By  on March 11, 2010

CHICAGO — Maria Pinto, who gained national recognition for dressing Michelle Obama on the presidential campaign trial, is down but not out — just yet.

Pinto, who said she still plans to close her business, will open the doors of her West Loop boutique here on Tuesday for the final time, offering a five-day, 50 to 70 percent off sale on eveningwear, daywear and her signature wraps.

Talking for the first time after issuing a statement last month about plans to close her design, retail and wholesale operations, Pinto said recent weeks have been both surreal and exhausting.

“We haven’t filed,” she said about bankruptcy. “I have nothing to disclose there, but I’m still closing the business.”

Pinto, who enjoyed a reported 40 percent jump in sales from 2008 to 2009, said her wholesale segment caused the company to topple as retail analysts theorized.

“Our store was doing well,” Pinto said about her namesake boutique at 133 North Jefferson Street, where she worked hard to ensure that “everything was juicy and special.”

But a number of retailers canceled orders for her collection and those that didn’t were buying less, looking to rely on trunk show sales. “Everyone is pulling back and New York is worse than anywhere else,” said Pinto, who in the past has sold to Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Takashimaya.

“The big chains need to change their models,” she said. “Women are changing how they consume.

“They’re not into conspicuous consumption,” added Pinto, noting that many shoppers are mixing high and low fashion, purchasing items from H&M along with a few designer pieces.

“The economy is going to be bad for a while and there are going to be a lot of changes in retail,” said Pinto, adding she’s not sure anyone has the solutions at this point.

In turn, Pinto plans to let the dust settle and hopefully stage a comeback.

“I know I hit a mark,” she said, referring to the design, fit and quality of her clothes. “I’m proud of how far I took it.”

For now, Pinto, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, plans to visit friends in Spain and immerse herself in art and painting. “I know I’ll do something again,” she said. “Life is chapters and this is the next chapter.”

Only last year, Pinto became a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, showed her spring collection during New York Fashion Week and joined the likes of Anna Sui and Nicole Miller as the recipient of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Legend of Fashion award. She also received the Anti-Defamation League’s Woman of Achievement Award.

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