By Isa Giallorenzo
A living legend in the local fashion scene, Nena Ivon was the fashion and special events director at Saks Fifth Avenue from 1956 to 2009. She is currently a member of the executive board of the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, adjunct faculty in Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago (where the Nena Ivon Collection is archived), and a blogger. We recently interviewed her to talk about her time in fashion.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
That would take your entire article to answer. I’ll just say I was fortunate to work with over 150 international designers and fashion personalities. I produced thousands of fashion and special events, each of which was special. Having Mayor Daley name Nena Ivon Day [celebrated on August 18] was obviously special. And for my fiftieth anniversary, Saks sent me to the Paris couture collections—the list goes on!
What are some of the most important things you have learned while working in the fashion industry?
To be flexible, to roll with the punches and to adapt to whatever is new—whether new trends or new technology.
You own an extensive fashion library. What are some of your favorite fashion books?
I adore all my books by Victor Skrebneski. My favorite is his book on couture—gorgeous! I have a very old Godey’s Lady’s Book [an American magazine that circulated from 1830-1878] which I treasure. I would probably say whatever my new one is, which happens to be Stephanie Lake’s monograph on Bonnie Cashin—its review will be in my blog shortly. And, of course, the new Chicago History Museum monograph on Mainbocher.
Who is your all-time fashion designer, and why?
Too many, not just one. Norman Norell for his grace and superb creativity, Adolfo for his wearability and dear friendship, Bill Blass for always being there for me, Pauline Trigère (just because), Bob Mackie for his joie de vivre and Mark Heister for his way of making every woman feel like a sexy lady.
What does it take for you to consider someone “stylish”?
A person who has self-confidence and doesn’t follow trends—they make them their own; one who understands the difference between “what a great dress you have on” and “how wonderful you look!”
How would you describe our local fashion scene? How has it changed over the years?
It has changed dramatically over the years. When I started we had a very active and exciting fashion designer community. They have come and gone over the years. With AIBI (the Apparel Industry Board, Inc.) and the Chicago Fashion Incubator at Macy’s, it seems to be coming back. There is no reason not to stay in Chicago and sell globally.
Where do you like to shop for clothes and accessories here in the city?
Saks Fifth Avenue, of course; Ikram—she has an amazing eye; and strangely, Zara. I also love Anthropologie.
What made you want to start your blog, Nena’s Notes (nenasnotes.com)?
I have been wanting to do a blog forever to feature some of my many former models and other interesting personalities, talk about books and, of course, about fashion. It may well be the precursor to the book! I will also be doing a podcast in the future.
What did you think of the Mainbocher exhibit?
It is a sensational learning exhibition. Not only featuring wonderful examples of his fabulous garments but also telling the story of “the making of Mainbocher.” We are all excited to share it with the museum’s visitors.