By  on June 20, 2008

An affable Dennis Basso couldn't help but poke fun at himself.

"How good was that retouching?" Basso laughed, referring to a flattering photo projected behind him as he accepted his award at Fashion Group International Chicago's "Night of Stars" event at the city's Peninsula hotel last week.

Basso's luxury fur and ready-to-wear business was one of five companies, including fine jeweler Judith Ripka and local women's and men's retailer Jake, recognized by the fashion group as leaders in the areas of fashion, accessories, retail and home furnishings.

The night was a good-natured affair, highlighted by Basso, who noted that after starting his business in 1983, he remembered reading about various designers winning awards in WWD and thought "could that ever be me?"

"It's an unbelievable compliment," said Basso, who opened a Chicago store on Michigan Avenue in 2005.

Meanwhile, Bob Berk, who owns Chicago's more than 10-year-old Judith Ripka store on Oak Street and is also the designer's brother-in-law, accepted the award for Ripka.

The brand boasts 15 stores and 300 international distribution points, and Berk told the audience how his attorney brother Ron met Ripka, how she paid his brother in jewelry and how his mother said, "Go back and marry that girl!"

Partners in business and in life, Jake owners Lance Lawson and Jim Wetzel noted that when they started their business, which highlights American designers such as Doo-Ri Chung, Lutz & Patmos and Phillip Lim, in 2004, "no one was recognizing the savvy here," they said.

Some of those designers had little or no representation in Chicago, they said, and that fact helped Jake grow to two locations in Chicago, one in suburban Winnetka and possibly a fourth location in New York, where the pair is scouting sites.

Also honored were Baker Furniture, which opened its first Chicago store in October 2007, and the 900 Shops, the shopping center at 900 North Michigan Avenue, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary and houses some 70 retailers, including Bloomingdale's, Coach, MaxMara and Mark Shale.

"FGI seeks to recognize those who influence and direct our industry," said Susan McCullough, president of the Fashion Group Foundation of Chicago. "They [the winners] have each made a mark in the industry and in Chicago."Proceeds from the event, in which tickets were $350 apiece, went toward the foundation's scholarship fund. The final tally wasn't available at press time.

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