Thanks to a trio of Windy City labels, Chicago's denim scene is having a real moment.
Chicago designer Maria Pinto is among several local fashion figures embracing denim for fall, with looks like this Dunaway denim dress, $325, Hutton skinny jean, $295, and Streep denim wrap, $295.
With our history as a city of workers, Chicagoans have had a long affinity with the consummate workwear: blue jeans. Now, three Windy City brands are reestablishing denim as a local staple, producing native pieces for the city’s modern workforce—and reenergizing Chicago’s manufacturing industry while they’re at it.
Back in 1926, 25 percent of all apparel sold in the US was made in Chicago, notes Rob McMillan, 33, who last year established Dearborn Denim & Apparel in a former industrial laundry in Garfield Park. There, Dearborn’s 17 employees knock out some 110 pairs of handcrafted stretch jeans a day using 100-percent domestic materials ($59–$64), with slim, tailored, and relaxed fits for men and skinny and straight-leg for women. Dark and light blue, black, and khaki washes are joined this fall by shorts, a jean jacket, and more women’s fits. Manufacturing its own clothing and selling directly to customers—via Dearborn’s website (dearborndenim.us) and new Hyde Park storefront (1504 E. 53rd St., 872-465-3188), which opened in May—makes premium denim affordable, says McMillan, a North Side native who, frustrated with the denim options available to him, left his career as a bond trader to “build a better apparel brand.” “We’re trying to be as inclusive as possible,” he says.
Another local denim player is two-year-old Mugsy Jeans, which like Dearborn was born from its founder, Leo Tropeano, not being able to “find anything I liked that was stylish and comfortable.” With the introduction of its signature FLx denim—a warp-, shrink-, and wrinkle-resistant blend of cotton, rayon, and polyester—late last year, Mugsy, which designs only men’s jeans ($98), came into its own, says Tropeano. Summer expansions like shorts and a new athletic fit are bolstered this fall with more new colors, including neutral gray, tawny port, and ink black. An e-commerce retailer, Mugsy put down firm Chicago roots in May with the opening of its first by-appointment brick-and-mortar location (1118 W. Fulton Mkt., Ste. 200; mugsyjeans.com). “Although it would have been easier [to do it elsewhere], starting here was a very important aspect,” says Tropeano, 29, a former international tax consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers who moved from New York to Chicago, his wife’s hometown, five years ago. “We’re all in on Chicago.”
Hometown high fashion is even getting in on the local denim craze, with Chicago native Maria Pinto (833 W. Washington Blvd., 888-868- 2057; m2057.com) taking a different approach: While her new M2057 capsule collection ($295–$495) includes both skinny and high-waist/ wide-leg jeans, it also features denim tops, dresses, skirts, wraps, and (new for fall) a jacket. Named for iconic 20th-century women—think Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Meryl Streep—the collection is made using an ultrafine Italian cotton (tightly woven with a touch of elastic) and produced in Chicago and New York. “These pieces are a blank canvas, so they can go very casual but also be really elevated,” says Pinto, who has designed clothing for the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. “Being an American designer, and looking at American women… We wear a lot of denim. It helps ground things,” she adds. A mainstay for all, born in Chicago.