I am loving profiling my models and from my readers responses you are enjoying their stories as well.  Lou May was with me for longer than most of my models (and quite frankly looks the same today, what is her secret???), I have told many of them they hung up their “dancing” shoes much too early!  I have found when I do reunion shows (yes, a posting on that down the line!!) they come show ready and it is as if they have never been off the runway!  It is a joy to see.  Lou was a chameleon to the nth degree.  She could be sporty in one run, sultry in the next and pure glamour in the next.  Quite frankly that is what a model should be but not all are.  When you book a show you consider the look of the model…sure you can make them all look the same, and I have done that on many, many occasions, but you also need to take into account how they will present the garments they are wearing.  They most certainly don’t have to like what they have on but they need the audience to think it is the most fantastic outfit ever!  Lou always did that.



In 1963 I was working as a stylist for a photographer who did all kinds of photography, including fashion ads.  One of the photo models was going to the Marshall Field’s audition for runway models.  She asked if I would go with her.   I had no plans to actually audition, but when the director of the audition pointed to me and said “You’re next”, I thought “Why not”.  I was hired.  The first show that they booked me for was the Designer Show.  They gave me one outfit.  It grew from there to include Saks Fifth Avenue, Carson Pirie Scott, I. Magnin, Lord and Taylor, Wieboldt’s, Montgomery Ward, The Art Institute and many small specialty stores, as well.     I feel that I have been most fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent, professional, fun and lovely women, both models and fashion directors.  It was a great experience that I treasure.

lou-may-3On the catwalk at an Apparel Center Fashion Show.


My favorite Saks Fifth Avenue shows were the in-store seminar shows with Nena.  What could be better than a lovely setting, beautiful clothes, a small group of friendly models, an informative presentation and a smiling, attentive audience.  Modeling was a part of my life for more than 30 years.  I enjoyed the big, extravagant shows and tea room shows and all those in between.  The peaceful respite provided by the in-store shows certainly was a help and a joy in my life.  Nena has an extraordinary talent for orchestrating all kinds of events and I have been privileged to experience many of them.


In a trend show.


I always looked forward to all of the new collections and never really thought about a favorite designer.  Each designer had a very distinct style and personality.  I enjoyed the challenge of adjusting to the mood of that individual style.  It was also fun to be in the Art Institute student shows produced by Dorothy Fuller. I got to listen to part of the lesson at the fittings.  Marcia Anderle was one of the special students who went on to work successfully in the Chicago fashion community.



A story from the olden days

In 1969, Prince Philip came to Chicago and Marshall Field’s was on his itinerary.  I was one of three models hired to wear Hardy Amies’ (atelier to the Queen) collection and pose as mannequins in the 28 Shop in case Prince Philip should ask for a fashion show.  There was a banquet table sumptuously displayed with an antique silver tea service, silver trays filled with tea cakes, cookies and mini sweet rolls, Wedgwood china and fresh flowers, just in case he requested tea.  A server dressed in black with a ruffled apron stood next to the table. We took our places on the appropriate platforms and the Field’s executives arrived to inspect.  An argument arose over whether the table cloth should be ironed to remove the creases formed by the folds.  It was decided it must be ironed.  Chaos followed as we all pitched in to remove everything from the table.  Housekeeping raced to iron the table cloth.  We were all in fear that the Prince might walk in at any minute.  We helped rearrange the display on the table and took our places again.  We stood for four hours, not being able to sit in fear of wrinkling our outfits.  Prince Philip never left the men’s store in the annex.  He never saw all the British displays carefully crafted throughout the main store and, of course, he never got to see those gorgeous live mannequins patiently standing and waiting for him.


The very nature of modeling and fashion is seasonal and thus part time.  This allowed me the flexibility to pursue real estate and rehabbing.  I definitely spent more time in lumber yards and plumbing shops than shopping anywhere else.  (Still do!)  Combining construction with make-up and high heels in the same day wasn’t always easy.  I still have the first building I bought.  Thankfully, I married a man who can fix anything and doesn’t care that I am a better plumber than a cook.


Modeling has affected my life in many ways.  First, I have lots of wonderful memories.  Second, I am always on time! Being on time benefits both parties.  It shows respect for the other party and you are best served by being prepared in advance.  I still think twice when I put myself together for the day, although I am past trendy.  I have finally stopped dreaming that I arrive at a show without my bag of shoes.  I do confess that I need my slippers to match my bath robe, or co-ordinate at the very least.

Nena, I share your love of chandeliers and lighting in general.  It has a profound effect on mood and ambiance.  I have collected many fixtures throughout my life and incorporate them in my rehabs.  Recessed light adds a dimension, but a central chandelier can decorate a room regardless of the furnishings.


lou-may-1In Lou May’s foyer, stunning, I want it!!!!

imageAt the opening of the Terra Museum of American Art in its first location in Evanston, Illinois.  I will do a separate post on this exceptional event.  As you can see Lou May is dressed in a modern interpretation of the painting behind her.

Photos courtesy of Lou May.  Terra Museum photo, photographer credit not available, is part of the Nena Ivon Collection in the Columbia College Chicago Archives.

Please be sure to leave comments…and pass the blog information on to all your contacts…I would be most appreciative of your support!

14 thoughts on “PROFILE: LOU MAY

  1. Barbara Varro January 16, 2017 / 1:07 pm

    Loved the Lou May article. I remember her as one of the best models we featured in the Sun Times fashion features when l was the fashion editor there. She was a dream to work with during photo sessions.

    • nenasnotes January 16, 2017 / 2:15 pm

      Thanks so much. She was one of the best!!!

  2. Jo Ellen Madden January 16, 2017 / 1:34 pm

    Nena – I am so enjoying your blog – what a wonderful trip through history. You have touched so many lives and how well they respect you. (Karen Ryan’s friend)

    • nenasnotes January 16, 2017 / 2:14 pm

      Thank you so much. I appreciate your support. Keep following!!!

  3. Lesley Brewster January 16, 2017 / 1:49 pm

    Lou is even more beautiful on the inside. A lovely woman with a heart of gold. I am privileged to have worked with Lou May.

  4. Tom Mantel January 17, 2017 / 1:03 pm

    Great story. Love the model interviews and where they are now.

    • nenasnotes January 17, 2017 / 1:12 pm

      Thanks so much. Back in the day we all had a blast or is that selective memory?! I think not!!!

  5. Rachel Hanna January 19, 2017 / 1:08 am

    Beautiful, professional and down to earth. I always considered Lou as one of the most respected models and always enjoyed working with her when we had the opportunity.
    Thank you, Nena. Very enjoyable.

    • nenasnotes January 19, 2017 / 1:11 am

      Totally agree a consummate pro!!

  6. Karen Ryan January 22, 2017 / 4:23 pm

    Lou May (although not that much older than I am) was my role model. She moved like a cat … so graceful. And off the runway, what a sweetheart…kind words for everyone. xoxox, Karen

    • nenasnotes January 23, 2017 / 1:31 pm

      Thanks Karen. Yes she was one of the best!!

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