One of the chicest spots in the 900 North Michigan mall isn’t geared toward the painfully hip young fashionista; instead, the striking, stark Adelaide is a sartorial haven for women of a certain age.

“My customers are my age,” said 55-year-old owner Adelaide Herman, elegant in a black sweater and slacks, her raven hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. “They live full, elegant lives. They are women of means.”

Herman opened her first store 10 years ago inChicago’s gallery-heavy River North neighborhood. Back then, she designed a line based on vintage table linens that bore the label Adelaide, in addition to custom-designed women’s clothing. Herman moved the store to the 900 North Michigan building in 1996. Herman wasn’t planning on moving, but a storefront had suddenly become vacant in the mall, and the building’s managers made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

This November, she closed her workroom.

“[Designing] took a lot of time, and I was tired of working 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Herman said. These days, a small selection of white damask pants and tops are all that remain of the line.

The racks, which span the periphery of the 1,700-square-foot store (the center is a wide-open space), are now filled with pieces from Asian and California designers, among them UC2, Lili Butler, Marie Choi, Eunhew and Zonda Nellis. Herman plans to add more Asian designers: “I like their simplicity,” she said. Choices range from a Marie Choi black silk chiffon evening coat ($1,295) to a long, sleeveless, V-neck Zonda Nellis dress in bronze silk ($1,095).

Last year, eveningwear accounted for about 40 percent of Adelaide’s stock. The somber post-Sept. 11 mood dimmed the Chicago social scene, which in turn led to the store falling short of its $2 million sales goal for 2001.

“I had all holiday and I was caught with the pieces nobody wanted,” Herman said.

Just as customers’ tastes changed, traffic dropped off steeply after Sept. 11, perhaps because 900 North Michigan is a six-story mall. (The Four Seasons Hotel towers above the retail area, which is anchored by Bloomingdale’s.) “I lost the suburbanites, who want to stay closer to home,” said Herman. The flow of tourists on shopping expeditions from St. Louis, Cleveland and other nearby cities also trickled off. Herman responded by briefly discounting up to 80 percent, more than she’d ever done before.

For fall, Herman has a plan B, and it can be summed up in one word: cashmere. “If I had a store full of cashmere sweaters after Sept. 11, I would have been great,” she said. Herman will do her fall buying in New York and plans to pick up sweaters by Italian designers Gentry Portofino, Saverio Palatell and Lomberto Lasani. Eveningwear, however, will drop to about 10 percent of total merchandise.

“My customer base is into comfort and no-nonsense,” Herman said. “This,” she said, gesturing to the racks of simple, elegant clothes, “is what they’re looking for.”

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