Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shopping Safari: Chicago

By Jamee Gregory

Why would a sane person visit Chicago in February? My father’s 90th birthday called for a celebration! When my husband and daughter left quietly on Sunday, I stayed behind for a little quality time. Who knew that a blizzard was coming? Grounded for days, as the snow moved on to Manhattan, I seized the opportunity to shop.

Some call Chicago Second City, but it’s first in my heart. Looking out across Lake Shore Drive to the beautiful blue water of Lake Michigan beats any New York vista. Cars run like a ribbon by the shore. Walkers and bikers take year round advantage of beachfront paths. Shopper’s brave brisk winds to cruise the city’s Magnificent Mile, its answer to Madison Avenue.

Unlike New Yorkers, Chicagoans are conservative. What a joy it is to find all the “hot” items in small sizes left on the racks! The trendier the item, like a Dolce and Gabbana jacket or a shimmering-silver Ralph Lauren tunic, both sold out long ago in New York, just sit waiting to be snapped up. Sales ladies are helpful and patient, taking time to hunt down obscure items. Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Prada and Saks are stocked to the hilt. The Nike store is relatively quiet, the Apple store under-populated, Dennis Basso’s shop tranquil. The frenetic push and shove of our Big Apple is gone. Everyone takes their time, moving slowly with no edge, making eye contact. Midwestern charm comes into play; there is no need to rush. Everyone takes their time, moving slowly with no edge, making eye contact. Midwestern charm comes into play; there is no need to rush.
Breakfast at Pierre Gourmet in the Penninsula.
Beginning the day at Pierre Gourmet, tucked into the Peninsula, is a real treat. Nine grain bread, baked on the spot and toasted to perfection, gives Eli a real run for his money.

After an egg-white omelet, berries and a giant Cappuccino, I resolve to bring a giant loaf home. Fortified, I meet my mother and head for Nordstrom’s legendary store.
Nordstrom's famous shoe department - an entire first floor.
Clothes from California make its merchandise different, but nothing beats its shoe department. An entire floor filled to the brim with everything from red-soled Louboutins to flower-embroidered Uggs would make Carrie Bradshaw faint. The store, like many in this freezing and windy city, anchors a mall where shoppers can pass an entire day inside.

I drag my mother to Rush Street, eager to shop Ikram, the city’s trendiest boutique, only to find it’s closed.
My mother, Arlene Tucker, shivering in front of Ikram, the city's trendy fashion boutique which was closed on Sunday.
We walk down Michigan Avenue to Tod’s on Oak Street. Yes, New York boasts a bigger branch, but here in my size are the snappy navy- patent leather loafers, the white-leather pimple-bottomed slippers piped in royal blue so perfect for boating, the brand new ballerinas my mother wants. Neighboring shops, like Graff, Hermes and Pratesi make this street hot.
Tod's shoes and bags on Oak Street.
We stop for tea at the Peninsula and head for Neiman Marcus, where my favorite sales lady, Peggy, helps me find a Chanel tweed dress that was sold out in the boutique at home and a khaki ruffled top from Ralph Lauren with white cotton pants with a matching stripe running down the wide leg. Stopping at Burberry we find a quilted khaki cotton mini and a short-sleeve double-pocketed shirt in signature plaid. There on the shelf is the white tee with sailor’s cord woven through the neck.
Neiman Marcus.
Strolling down Michigan Avenue in the twilight; the bare trees illuminated with tiny white lights, the bright windows of Crate and Barrel’s flagship light the street. We visit 900 N. Michigan, where Bloomingdale’s resides, Queen of its mall, surrounded by shops like Wolford, fully stocked with Black Velvet de Luxe hose, an item long gone in NYC.
Michigan Avenue with tree lights.
We stop at Ralph Lauren’s store, peeking into trendy RL restaurant, visiting the children’s’ floor and finishing up with a fabulous quilted-leather vest, corduroy pants and cashmere turtleneck, all on sale and just right for winter’s rebound. We head back to the street, enjoying the view of the stone Water Tower, a landmark that survived the Chicago Fire, demolishing the city, thanks to a lamp kicked over by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow according to legend.
L. to r.: Inside 900 N. Michigan Mall where Bloomingdale's is the anchor; Childrens' Wear at Ralph Lauren's glamorous shop.
L. to r.: View of Chicago's famous Water Tower-supposedly the only buiding that lasted after Mrs. O'Leary's cow set off the Chicago Fire and demolished the area; Water Tower Place, the engaging mall filled shops like Sharper Image, Banana Republic and restaurants, anchored by Macy's and Lord and Taylor, with waterfalls, glass elevators, and food courts Lauren's glamorous shop.
We see Macy’s, newly located in Marshall Field’s space, a sore spot for loyal Chicagoans, who took to the streets to protest the loss of their beloved shop. We stop in to buy the few remaining Frango mints with Field’s logo. Outside, we admire the bright illuminated glass balls that brighten the street. Mayor Daley does his best to keep the city attractive with constant changes in seasonal decorations.
Macy's - which replaced famed Marshall Field's in the Water Tower Mall. Giant colored glass balls are part of an ever-changing art display that brightens Michigan Avenue, Chicago's answer to Madison Avenue.
At Saks at 700 N. Michigan in the Chicago Place Mall we strike gold. A Dolce jacket on sale, a new Chloe quilted leather skirt in cream, a leopard-spotted sweater set from Lamb all make the cut. We hit Walton Street for a stop at Barney’s, finding leather frames for birthday photos, and chic cotton socks from France.
Sur La Table-Fabulous kitchenware displays from France on Walton St.
We cross to Prada where we find a red envelope bag with gold lettering for my sister. Stopping at Puma, my mother finds suede walking shoes in camel and beige and I grab tee shirts in fuchsia and white with metallic letters and a Puma, perfect for the gym, along with a white track suit for spring.
Prada on Walton St.
Outside, my father is waiting. In Chicago diners eat early! We head for Le Lan, the new hotspot opened by the city’s top chef, Arun. Its French-Vietnamese menu delights, from spicy soup with dumplings to a sampling of home-made sorbets.
Dinner at le lan, Chicago's hot new French Vietnamese restaurant at 749 N. Clark Street.
By the time herbal tea arrives we are ready for bed!