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I recently chatted with up and coming fashion designer, Michelle Barone about her ideas on style, the economy and her city of choice - Chicago.  Ms. Barone has been making waves within Chicago’s local art scene recently with her cutting edge fashion designs.  Her work strives to reinvent the tired idea of ready to wear, instead bridging the gap between art and fashion by forming sculptural armatures for the body.  What results, is an amalgamation of art, architecture and stye.  This practice is something that The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, her alma mater, has been embracing since the inception of its fashion curriculum over 75 years ago. 

After graduating and working for designers Catherine Malandrino and Blake Standard, Ms. Barone decided to start her business slowly, learning from others before starting a ready to wear line.  She now makes only custom orders, working directly with the client in order to discover exactly what her customer wants when they look in the mirror. 

Her tailored pieces have begun to garner quite a bit of attention within the local scene.  So when The Modern Wing of The Art Institute of Chicago opened up this May, it seemed only natural that they asked Ms. Barone to design a line for the opening night party.  The line, String Quintet, was inspired by the architecture of the new wing designed by Renzo Piano and the Frank Gehry Pavilion that stands behind it in Millennium Park.

Knowing all of this, I decided that Ms. Barone would be the perfect expert on style and could not only talk about her work, but her ideas on fashion in general, and how to look great in a recession!

S: Who is your favorite fashion designer?

M: The ones that do it for the art... not the fame.
S: Why did you get into fashion design?

M: I was always creating, inventing, and imagining.  I would walk around the house wrapped in tablecloths and drapery tassels from my mothers fabric closet; it wasn’t till I was 17 that I realized that my playtime could actually be a profession. I wanted to be an artist.  I wanted… I want people to be able to interact with my art.
S: What is it that interests you in fashion?

M: When you see someone in an incredible garment, that’s you seeing art in motion without having to pay the price of a museum ticket.  You have an emotion, an idea you want to express without words... giving people the ability to wear what they feel.
S: When designing your line what do you look to for inspiration?

M: Always looking up... constant attention to my surroundings, travel, music, dance, architecture, peoples energy... how people exude their inner personality... not what people wear but how they wear it.

S: For your personal style do you follow classic fashion rules or do you break the mold? (i.e. matching, no black with brown, no white after Labor Day, etc.)

M: I was never one for rules... people have a hard enough time getting by day to day within the confines of family life, work, and social etiquette. Why put more pressure on something that is supposed to be fun. I think people take fashion too seriously... its really just like playing dress up when you were a kid. I don’t remember there being rules back then.
S: Are you planning your new line around the current economic climate?

M: I’m not starting a line just yet.  I still have much to experience before I want to start a full-blown company.  However, I am still working one on one with my clients, which cuts down on overhead.  It is the perfect recession friendly business plan.

S: What is the one piece of advice you would give to shopping on a budget?

M: Quality over quantity...
S: What would you say is one must have fashion piece/accessory that is budget friendly for this season?

M: From my collection?  I’d say one of the collar pieces or interchangeable garments... its one of those things that you can put over anything in your closet and change the look completely.
S: What would you say defines Chicago style?

M: The weather...Some Chicagoans seem to be about comfort first... I also think people focus on the classics the defining staples of the times...(side note: there are ways to stay warm and comfortable while not looking like a shapeless down comforter)
S: What is your favorite fashion store in Chicago?

M: Robin Richmond, Hedjfina, Gamma Player, Ikram, Apartment Number 9
S: What would you tell a budding fashion designer to do in order to break into the local fashion scene?

M: Internships, hands on experience is crucial for EVERYTHING! Keeping your surroundings fresh...



You can find out more about Michelle Barone's work at her website:

String Quintet, Spring/Summer 2009


String Quintet, Spring/Summer 2009


Urban Royalty, Fall/Winter 2007


Urban Royalty, Fall/Winter 2007

“Very interesting. I was at the Modern Wing opening and remember the models wearing her outfits but did not know it was Michelle Barone at the time. Thanks for bringing light to this.”
Posted over 6 years ago
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