CHICAGO — Long a favorite of female executives and Windy City socialites, Chicago designer Maria Pinto could be poised to dress a first lady. That is if Michelle Obama, a Pinto client, and her husband, presidential candidate Barack Obama, make good on their bid for the White House.
Pinto, who presented her fall collection Thursday, met Obama before her husband ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004. The pair hit it off, became friends and now Pinto designs everything from the luxe gowns Obama wore to the Grammys and Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball to the alpaca black belted coat and wool suit she donned the day her husband announced his candidacy. Pinto also crafted the black cashmere and black, ivory and red tweed coats worn that day by Obama's young daughters.
Although Pinto made a name for herself long ago, selling to Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York, the Obama connection doesn't hurt.
"It';s been very, very helpful," the designer admitted. "Fashion is notorious for a company's growth being based on dressing celebrities. That's the first thing people ask, 'Who do you dress?'"
For those asking, Sharon Stone, Christina Ricci, Courteney Cox and Andie MacDowell have donned designs by Pinto, who launched her company in 1991.
Dressing Obama, meanwhile, has proven fun, given her confident, statuesque beauty, and challenging, given her varied needs.
Pinto said Obama requires items that will travel well, go from day to night and complement a diverse schedule that may include a campaign stop in Iowa one day and a gala in Los Angeles the next. "She knows her body and she's comfortable with it," said Pinto, "but she's under a lot of scrutiny."
On Thursday, Obama, a member of the committee hosting Pinto's fashion event, stood out wearing a bright V-neck turquoise silk taffeta dress with a lightly pleated skirt by Pinto. "I love doing color on her," Pinto said. "I told her, 'It's a party; it has nothing to do with politics."
Indeed, Obama refrained from interviews on her night off, but noted she wears Pinto's designs "as much as I can."Obama joined other Pinto clients Desiree Rogers, president of People's Gas and North Shore Gas; Candice Collins Jordan, a member of the Joffrey Ballet women';s board, and Julie Latsko, who, along with her husband, Fred, recently purchased Oprah Winfrey's former 160-acre Indiana farm.
Pinto';s fall collection contained upscale outerwear, fitted leather jackets, dressy separates and shimmering evening pieces, including a gold lace halter and long black taffeta pleated skirt. Prices range from $300 to more than $5,000, with an average price point of $800.
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