Designer Maria Pinto Puts Chicago Fashion on the Map

Maria Pinto will be hosting a VIP Lab, “For the Love of Draping,” on October 13, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.  VIP Labs are open to Members at many CIW Membership levels.  To learn more about becoming a CIW Member, visit
That red dress.  It’s the dress—“fiery red”, as The New York Timesdescribed it—worn by Michelle Obama as she and President Elect Obama greeted the Bushes at the White House.  It’s what cemented the First Lady’s status as a style icon, and that ushered in—at the very least—a new era of Chicago fashion in the White House.

Michelle Obama poses in front of
the White House with President Barack
Obama in the signature red dress designed by Maria Pinto.
And it’s the type of fashion statement that its designer, Chicago’s own Maria Pinto, wished more Chicagoans would embrace.
“I think [fashion is] underutilized as a tool that drives our lives and can have an interesting impact on whatever we’re doing,” Pinto said.  To her, as well as to many of her most famous clients, fashion is about “self confidence, self expression [and] empowerment.”
That’s one aspect of fashion that Pinto says Mrs. Obama picked up early on.   Pinto started working with Mrs. Obama shortly after Barack Obama took office as Senator, where Pinto viewed firsthand Mrs. Obama’s pragmatic approach to fashion: choose a wide range of pieces, appropriate for everything from small gatherings to black tie political functions, to be at your fingertips, freeing up time for what “really matters”.
“She was very deliberate about her selections, but at the base of it she had a wardrobe, a closet that was ready for it,” Pinto described. 
Pinto’s classic, chic designs have rounded out the closets of other notable personalities, including Oprah Winfrey and Brooke Shields.  With her latest venture, M2057, she’s bringing her minimalist, fitted pieces to the general public.  The collection launched in spring of this year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and has been featured at pop-up eventsacross the city.  She’ll be sharing her experiences as a designer with M2057 and past collections at her October 13 CIW Lab, when she’ll teach the fundamentals of draping, a process and form she describes as similar to sculpture.

Maria Pinto unveiled a collection under her new M2057 label this year.
“What’s cool about draping and pattern-making is [you say], ‘Here are the foundation rules.’  And then what really happens is you break them,” she said of how great designs are formed.
All of which brings us back to our original question: How does Chicago—a city that certainly doesn’t hold a reputation as fashion-forward, or even perhaps fashionable—begin to embrace these fundamentals of fashion?  To Pinto’s mind, it’s “Midwestern practicality” that holds people back.  But building a wardrobe, as Mrs. Obama realized, is an entirely practical endeavor, one that allows for “self-expression” and “self-confidence.”
In fact, “[i]t’s more than practical,” Pinto underlined.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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