Ellen Stirling’s stunning look at the recent 100th The Lake Forest Shop’s anniversary celebration not only celebrated a century of glamor at a shop founded by her grandmother in 1922, but also two of her most in-demand designers. Dressed in a double ruffle blouse by ALGO of Switzerland and a floral sequined jacket by Lourdes Chavez, Stirling greeted guests at the same marketplace founded by her paternal grandmother, Margaret Baxter Foster. She proudly introduced her daughters who had encouraged her to take over the business from their own mother, Adair Foster, who in 1949 took over what was then called The Lake Forest Sports Shop.
Stirling introduced the guests to Moroccan designer Cyril Verdavainne, calling him a beacon for the future. “His fabrics and designs are absolutely outstanding and the flow of his skirts is very innovative,” said Stirling.
Known not only for her fashion sense but also for her entrepreneurial spirit and philanthropy, Stirling told us a little about her grandmother. “She loved playing and shopping with Coco Chanel,” Ellen said. “She said, ‘If Coco can do this in Paris, why can’t I do it in Chicago?'”
Ellen herself returned from abroad in 1987, only to be asked by her father to turn the multi-branch store around. At the time, the University of Chicago art history student was living in London with her husband Jim and their three daughters. “My daughters said, ‘Go on mom.’ With all the late nights and travel to New York, my family has been wonderful.”
Philippe Goetschel and Sandy Deromedi
Christian Basedow and Leslie Basedow
Stirling recounted her reaction to the challenge.
“We have closed all branches and brought everything back to Lake Forest to have a bright and shining business. In 1992 we turned it around, but it was my people and my customers who made the difference. And the best advice I’ve ever received is to know your customers and be an active listener. For the first impression there is no second chance.”
Sherry Lea Holson, Ellen Stirling, Diana Deromedi, Melanie Deromedi, Sandy Deromedi
Friends and Emily Schiller from The Style Dujour (right) xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx
Incidentally, the venerable stop took the word sport from its name. “It was a wintry Christmas Eve and a man walked in desperately looking for a bowling ball as a gift,” she recalled.
Over the years, Stirling has hosted thousands of fashion shows, many for charity. “It’s about making models feel wonderful and have a good time,” she said. “You want fashion to reflect who you are… and maybe with a certain attitude.”
|Dee Dee Martin and Ellen Stirling||
Diana Deromedi, Melanie Deromedi, Sandy Deromedi
Your own experiences are wonderfully diverse. “My craziest experience? We were in New York and a designer I worked with invited me to a party because one of his favorite muses was supposed to be modeling there. It turned out to be in the Playboy Mansion and the model was lying on the table completely naked. It was a whole different world.”
With all the changes to shopping due to the pandemic and the ease of online shopping today, how does Stirling describe in-person shopping today? “I suspect that when people go shopping, they have a specific reason, not just to browse the stores.”
“Need a new warm sweater or maybe a dress for a cocktail party? My advice is to make sure whatever you get is quality and that you really love it. You’ll want to keep it in your closet and refer to it. Choose a color that you love and that flatters you.”
We asked Ellen which colors she likes the most. “All shades of green and I love pink. Lately I’ve also found myself in the blues. My mom always wanted me in Navy, but I rebelled. Now I love Navy. It’s very good to broaden your horizons in many ways.”
We asked Stirling what the secret is to surviving and thriving The Lake Forest Shop – always run by the same family – in the days of mergers and closures.
We’re all about service and making our customers feel comfortable,” said Stirling. “It’s all about our team and they deserve genuine recognition for what they’ve accomplished.”
“Sometimes I’ll walk past a dressing room and hear laughter and my staff will ask the most important question: ‘How does it make you feel?’ It is a happy experience for everyone.”
For the past 20 years, Ellen has offered her customers Shop Your Cause every October, with a portion of her purchases going to various charities. The following organizations are participating this year: Lake Forest Preservation Foundation, Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest Open Lands, Mothers Trust Foundation, Gorton Community Center, Stirling Hall, Elawa Farm Foundation, The Boys & Girls Club of Lake County, Northshore Community Foundation, Women’s Board of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital and Bravo Waukegan.
And what’s next for The Lake Forest Shop? “We’re brewing something up, but we’re not talking about it yet,” Ellen said. Very special to know this remarkable fashion icon and business role model.