinto calls her M2057 store a "style studio." Every dress, top, coat, skirt and pant in every size, but perhaps not every color, hangs within M2057's walls for customers who walk in to try on in spacious dressing rooms. Her own wraps and scarves, plus belts and jewelry from Diana Broussard, Johnny Farah and other designers, are also on hand here. But shoppers don't sling their purchases out of the store. They go to the iPad in store and order the M2057 style in their desired color, plus any accessories. There's no long waiting game — purchases are shipped to them the next day. "We're still e-commerce-based," Pinto said, "but we really believe there's a need for touch points. That's the point of the store." It's strategically located less than a block south of Soho House, a hotel/club for design-minded professionals, and next door to an art gallery.
2. Machine-washable fabrics. Although M2057 adds new styles each season, they all are made in one of four weights of a nylon/elastic fabric imported from Italy. All pieces are machine-washable and made in the U.S. with cut edges, versus stitched hemlines, for a sleek silhouette and easy alterations. "I wanted materials that are high-function, low maintenance, where you open your closet door, and it's just easy," she said. "They're really seasonless; you never put them away." They resist wrinkles and fold into a Ziploc bag to tuck into carry-ons for air travel
3. An occasional zipper. Shapes tend toward chic minimalism. Only this fall did Pinto design a few styles with two-way zippers, to create a more fitted silhouette, to act as a point of interest, for optional slits or to change up a neckline. "I'm designing with this idea that each piece is a blank canvas. Six women could wear the same Uma tunic and style it to her persona. We want to fortify that with accessories, so this belt versus this belt," she says, holding up two different wide black leather ones from a glass case, "totally changes the mood and personality — edgy or refined." For the most fitted dresses, she might add a liner layer of her fabric. "You know how jersey, if it's too clingy, is the most unflattering thing in the world?" she asked. "That's the last thing in the world we're about."
4. Lower price points. No M2057 price tag exceeds three figures. Most are under $450. "I wanted to bring my work to an accessible price level," she said. "It's more interesting and relevant to this moment in 2015." Keeping her silhouettes and fabrics more streamlined allows her to keep her costs down. "I'm not sure that I could do what I do now if I didn't do what I did before," she said. "This is a collection that crosses over age and lifestyle. That's really exciting to me."
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