Bummer! Maria Pinto, One of the First Lady’s Favorite Designers, Closes Her Doors

Shock/horror. And it’s the economy…from Crain’s

The Chicago fashion designer, whose garments have been favored by first lady Michelle Obama, told industry insiders just a few months ago that her company was thriving and she was considering seeking private-equity investment. But the shop is now shuttered.

Neither Ms. Pinto nor her media handler returned calls.

Clients were stunned yet not completely surprised by the news, given the economic times.

Ms. Pinto was enjoying new popularity after filing for bankruptcy protection in 2002, her difficulties in part blamed on an employee who had embezzled funds.

Back then, she was known for her artistry in producing one-of-a-kind shawls and scarves.

She returned to the fashion scene in 2004 with a new line sold in department stores in New York and Chicago, then opened the Jackson Street boutique in 2008. This time, she aligned herself with “business-savvy” partners and expanded her repertoire to include garments and full-length gowns.

That’s what caught the attention of Ms. Obama, who wore a memorable purple Pinto the night Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.

But after Michelle went to the White House, it quickly developed that Pinto would not go with her as her official designer. The couturier never publicly expressed any recriminations about being passed over for others. However, the loss of Mrs. Obama as a high profile customer may have also played a role in her business folding, as well as finding out about the embezzler–a long-time bookkeeper–in her midst.

It was expected that Pinto would seek protection in a bankruptcy filing early this week.

Pinto said, ”After 20 years of pursuing my greatest passion and striving to build a successful high-end fashion business, the time has come for a new chapter in my life.”

Pinto cited ”increasing economic challenges and soft buying trends at the top end of the apparel market” among the reasons for the downfall of her business, which includes the shuttering of her design and wholesale operations and the retail store on South Jefferson.

”I am confident that the ‘Maria Pinto’ name will not go away, but will merely take a break, before emerging in a new form. I plan on using the next several months to explore different avenues and opportunities for business, as economic conditions improve,” Pinto said.

I disliked those chiffony dresses that Michelle would choose from Pinto, because I still feel that she’s outgrown that prom girl style, but the rest of Pinto’s work I thought was fabulous. She’s not exactly poverty stricken, as her outfits are still in stores like Barney’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. But she needs to regroup, and learn to handle her own funds.

This interview above is over an hour long, and tells a lot about Pinto’s approach. I think that it is worth watching if you want to know more about this woman’s style and what to look for when you are searching for knockoffs of Pinto’s designs. I agree; this is only a respite in Pinto’s fortunes.

~ by blksista on February 15, 2010.

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