On Saturday, November 19th, BMO Harris Bank presents the 25th Annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.

Can that be possible?  Let’s take a brief look back even further to see where it all began. I was sitting in the office of the General Manager of Saks Fifth Avenue, Hal Clyne, in a meeting with the Display Director  (would now be called Visual Merchandising Director), Joe Kreis, discussing the upcoming Holiday season.  At the time, and for many years, I managed the Holiday Boutique which housed the best of the best of the Store’s merchandise that I personally edited and styled for the shop.  It started the day after Thanksgiving and went away on Christmas Eve.  Joe was very excited about new information he had just received.  He used a display company to buy props and have props made for the many windows we had on Michigan Avenue (the Store was then located on Michigan Avenue and Erie Street it moved to 700 North Michigan Avenue in 1990). The company was Silvestri.  Joe and Mr. Silvestri were fast friends and Mr. Silvestri had told him about a discovery he had made while in Italy.  Strings of tiny lights… At the time we had a lighted outline of a Christmas tree that went from the main floor to the fifth floor (the addition hadn’t been built). This tree was sold to Charles A. Stevens on State Street. What Joe wanted to do was festoon the elm trees in front of the Store with these lights….well the rest, as they say, is history, to say the least!  Hal said go for it although he hesitated about the cost if memory serves me correctly, each tree was around $250, but it might have been  less. The year, 1959!!!!


Obviously, this beautiful sight has not only grown in Chicago and covers all of Michigan Avenue trees but the bee lights are used all over the world.  While sitting in another meeting, this time with the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, talking about the lighting of the trees and how you would walk out in the evening and the trees were all glowing.  It was suggested that something more special, more elaborate happen, that is how the Lights Festival happened…starting small and growing to the exceptional special event it is today.

Since Thanksgiving is next week I wanted to share a recipe that is tradition in the Ivon household.  Very easy and truly delicious.

From Nena’s recipe box

Hot Carrot Mold

Grease a ring mold well, preheat oven to 350.

Mix the following as listed:

1 cup Crisco (regular Crisco not buttered and must be Crisco do not substitute, don’t worry it doesn’t taste like Crisco!)

1 cup dark brown sugar

Add 2 eggs

2 cups grated carrots

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 cup flour sifted with 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon baking soda

Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t overbake. Loosen around the center hole of the pan and around sides turn out onto a platter.

Note:  You can make the batter the day before serving and keep in the refrigerator warm to room temperature and bake.  Is great for leftovers…just heat until heated through.  Also freezes well.  I usually cut into individual servings if I freeze any leftovers.

Enjoy Turkey Day!!



I have been giving you my thoughts on books I own and although I didn’t think I would be asked to review books outside my own picks, at least not right away, how exciting that this happened through the Author Giveaways on LibraryThing. If you don’t know about LibraryThing, you should. I will, most certainly, talk about it in a BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS Tuesday posting. I have, in the meantime, given you the link to this extraordinary resource at the bottom of this post.  Once you sign up you can list all your library however you like…it is truly amazing.  There are many ways to use the site, you can chat with like book lovers and on and on.  One of the ways this works is that authors give a brief outline about their newly published or about to be published book, which can be a physical book or an e-book. If you like the synopsis you can request the book in kind of a draw, there are only so many copies available, the only request by the author is that  you give the book a review on Amazon, Good Reads, etc.  A Perfumer’s Secret appealed to me, first of all, it would take me on a journey to France and secondly I have been intrigued with fragrance since I fell in love with my Mother’s fragrance Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleu as a little girl!!  Yet another story to be told later.  As well as working with many perfume and cosmetic companies, and learning so much about fragrances, during my Saks Fifth Avenue career. Much to my surprise the author, Adria J. Cimino, contacted me saying I had “won” the e-book!  We have now become e-mail pals (someone needs to coin a name) and Adria will be the subject of a Monday profile in the very near future, how exciting. I will review the book next week…haven’t quite finished it, as well as giving you all of Adria’s blog information!

Here is a short list of some book blogs/sites that I follow (there are more!) that I would like to recommend to you in no particular order. In addition, be sure to support your local independent bookseller, most of them have blogs as well, (I’ll post about my favs in another post) and, of course, your local library…don’t you just love libraries, I do.  (also an app)

Happy reading!


I meet Margaret Buckman through a mutual friend several years ago.  That mutual friend has since moved away in distance and communication and Margaret and I have become fast friends.  Her journey, in my opinion, is not only fascinating but inspirational.  Her vision in her jewelry pieces, her artwork, and her eclectic home is truly her own.  Her versatility is amazing and I will share some of her jewelry pieces with you in this post along with her story. I will feature her collections in a Thursday posting.  Just an aside, Margaret was my first interview, several months ago, when I was preparing to start my blog.  My questionnaire was just being formed in my mind and I did taped in-depth interviews with my first “subjects” and transcribed them verbatim!  I have since changed that format and usually just do the questionnaire and the highlights of the interviews, which, in most cases, are at least an hour in length…lots and lots of really good “stuff”!  Here is the unabridged interview.

imageMargaret wearing one of her own designs Photo by David Cutrano

But enough from me let’s hear Margaret’s story in her own words.  You will need a pot of coffee or perhaps a bottle of wine…you are in for quite an interesting journey.


When did you realize your passion?


I knew all my life that I wanted to be surrounded by art.  I was fortunate to grow up in a home with many beautiful things.  My older siblings took me to the Art Institute of Chicago and to every cultural event imaginable so I was very clear, very coherent from a very early age that whatever I wanted to do in life that the arts would be very much a part of who I was.

I would sit on the floor in my home and look at the Sarouk rugs from Persia, they were massive and filled with salmon centers and with pattern and cobalt borders, they were magical.  I was fascinated by how they were made and I’d look at the colors and how the rug was constructed and how the pattern was done and I always knew that in my life this would be there in some shape or form.

I was very fortunate, in my marriage and personal life, to have a husband who encouraged me to take classes, despite the fact that I was running a household, and I painted and learned to work with beads.  About 18 years ago I went to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  I painted, wove and learned to make silver jewelry, studying at Instituto de San Miguel de Allende where I studied traditional silver making techniques…it was as if someone had breathed life into me.  It was the first time I had been alone in years, I, of course, missed my husband and two kids, but realized that I was capable of so much more and it wetted my appetite for a whole new life of being able to communicate with others.  It was one of the most amazing experiences…although I speak a little Spanish and a little French, we were communicating through our art and it was so powerful.

imageMargaret at work on future jewelry masterpieces.  Photo on Nena’s iPhone


You had that support and not a competition with your husband and it created true magic!  You have a degree in interior design and as you have mentioned your husband encouraged you to go back to school.  How did this evolve and what happened after the tragedy of his death?


I had gotten my degree, in my twenties, before I met my husband.  I had always drawn and I had the audacity to walk into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with one drawing from Ray Vogue.  A cardboard drawing of a room, and I said to the woman interviewing me that I didn’t have a portfolio but I had a good heart and if she would tell me if I was qualified to get in there I would work so hard that she wouldn’t want me to leave and she said she would give me a chance and that was the start of going back to school and fulfilling a life long dream.  I interned at the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation in Chicago and helped them with their first fundraiser.  I personally got to know Paul Rusesabagina.  I also did two internships at the same time while helping with fundraisers at the Arts & Business Council Chicago and the Arts Alliance Illinois, all while carrying a 15-hour load at SAIC. It was worth every minute of it!


Jewelry and textile, Margaret Buckman; photo, David Cutrano; model Tia Bat; hair Marifel Lagatuz Westa; make[up Jeannie Giannone. Photo from the upcoming exhibition “The Places in Between”

Flash forward to 10 years ago, I got a call that my husband had been critically injured in a car accident and had died.  That, obviously, was the beginning of another chapter in my life  My daughter was getting married and my son was in college and a lot of other things were happening and I said I can’t stay in the suburbs any longer.  I wrote another letter to SAIC and asked if they would believe in me again and promised them that I would help other women (that’s my thing!).  They not only agreed but gave me a $5000.00 scholarship and that was my way of getting back into the city and back into life.  I went back to school full time and I piggybacked all my internships.  During this time I had a stress fracture in my back and could barely walk.  I painted with Karl Wirsum, part of the “Hairy Who” and one of my heroes, on Saturdays, and he was so kind. One must realize that your life is evolving and changing.  People around you can see it and what you must realize is that the small steps and opportunities are blessings in disguise.  You make new friends, have new experiences you must be open to it and to never, ever give up!


Margaret let’s get a bit less serious, what do you like to read?


Anything relating to the Silk Road


Your favorite Chicago Street Art?


The mosaic on the walls of the underpass at Bryn Mawr, especially the mirrors in the mosaic.



Where do you find inspiration?


I love to hunt for artifacts.  I’ve been all over the world, and to the Silk Road.  I love the feeling of standing in something that is ancient, such as a camel rest stop where the Bedouins are somewhere in time.  I love to be in that historical moment where the past, the present, and the future come together.  Sitting in a car or a bus and looking out the window going through the countryside of India or Thailand and seeing massive green fields with dots of color, thinking it is flowers and realizing that is the women of Rajasthan, India, and their textiles.  Seeing the beauty of nature everywhere. Whether it is a pile of garbage or a pile of fabrics or spices, to me it’s the ultimate to travel everywhere.  But we were talking, you and I, about being able to travel in Chicago and seeing a doorway or a planter in front of a building, seeing someone being helped into a car, a homeless person, being given a meal by a passerby…it’s the dichotomy of so many different things, every day is an adventure if you are privileged to live in the City of Chicago, if you are privileged to live in the world!

imageJewelry and Textiles, Margaret Buckman; photo by Jean Sweet; model Kirsten Luiz; Hair and Make-up, Jaycie


What about your love of cooking?


I started cooking at a very early age, I came from a family of foodies.  I have foodie kids, my daughter had a macaroon business for awhile.  My son is a chef.  We move on our stomachs in this family.  It’s like art…cooking is art!  You have to figure it out…you make caramel sauce for the first time and you burn it, next time or the next it is as easy as 1,2,3.  I love to make souffles, love to make one pot meals, with really fresh vegetables.  We are so fortunate to have so many farmers markets and so many places to get really good food in Chicago.  I love to whip up meals and have friends come for lunch or dinner.  Again, this is a wonderful town for food, great restaurants and food providers all over the city.  Whatever you have a taste for you can find and it’s fabulous! (Watch for Margaret’s recipes in future posts.)


What do you like to do to “entertain” yourself?

I love being at the Chicago History Museum in the Costume Collection and doing my volunteer work.  I get to work in the catacombs of the building and work with the most exquisite jewelry, textiles, and artifacts cataloging them once a week  It’s the ultimate treat and I hope everyone will come and see our Museum and be there in the moment and see history being played out.  And if you want hope, think back to the Chicago Fire and how everything was burned to the ground, up to the Water Tower, and how our City began again and became even better than before.  Those are some of the things I like to do…I’m never bored…being bored is boring!!!

imageYou can clearly see Margaret’s pieces are never boring (nor are her embroidered boots!) Photo taken at the Chicago History Museum by Nena with her iPhone

I told you, you were in for a fascinating interview…I know you aren’t disappointed.  You will see more of Margaret’s jewelry as well as her home and artwork in future posts and get some of her delicious recipes.

Please go to Margaret’s website



FASHION FLASHBACK: THE INCREDIBLE NORMAN NORELL                                                      Norman Norell 1900-1972

Suzy Parker Life Magazine cover 1952 photo Milton Green

This stunning photo of Suzy Parker, in a Norman Norell mermaid gown, was one of the reasons I wanted to get into the fashion business.  I thought the models of the late ’40’s and ’50’s and the clothes in ads and editorials were so glamorous and breathtaking, that I decided it was the place for me.  And guess what I worked with the gentleman who created this illusion, Norman Norell!  Who knew….

Norman Norell was considered one of the top American designers, I would say top International designers, when I began at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago and I had the extreme honor of presenting his annual fashion shows in the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Hilton on South Michigan Avenue (I have done more shows at the Hilton than any other venue) for the American Cancer Society Women’s Board, an organization I worked with for many years and featured the best of the best of American designers. Mr. Norell didn’t do many formal shows outside of New York, but when we asked him to come to Chicago he readily agreed, you see he had cancer himself so the cause was one he strongly believed in.

The Norell shows were unique in that Mr. Norell brought his four models with him, Claudia, Doreen, Clare and Yvonne and we chose four local models and did their hair and make-up in exactly the same manner.  You couldn’t tell which were the New York models or the Chicago models.  At the time, the Norell look was a slick “garcon” haircut, very severe yet stunning and perfect for his clothing.  The make-up was extremely dramatic with smoky eye and red lip (a la the Van Dongan portrait of the Marchesa Luisa Casati, if you don’t know about her, please educate yourself via books* and, of course, the internet!  An amazing character!)  In addition, there was no commentary, we did commentary with all shows, and to only use 8 models, which was the norm then, with just music was unusual.  Believe me, these garments didn’t need descriptions, they spoke perfectly on their own.  In retrospect, it added to the elegance and salon feel of the shows and the models walked the runway very slowly so the audience could see the details of the clothes.

Mr. Norell with his models in iconic Life Magazine 1960 photo by Milton Green

Marchesa Luisa Casati by Kees Van Dongan seen in the background of the photo above

Cover of Life Magazine 1960

I can not tell you how much I coveted a Norell Mermaid gown…talk about dreaming the impossible dream…I was making $37.50 take home pay per week and if I recall correctly the gowns, at that time, were around $3500.00!  You do the math.  They were, all hand beaded and magnificent and strangely enough very light weight.

Bad photo but you get the idea!

At one of the fashion shows he had silk scarves to go with some of the outfits, and as the show was in progress he decided on the spur of the moment to have the models toss them into the audience, obviously creating quite a frenzy, what fun and totally unexpected!  I wonder who still has one of those scarves.  At one point in time, Revlon introduced a Norell fragrance, the first to be named for an American designer. Saks, of course, gave all the guests a bottle as their gift. The fragrance was relaunched a couple of years ago at Neiman Marcus. Mr. Norell was always very gracious to all the staff and worked with the clientele perfectly…advising them on selections to add to their vast Norell wardrobes.  Many of these garments are now housed at the Chicago History Museum in the Costume Collection.

Love this outfit and typically Norell from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Collection

One of the perks of working with leading designers is learning their techniques and tricks, one of the many pointers I picked up from Mr. Norell was how to tie a bow, you can see one in the above image, he loved to do huge bows, this one on an evening piece, don’t you love it!.  But he also did bows on dresses and blouses worn with his open-collared jackets and coats. There wasn’t anything superficial about the Norell look it was all about perfect tailoring, perfect construction, perfect fabrics and perfect beading always allowing the wearer to be the focal point of the garment. It wasn’t Couture but each garment was completely made by one person not passed from seamstress to seamstress.

What a lucky person I was to have started with the likes of Norman Norell, Bonnie Cashin, Anne Fogerty, Anne Klein, Emilio Pucci and, of course, Sophie Gimbel all of whom you will learn more about in upcoming posts along with the many, many other designers and fashion personalities I have had the joy of working with over the years.

The Norman Norell plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York

The catalog from the Norman Norell Exhibition immediately following his death

Illustration by Michael Vollbracht

*Infinite Variety:  The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati available from or  I’m sure can be ordered from your favorite Independent Bookseller


A short post for you today.  A glimpse into one of my collections that actually doesn’t have any rhyme or reason to it other than I like the pieces together.


This arrangement sits on top of a vintage cabinet and rests on an old hand tatted piece of linen.  I collect Battenberg lace but this isn’t one of those pieces.  The alabaster urn* is actually electrified and glows beautifully when lit, it rests on several old leather bound books to give it height.  The floral piece is enameled flowers in a china vase and is by Gorham.  I have had the gold and white Limoges box in front for years, I think I got it at an antique show.  The small vase at the front is hand painted with forget-me-nots and gold leaves, quite charming and I have placed a tiny tussie mussie of gold painted roses in it.  An apricot gourd vessel is by Mottahedeh and purchased when she was in the Store many years ago. All the hand-painted cups and saucers were gifts from a friend in England and are very old and fine china, I’m not good with identifying marks so I can’t tell who did them…Antiques Roadshow here I come! The two exquisite  green and clear cut glass decanters were given to me on “permanent loan” by dear friends…you have seen their divine taste in past posts such as the “plate wall” room from last week.

I guess if I needed to caption this it would be, study in apricot, gold and green. All my walls, with the exception of the bathroom, which is white, are green.  I actually took one of my green enamelware pot lids to Sherwin Williams and had them match the color.  I also did the ceiling in the same color many people would think this would make the room look smaller, I think it does just the opposite. The window sills are a darker forest green. You can see two of my three drapery panels, one is green silk and the other is green velvet.  I have yet a third which is a green cut velvet which doesn’t show up in this photo.  I have tried to group like objects, color, and/or theme together in my home. You will see much more in coming weeks.  How do you display your treasures?

*Purchased at the Randolph Antique Market, the next Market is November 19 and 20 followed by November 26 and 27 and December 10 and 11 do mark your calendars so you can add treasures to your collections and get others as gifts for the Holiday season that is upon us!


Don’t know why but I’m thinking concrete today…I know, crazy Nena!  On my stroll and photo documentation of South Michigan Avenue, I became fascinated with ornamental concrete. How that will relate to today’s recipe is really a stretch, but I think you are getting use to my way of thinking!!! At least I hope so.

I first came upon two fragments semi-buried in the grass just North of Roosevelt Road and East of Michigan Avenue.  What on earth, no pun intended, were they?  One of the wonderful things about our Street Art is that most, if not all, are labeled and many have prominent Chicagoans giving you a description/history of the pieces…amazing! Since these were the first pieces I came upon I didn’t think to capture the information but with the help of the internet I found out what they were/are.

imageFront of piece

imageSide of piece

These stunning pieces, which are actually granite, are almost entirely what is left from Chicago’s famous Central Station sculpted in 1893 by Bradford L.Gilbert.  These pieces were installed in Grant Park in 2004.  The Station, which stood at the Southwest corner of Grant Park was demolished in the 1970’s.  The Station served the Illinois Central Railroad Company.  These fragments were part of the arch that passengers passed through when arriving or departing Chicago.

Moving up the Avenue I came upon the 8th Street Fountain (I will do an entire post on fountains in the future) and behind it at the base of the lighting structures are these interesting scrollworks…can you even imagine the cost of doing this today, totally prohibited…more the pity.



When visiting a country estate I found more fragments, these from English Country Houses, that the owner collects and places against brick walls….I think quite stunning and if you have a large space big pieces fit perfectly and I adore anything, especially art and I consider these pieces art, displayed against a raw brick wall.



All photos in this post taken by Nena on her iPhone

Now for the strange connection to a recipe from my box…Nena’s Meatloaf!  I know, most people think of meatloaf as “concrete” not so with mine.  Whenever I serve it, my guests want the recipe, so here is it along with suggested sides and, of course, wine!!!!

From Nena’s Recipe Box

Nena’s Meatloaf

Serves 4

2 lbs ground round steak, not too lean

2 eggs

1 teaspoon garlic (I use jarred garlic)

1 1/2 Tablespoon chopped parsley, I use dried

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon celery salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (I use an Italian grated natural cheese mix)

1/2 cup catsup

A little more than 3/4 cup good red wine…can be Chianti Classico or other red wine but what you will be serving with dinner

1 cup dried bread crumbs (again I use an Italian mix of packaged bread crumbs)

1 can cream of tomato soup (I use Campbell’s tomato bisque, I like the chunks)

3 strips of bacon

Combine all ingredients except soup and bacon.

Mix well, don’t over work, clean hands, and form into a large loaf or two smaller loaves (that is what I do)

Place in a baking pan, pour soup over loaf, spread over sides, like you are icing a cake, lay strips of bacon over top.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean.  Be sure it is cooked well but not overcooked.

(I make two loaves, cook both and freeze one to be reheated later or don’t freeze and have sandwiches next day, really good!  Be prepared that your guests and yourself will probably want more than one serving. If freezing, freeze after cooking. Defrost in refrigerator and reheat in 350 oven for approximately 1 hour or until heated through, add more soup if needed.)


Mashed potatoes (I use Bob Evans mashed potatoes with sour cream prepared as directed and really load them up with butter and lots of prepared horseradish, everyone thinks that I have peeled, boiled and mashed the potatoes…seriously!!  Why would I when these are really, really good.)

Fresh green beans, lightly dressed with butter, ground pepper, and salt

Side salad if you like (I will share a sensational vinegarette soon if I can talk the “owner” out of the recipe!)

Perhaps a poached pear, not a heavy dessert

Wine either a Chianti Classico, a Malbec or a red blend



I have long been a fan of Juniper Books, wow!  The creative owner, Thatcher Wine, has agreed to do my questionnaire and you will be able to read that in an upcoming post.He gets five stars for answering my email immediately.  In today’s Books, Books, Books I wanted to feature a few of his creations. My dream is to have ALL my fashion library done by him. At least the three shelves of Chanel!  Just imagine, it will be sensational.

If you are unaware of this amazing business it is multi-faceted…one area is curating  libraries for individuals another is covering books with amazing themed illustrations, which can be entire walls.  I know purists are saying, really, don’t do that, books should be as they are,  I say, yet again, why not create art in a unique fantastic manner, that is exactly what Juniper Books does.  Selected for the second year in a row for Oprah’s Favorite Things, to quote Oprah “I was so impressed about these exquisite book sets last year, I just had to bring them back”.   I wanted to share some of Nena’s Favorite Things as well….just the tiny tip of the selections.


Located in Boulder, Colorado, isn’t this the way a bookstore should look…you want to go inside to find the treasures, at least I do!

You can do a selection or an entire wall….see all below….Thacher doesn’t advocate covering paperbacks suggests if you have a favorite get it in hard cover.

imageAs a young girl, I was memorized by my Nancy Drew books, I had them all, unfortunately, a hot water heater explosion, in my Evanston home, destroyed all of them…perhaps I should collect again.  They are quite brilliant.  Isn’t this set charming and think for a Holiday gift, perfection!

imageBeing Russian this grouping appealed to me, especially the color, isn’t it fsntastic, love it! The creativity is endless, what fun these creators must have when given their brief for a collection or a subject that is dear to the heart of the collector.


imageI just realized that I haven’t  discussed, in my blog, seeing Hamilton a couple weeks ago, I’ll do that soon, in the meantime, isn’t this astonishing!!!

imageCan you even imagine, oh my goodness, the ultimate of what a library should look like…my oh my…spectacular to say the least.  I can’t wait to hear all Thacher has to tell us…stay tuned.


Elsa Tullos came to Saks Fifth Avenue in the mid-1980’s.  She was one of my favorites for many years (obviously, I didn’t book anyone who wasn’t the best, but like children you do have favorites….and they know who they are!)  Elsa checks in with us here for an update and a flashback on her story then and now as well as sharing some photos of her modeling career.


“I began a 16-year modeling career as a teenager doing commercial print and television spots.  My first job was a McDonald’s television commercial that aired during the Super Bowl providing immediate entry to the Screen Actors Guild and six years of residuals.


imageElsa’s Early Composite

During the early 1980’s I worked every day as a print model for Sears, Montgomery Wards, JC Penney, Marshall Field’s and catalog production studios around the Midwest.  Every six months I had to reinvent myself to stay in business.  I wore long hair, short hair, bobbed cuts, pixies, bushy eyebrows, pencil thin eyebrows, the wholesome look, the sophisticated look, the girl next door, the glamour girl and business person looks.  I portrayed a range of ages from 17 to 32, depending on wardrobe and makeup.  I even changed my name a couple of times as a strategic shift in direction.

In the mid-’80’s I transitioned from being a busy print model to a runway model.  The Chicago apparel industry was thriving.  Chicago fashion designers were gaining critical acclaim nationally, and I quickly established myself on the runway in all of the major shows: Oprah Winfrey Show fashion segments, Oak Street shows, the Chicago Apparel Mart shows, Marshall Fields, I. Magnin, Bonwit Teller, Neiman Marcus…and most often, Saks Fifth Avenue.

imageElsa’s Runway composite

Already known as a print model, I didn’t want to appear as a novice on the runway.  With that in mind, I sought the services of choreographer, Kathleen Keith Burg, as a movement coach. who drilled me on all the standard mannequin moves.  Runway models at the time were quite serious, very sophisticated and typically did not smile.  I decided to smile, and differentiated myself as the model who smiled!  For the next ten years, I was in high demand for all the top fashion shows,  Actor training, smiling, the movement coach and tai chi (believe it or not) contributed to my success on the runway. Tai chi enhanced my ability to fully project and connect with the audience.  While always based in Chicago, 10 years on the runway took me to Italy, Switzerland, and France with extended assignments in New York and location work throughout North America.  I toured nationally showing Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne collections and worked many other ready-to-wear labels including Albert Nipon, Norma Kamali, Donna Karan, Zandra Rhodes, Calvin Klein and Ellen Tracy.


For Saks, I showed Jacqueline de Ribes, Pauline Trigere, Adolfo, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Bob Mackie, all memorable experiences.  My favorite, most transformative “couture” collection experience at Saks was Christian Lacroix.


Elsa photographed at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Jacqueline de Ribes personal appearance and fashion show at a black tie sit down dinner to benefit the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum.  Photo by Robert Carl.

Also notable, an Apparel Mart showing of Paris Collections in which I wore Karl Lagerfeld’s haute couture, Pirate.  The choreographer directed me to walk the runway straight-faced, no smile and turn at the end with a smile.  Well, I thought to myself, “Pirates do not smile.” So, I did the straight face down the runway as instructed, then, on the way back at the end of the run, I walked up the three stairs near the stage wall, turned around and belted out the biggest, loudest, “in your face” wicked, back bending, open mouth pirate laugh that I could imagine! (Lights fade to black.) It was stunning, quite dramatic, memorable for all (in a good way), and the most fun EVER for me on the runway. (Thanks, Susan Glick, show producer.)

Just prior to “hanging up the pumps” and calling an end to runway work, I fondly recall Saks’ weekly fashion seminars for business women.  The series was a great time working with Nena and Ruth (Ivon), and the small group of models who did the weekly luncheon shows…Working Women Seminars:  Jeanouche, Lou May, Karen, Connie, Gail, Ingeborg, and Marilyn.  I listened while showing and learned a lot, loved it!


By the mid-1990’s, I reinvented myself, yet again, this time as a public relations practitioner.  I began my PR work at the Edelman Worldwide agency and from there went on manage public relations and events for the Chicago Tourism Office, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, and other government agencies.  Along the way, I completed an MBA in Management and shifted from governmental affairs to higher education.  I taught Business and Arts Management at Columbia College Chicago for a few years, and currently, manage communications and development programs for Columbia’s School of Media Arts.

imageElsa with 44th President Barack Obama during her governmental affairs work

Contemplating this blog post, I realized skills, qualities, and subtle behaviors from the modeling days that continue to work for me today.  As a part of the fashion community, I gained a keen sense of timing and visual sophistication, as well as experience in collaboration and teamwork.  The early exposure to standards of excellence helped prepare me for the broader business world.

As I morphed from teenager to print model and the fashion stage to PR, in retrospect I see that it was not reinvention at all, but rather the peeling away of layers, refining me—my evolution to now!


I am excited about the possibilities of my next chapter and things to come.  There may be a book, a screenplay or regional theater in my future.  There will likely be nonprofit fundraising and grant writing. Experiencing art in its various forms is important to me, as is, spiritual growth, leisure travel and spending quality time with my family.  I am happy to reflect here on the great run so far and to imagine the many possibilities of what is next.   I still live in Chicago and am restoring my 100-year-old family home and enjoying interior decorating.  I also actively pursue philanthropic projects.

Cheers Nena!”



From Nena….I think you can see why I wanted to profile Elsa and her journey from model to educator.  Not only has she had a fascinating career but she is one of the nicest most considerate people you will meet.

Elsa has remained a dear friend and when I was retiring from Saks Fifth Avenue, she had the idea of having a model reunion retirement party for me.  She took total control over the event inviting models I hadn’t seen in years.  The Palmer House arranged for the party to be held in their Presidential Suite.  Over 50 models from the beginning of my career to the time  I was retiring (the prerequisite was that you couldn’t be one of my current models…). They all came show ready, in black, hair and make-up done.  My concern was that many of them didn’t know each other and would feel uncomfortable, they were from different eras, in seconds, of meeting each other they were friends.  It was like a sorority reunion. ABC news covered the event (I have the B-roll) and, I must admit, it was one of the best parties ever!  I will share more, along with photos,  with you in an upcoming post.


I have been extremely fortunate, throughout my career, to have worked with many extraordinary creators one of whom was James Galanos.  Mr. Galanos passed away on Sunday at the age of 92. With his passing, one more star of the fashion world has left us, but we all know his star is shining brightly in the galaxy! How lucky we all were to be able to share his brilliance.

Here is a personal story of how I related to Mr. Galanos when he visited Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago with his stunning creations.  A little insight into how I personally worked with the designers and/or their representatives

There have been many tributes written since the announcement of his death and there will be many more to come.  All telling us that he was one of our true originals, one who set his own rules, followed his own passions and created some of the most luxurious, beautiful garments any of us can imagine.  His creations were considered American Couture.  Each garment conceived by him, sometimes sewn by him, pressed by him, etc.  He never licensed his name…he did do a perfume. He even created his own prints working with the best textile companies in Europe. Nothing escaped his vision and he strived for perfection, I would suggest he reached it!

Photo uncredited

Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago hosted Mr. Galanos twice a year with his collections.  The collection had been at other stores in Chicago so when Mr. Galanos came to Saks it was huge!!  He always traveled with an assistant/model, first Pat Jones and then Natalie Terrell, who assisted him with his clients as well as wearing his garments. He preferred not to present a formal fashion show but rather to work directly with his devotees.  I can tell you when he decided to close his atelier not only were his clients devasted but so was the Store, it left a huge hole in very expensive, exclusive garments.  We didn’t buy the collection for the Chicago store, everything was by special order, in my opinion, this made it even more exciting to own.  Certainly not one of a kind but made especially for the individual client.

With Pat Jones in his Los Angelos workrooms (image from Pinterest not identified)

I was always amazed that we were instructed not to unpack the collection once it arrived at the Store, Mr. Galanos, without any help, did this himself down to the last piece of jewelry, shoe, hat, as well as the huge collection itself which was at least 100 plus pieces each season. In addition, the collection was housed in dressing rooms, with a few pieces displayed on the selling floor in a very upscale salon manner. It was not only unheard of it was a show of complete control over his creations.  Nothing was left to chance.

We always did a very special invitation to our Galanos clients. Calligraphy invitations were attached to a full bottle of his perfume and delivered by a chauffeured town car.  Other times I would send a charming  tussie mussie (a miniature real flower bouquet) in a tiny brass basket.  They dried beautifully and the ladies loved getting them and collected them.  We often did a champagne/caviar reception in a private condo.  A bit of a change up from doing something in the Store.

In days of old….I met each designer or their representation at O’Hare at their arrival gate. I always felt this set the tone for the personal appearance.  It gave me the unique opportunity to be able, in the ride from the airport to their hotel, to have in-depth conversations and make friends.  In addition, I also rode back with them and waited at their departure gate until they boarded their plane…those were definitely the days! I was also included in at least one dinner with the designer when they visited, again gaining personal experiences and information on a more intimate basis than working with them on the selling floor or with a formal fashion show.  I remember after several years of Mr. Galanos’ visits, I had picked him up at his hotel and we were waiting at the restaurant for the rest of the Saks team and much to my surprise he said to me, “Nena, why aren’t you calling me Jimmy?” After picking myself up off the floor, I responded, “You never said I could!” From that day forwarad it was Jimmy!  What an honor.  While preparing this posting, I wanted to include my photo with him and didn’t have sufficient time to do so.  When I find it I shall share it. home in Los Angelos photo in Architecture Digest

On one visit he decided he wanted to donate garments to the Costume Collection at the Chicago History Museum, he had been the first recipitant of their Designer of Excellence Award and was, as are most designers who visit the Collection, beyond impressed with it. I called our curator and asked if she would be interested, a really silly question, of course she was.  A carton arrived at the Store housing approximately 12 garments.  I had them sent to the the Museum for her to chose a couple of pieces which she did.  I called Mr. Galanos with her selections and he said, “Not just one or two they are all for the Collection!”  Seriously…and each was labeled with it’s name, the date of the collection, fabric, sketch…the whole works. When Andrew Gn (who is making a personal appearance with his Spring 2017 Collection in two weeks) was in Chicago a year and a half ago he visited the Costume Collection and asked to see only American designers, one he asked for was James Galanos.  The photo below is a piece from the Collection Mr. Galanos personally donated.  By the way, Mr. Gn is following that tradition and donating several pieces to our Collection when he visits.  I will be doing a profile on him, his Collection and what he has donated in an upcoming post.


James Galanos gown as it was prepped to be inspected by Andrew Gn in the Chicago History Museum Costume Collection.  Photo taken by Nena on my iPhone

Nancy Reagan 1981-1985 (White House photographs)

He is, of course, known for creating the stunning gowns that Nancy Reagan wore to the Inaugural Balls as well as many of her other evening gowns and day pieces (many of her day clothes and some evening gowns were from Adolfo, I will do a profile on him in the future). They formed a close friendship which lasted until her death.

I remember a conversation with him regarding his clients.  The discussion was when is too much too much!  He had said that in one of his California stores, probably his biggest account…they usually bought each Collection in its entirity, can you imagine…the following happened!  Well, it seemed one client, who could definitely  afford it, had ordered 20 garments, most were heavilty beaded and had had Judith Leiber bags ordered to match the beading on each garment.  Needless to say that was a huge bill.  His concern was that that was over kill.  My response was “Does this client do much for charity, do they employee staff for their properties, support the arts, etc. etc” the answer was yes, of course.  “Well, I said, then they are contributing to employeement, philanthophy, keeping businesses going and not just buying clothes (and, of course, this kept his staff employed).  His response he hadn’t thought of it like that.  Understand the prices of his garments ran into thousands of dollars each.

Walk of Style plaque with Betsey Bloomingdale and Nancy Reagan

He, of course,also has a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York.  I could only find a dreadful photo on line, I need to take photos of all those special recognition plaques next time I’m in New York.

To have had the opportunity to not only work with the genius of  James Galanos professionally, but also get to know a extremely private individual on a more intimate level is a memory I shall always treasure.  Rest in Peace Mr. Galanos.


Catalog available from third party sellers on Amazon:

A catalog to a retrospective exhibition of the work of couturier James Galanos held at the Western Reserve Historical Society, Chisholm Halle Costume Wing, in 1996, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1997. It consists primarily of illustrations of creations by Galanos between 1952 and 1993. Curator of the exhibition was Barry Bradley, curator of costume for the historical society.


Displaying collections can be challenging but more importantly, it can be inspiring, dramatic and decorate. Why not think creatively with items we use daily such as our place settings.  I’m sure most of us have more than one set of china…pieces we use every day, pieces we save (shame on us) for special company, breakfast dishes ( I grew up with Fiestaware as our breakfast dishes) and remember the upcoming Holiday pieces we only bring out once a year…think of all those Turkey platters on the top shelf of the closet! I love to combine high and low….such as my collection of Jadeite plates, bowls, etc. with my sterling flatware, which is quite ornate and perhaps Baccarat stemware using an antique paisley shawl for the cloth…you get the idea.

imageA very moody shot of some of my Jadeite collection on shelving in my minuscule kitchen, every bit of space is used.


Here is the ultimate way to know what you have….hang an example of each plate  on your wall….love it!  How practical and it becomes an art installation…creative and beautiful.

A portion of a friends place setting collection…more have been added since I took this photo. Stunning.

Or your collection can be in a breakfront, baker’s rack, kitchen shelves…why not have it on display so you can enjoy it even when not in use, and most importantly get to it right away. I have put my Chrismas plates away so carefully that I have no idea where they are and they are lovely red and green transferware!

I will be doing an extensive study on English Ironstone in the future…in the meantime here is a peek at one collection (one of many by the owner who collects vintage English Ironstone) on permanent display at a country estate.


Perfect for a Thanksgiving celebration but why not all year round.

Think how to incorporate your everyday items into your home’s decor, it looks wonderful and makes entertaining much more organized.  Just think of me when I’m trying to locate my Christmas place settings…I need to follow my own advice!

All phones are taken with my iPhone.