Debbie Jagel is the owner of Ootra boutique and a member of the School of the Art Institute fashion committee. She co-chaired this year’s fashion design event, The Walk, which celebrated eighty years of the SAIC fashion department and featured student designs.
You are so chic and so friendly. How do you do it?
I set out in the fashion industry early, and I learned that it’s a very dog-eat-dog industry. So I want to show that fashion doesn’t have to be about being cruel, or feeling left out. Fashion is something that’s easy, approachable, lovable. And it’s my personality. I don’t know any other way because I think this world is very small and it’s important that I try to connect with as many people as possible. Everyone has something that they can teach, and I love absorbing it. So friendly is the only way to be, and I’m out there trying to make that happen in our industry, trying to talk to everyone and bring the smile back to style.
Why did you pick the Midwest as the base for your fashion endeavors?
Chicago is a huge entity and this is where my heart is. I love it, and I really, really like having my flagship store here in Naperville. Even though I opened on Michigan Avenue, I feel so many people who are in the suburbs don’t have as much access to fashion. I like to bring that street style out to the ‘burbs. Also, I adore the Midwest: people are softer, friendlier and they smile. It’s my kind of culture. It’s where I’m from.
What drives you to be involved with the SAIC?
SAIC is a huge passion of mine. I can’t think of a better art school; the heart of the art school is in design and fashion, and I believe it brings everything together. I feel very passionate about the students. Right now, my big drive is to teach them social media and accessibility. Going back to friendliness: in the old days you were supposed to be this enigma. But in today’s world everybody wants to know you, what you’re made of, the story behind the clothing, the story behind the designer, so that maybe there’s a connection for the consumer. Our students are so very talented and the one thing I feel that we really need to strengthen more is the business connection, the social media connection, and being more available, being able to speak. And being able to inject enthusiasm, because enthusiasm, and love, is what make it happen in this industry.
You piloted a reality show focusing on new designers. What was the outcome?
There was a reality show that I did for eight weeks through Kenmore Live Studios called “So You Wanna Be a Designer.” It was a venue that allowed me to get in touch with a lot of designers and try to help them. The show itself had some pitfalls and I wasn’t in control of the scripting. But all in all, we were able to give the designers some wonderful opportunities. What I really wanted to do was help them know money is not the answer; it’s our passion, drive, enthusiasm, connectivity, networking, understanding life, understanding and being comfortable with yourself, and becoming contagious.
—Interview and photograph by Isa Giallorenzo
Journalist Isa Giallorenzo was born in São Paulo, Brazil and has elected Chicago as her beloved home since 2009. She runs the street-style blog Chicago Looks and wants to see this town become one of the fashion capitals of the world.