Behind the Seams: Maria Pinto, A Michelle Obama Favorite

If a woman became a style icon after wearing a dress you designed, you’d feel pretty good about yourself. But when it’s the First Lady of the United States who was named on best-dressed lists all over the world because of the sophisticated silhouettes you created- it could certainly go to your head.
But not if your Chicago’s Maria Pinto.

“I read a book that made the point that none of us aspires to be ‘good- we aspire to be ‘great.’ Having Michelle Obama choose to wear my dresses is validation that our team is doing great work,” explains the down-to-earth Pinto, who puts extra emphasis on the word “team.”  “I’m a twin and was alone in this world for only about nine minutes. I love the great work that comes from collaboration.”

Great work, indeed, and from a city that’s not typically considered a fashion center.

Although she’s been designing since the early ’90s, Maria Pinto opened the doors to her first boutique in Chicago’s West Loop last August. Pinto’s collections are known for well-edited luxury; each garment incorporates innovative materials and sophisticated tailoring from beginning to end. Legend has it that when Pinto is selecting fabrics she first scrunches it up to see how it reacts. How a fabric will move with a woman through her day is at the forefront of her design. (You’ll notice that Mrs. Obama is nearly wrinkle-free whenever she’s sporting a Maria Pinto dress or skirt!)

Pinto finds inspiration for her collections in architecture, art, and her travels.

“Every season I look for something that’s going to take my work in a new direction,” Pinto says. “Sometimes it just drops from the sky.”

But then it’s fleshed out with extensive research. The Fall 2009 collection is inspired by Rococo and plays with prints.

“Of course we looked at the design and flow of Rococo art, but we also studied the music of this period and the words surrounding Rococo,” Pinto says. “We make lists and lists of words and post them on the wall these help us develop different elements of the collection.”

And then Pinto pushes her creativity to the limits.

“Like other designers, I always have that one piece in my collection that’s way over the top. I don’t care if I ever sell it- that’s really just for me. I like to see where the design will go,” she says.

Pinto designs for women in sizes 0-14, from the stay-at-home mom to the corporate executive.

“I really try to honor women in my collections by remembering that we all have different needs and strengths,” she explains. “Self-esteem is something that should be inherent, but it isn’t for most. I want women to use fashion as tool to help them feel better about themselves. When you feel good about yourself, you approach the world differently.”

Maria Pinto’s Boutique is located at 135 N Jefferson St., Chicago, IL 60661.
312-648-1350. Her collections are also available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York, Takashimaya and other fine boutiques across the country.

Photo of Maria Pinto and Michelle Obama is by Bob Carl

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