Michelle's favourite designer shuts shop

New York: Fashion designer Maria Pinto, who came into the limelight after US First Lady Michelle Obama wore her dresses, has come out about why she had to close down her West Loop boutique.

Pinto, 53, revealed in her first lengthy interview since the demise of her store and wholesale operations in mid-February the strain the recession had placed on her business.

"I pushed as far as I could," the New York Times quoted her as saying.

She went on to say that her business was hit badly by the recession just as it was expanding and gaining major traction beyond a loyal Chicago following.

But she also acknowledged having made some typical start-up mistakes in building her brand, in areas like financial management and operations.

After 16 years of designing out of a somewhat anonymous atelier, she opened the boutique, named after herself, in August 2008, capitalizing on a wave of enthusiasm for her work, as displayed mostly by Mrs Obama on the campaign trail.

She also increased her wholesale operations and had been maintaining a showroom in New York.

But even high-profile support of the brand, priced in the hundreds and thousands of dollars, could not save it from the reality of the Great Recession.

The real problems started right after the introduction of the spring 2010 line in New York last September.

"They loved the line," she said.

"I was like, where are the orders? OK, this is not a good sign," she revealed.

Pinto was carried at stores like Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Takashimaya - a store whose New York location will soon be closing its doors, another victim of the recession.

"She`s such a highly regarded talent," Anne Brouwer of McMillan Doolittle, a Chicago firm that specializes in retail analysis, said.

"It was certainly a really difficult time to open," she stated.

But Mrs Obama chose from the conservative end of Pinto`s collections, which also included pieces like leather jeans, dresses of sassy feathers and kangaroo jackets.

"Yes, it was heartbreaking and very sad," Pinto, said of the last few months.

"The good news is that my creativity goes with me anywhere I go," she added.