A leather trench with hand-burned images of newspapers.

NEW YORK — Chicago designer Maria Pinto is returning to ready-to-wear after a two-year hiatus.<BR><BR>Pinto closed her 11-year-old signature business in the wake of 9/11. She has reopened with a spring line and a fresh business strategy that...

NEW YORK — Chicago designer Maria Pinto is returning to ready-to-wear after a two-year hiatus.

Pinto closed her 11-year-old signature business in the wake of 9/11. She has reopened with a spring line and a fresh business strategy that frees her to focus on design. Rather than handle her own sales, press and production, as she did in the past, Pinto is outsourcing those functions to companies in New York.

“My focus is to bring forward the best of what I had been doing and that is design,” said Pinto, who is showing her spring line with Aeros Showroom in New York.

Pinto, who is 47, built a $2 million business in her previous venture, carried by Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman, among other high-end specialty stores, and received several regional fashion awards, including Chicago Magazine’s Best of Fashion Award. She began her signature line in 1991, shortly after a two-year stint at Geoffrey Beene.

After closing her signature line in 2002, Pinto said she practiced oil painting for a year before beginning to set the groundwork for her new business, an endeavor that has played out in her latest fashion work. Included in the spring collection are handcrafted items such as a leather trenchcoat with hand-burned images of newspaper clippings and embellished sheer organza separates. The collection wholesales for $100 to $1,200, although some handmade pieces will be priced higher because of the work involved.

“We’re focusing primarily on cocktail to evening now, and maintaining some of the best aspects of what I think the collection was before, namely in shape and fit,” Pinto said. “Going forward for fall, I will be adding more day pieces.”

Pinto is maintaining only her design studio in Chicago, which she describes as her “incubator.”

“From a design point of view, having a really great space is what it’s all about,” she said. “You can come in and do your own thing. I’m keeping the element of design within this incubator and reaching out to people who are experts in other areas, which can only enhance what I do.”

— Eric Wilson

This story first appeared in the October 20, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.