What happened 11 years ago on this very day, Friday, November 13, 2009….I hosted the uber talented Christian Siriano, with his exquisite first collection, at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago…that is true and something else happened…I closed the door to my office and my lifetime at Saks!
That week had been filled with glorious memories, my models from the beginning of my career in the late 1950’s to 2009 treated me to the most wonderful retirement celebration imaginable. Executed by the divine, Elsa Tullos (see her profile posted on November 7, 2016) the party was held at The Palmer House, Chicago in The Presidents Suite. Over 50 of my superstars honored me in helping me celebrate. Some I hadn’t seen in years. I only had one concern there would be many who didn’t know each other coming from different times in my career and I was afraid I might not remember their names, the guest list wasn’t shared with me prior to the evening. Guess what both those “fears” were quickly laid to rest…it was like a sorority reunion and, yes, I remembered each name. They all came “show” ready with The Ivon make-up and hair and most of them in black. We all laughed a lot, cried a little, ate and drank too much, toasted each other…it was a party to end all parties without question.
On Thursday evening the Store hosted my “official” retirement party which was held in the Store and hosted guests from every charity I had worked with over the years, friends and colleagues from SFA, Columbia College Chicago, press and many others. Lavish food, free flowing champagne beautiful flowers and heart touching testimonials. Quite the event and a surprise highlight, the arrival of my SFA mentor and friend, the legendary, Helen O’Hagan! Wow, what an evening….wow, what a farewell, wow, what a lifetime of memories!!!!!
I thought you might enjoy this Q&A from November, 2009
“Chicago fashion authority a perfect fit for city
Melissa HarrisCHICAGO TRIBUNE
Few women working in Chicago’s fashion industry can remember when women couldn’t wear pants in fine restaurants. Nena Ivon is one of them. In her 53 years at Saks, she has hosted everyone, from designer Oscar de la Renta to Project Runway star Christian Siriano, at the Michigan Avenue store. And on the eve of her retirement as director of special events, she chatted with me in WGN Radio’s studios. More clips are at chicagotribune.com/ chicagoconfidential.
Q. What department did you start in?
A. Are you ready for this? Debutante sportswear. (I start laughing.) Do you love that? It would be contemporary sportswear now . . . I started folding blouses . . . And then I graduated to sweaters, and then cashmere sweaters. That was very exciting to go to cashmere sweaters . . . And then I became the assistant fashion director.
Q. And how old were you?
A. I was a year older than when I started.
Q. So you were?
A. (Laughing.) We’re not going there, Melissa.
Q. I read somewhere that you were in your teens.
A. I was still in high school . . . It was supposed to be a summer job.
Q. Tell me a story about a designer.
A. We were doing a gala . . . Oscar (de la Renta) was the honorary chairman. He was seated next to me at dinner. And he said, “Oh, what beautiful bracelets you have on.” I said, “Oscar, they’re embroidered on my dress.”
He picked up my arm and held it to his eyes and said, “Oh, you’re right.” I thought that was just charming.
Q. So you’re in the ’60s and the pants revolution is occurring. How did you manage that period?
A. What was difficult was how everyone else was managing it. You could not go into a restaurant with pants on . . . There was a famous story about a New York socialite who went to a restaurant and was told she could not come in, in pants . . . So she excused herself, went into the ladies room, took off her trousers and went in, in her jacket. It was fortunately long enough . . . In those days, everything changed seasonally. If you did not have what was current, hip, trendy, you just couldn’t go out of your house.
Q. What was your biggest disaster?
A. We were doing a show in Indianapolis. . . . We got there, the clothes, my staff . . . No models, no models, no models . . . This is now like 2 1/2 hours . . . Literally, at that point, they were going to have us pay for the entire luncheon, and I thought (they were) bordering on suing us for breach of whatever, contract, I guess.
So I went out and said, “Who wants to model?” I did not have a lack of people. I didn’t care . . . if (the clothes) fit them . . . So out we went . . . I started talking, and they’re screaming, hysterical, up on tables, yelling, clapping. “There’s my daughter.” “There’s my friend.” They’re so excited they couldn’t even stand it . . . It was hysterical.
Q. I read a quote where someone said of you, “I think people are afraid of her.” But you never kiss and tell.
A. No, I just don’t believe in that. It’ll come out in the book, Melissa. (Laughter.) I don’t think that’s the way to be professional . . . If that’s being a Pollyanna, so be it.
Q. Did you ever want to be reassigned to New York?
A. I was asked to go to New York on many occasions, and I decided very early on that I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be one of one and not one of many.
Q. What are your plans for your retirement party?
A. I thought I’d have a T-shirt made and on the back it’d say “retired,” and then dot, dot, dot, “for hire.”
Waving goodbye from my career while prepping my models at a fashion show at The Lyric Opera, one of my favorite venues.
What a living legend ! Loved every word if this !
Beyond kind….it was truly a great run! Fabulous memories….
Wow I absolutely loved reading about your rise from “junior sportswear” to the living legend (and I mean that in the most positive way) you are today and to whom we turn for fashion, food and living fashionably. brava!
You are beyond kind…thank you so much. I’m so grateful we are friends….🥂❤️
Thanks for sharing your life story. It is inspirational, interesting and fun.
Thank you so much.
Nena – Happy retirement anniversary! Thank you for letting us walk down memory lane with you. I loved all of it.
Thanks Honey Bun…I don’t have access to photos I wanted to use they are in my Columbia Archives.
What wonderful memories you have that many would love to have experienced. This Covid 19 period, as horrible as it has been, has a silver lining. For many it’s been an opportunity to jot down our own memories…..thank you Nena and perhaps your notes are a preview of a book?
Thanks Marcia….actually that is why I started my blog a prelude to a book…need an agent, a publisher and an advance and I’m so there!!!