MARIA’S NEXT MOVE
THERE’S NEVER A DULL MOMENT WHEN IT COMES TO CHICAGO DESIGNER MARIA PINTO, WHOSE FIRST DAY-INTO-NIGHT COLLECTION IS JUST ABOUT READY TO HIT THE STORES.

Byline: Kristin Larson

Just two years ago, designer Maria Pinto and her assistant Maureen McAllister were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, passing Bergdorf Goodman. What they saw was extremely unexpected: Pinto’s collection in the window. “We were jumping and screaming,” happily recalls McAllister. “It’s these kinds of things that keep it exciting.”
Indeed, Pinto’s had more than her fair share of excitement.
Pinto started out 10 years ago as an accessories designer, but three years later expanded into ready-to-wear. Her first account was the prestigious Ultimo on Oak Street, followed by Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York — all of whom picked her up just one year after she graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Now, her collection is featured in tony stores all over the country. Her pieces retail from $275 for a silk or taffeta stole to about $5,000 for a beaded lace gown.
“To be honest, it’s been like a ‘pinch me’ thing,” says the 44-year-old Chicago native, whose designs have been seen on celebrities like Christie Hefner, Geena Davis and Courteney Cox Arquette.
The designer who didn’t pursue her dream to become a designer until age 30 is about to venture into new territory for fall 2001: the emerging day-into-night category.
“I’d like to have the ability to give my customers a broader range,” she said. You don’t always [need something for a] black-tie or special occasion.”
For fall, Pinto will feature pieces in versatile fabrics like suede, leather and cashmere.
“What’s different now is that I’m supplying you with the cashmere top and leather pant, whereas before I would recommend pieces (from another line),” she explained. As always, her collection will focus on clean, understated pieces, which gives one the option to accessorize freely, she said.
Pinto says her new collection, which will include double-faced satin cocktail suits with beaded embellishment, will retail in the $1,200 to $1,500 range.
Pinto is also in the process of opening a marketing and sales office in New York. Still, she says she has no plans to move her 10,000-square-foot headquarters on south Michigan Avenue, at least for now.
So what’s next on the agenda? Jeans by Mario Pinto, perhaps? “You never know,” she quipped. “Now handbags, that could be a possibility,” she notes. “Maybe a day-into-night collection.”
After all, this is one designer who knows where the right accessories can lead.