Designing For Life

By Isa Giallorenzo
Journalist, Chicago Looks

I'm not sure why, but during this pandemic I've really been into period dramas. Right now I'm rewatching Downton Abbey, I guess mostly because of its very quotable script. In one of the episodes, Carson, the butler, was disappointed about modern times - one of his usual complaints. Confronted with the reality of having less servants at his disposal, and after a particularly challenging dinner party, Carson ponders: "Where's the style, Mrs. Hughes, where's the show?" Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper, answers: "Perhaps people are tired of style and show." Then Carson comes back with this gem: "In my opinion, if you're tired of style, you're tired of life." I couldn't agree more with Carson, even though I can also appreciate that routinely putting on a show can be challenging - especially since most of us can't count on an army of servants. How can we live a busy, multitasking life without sacrificing style? To me, the answer lies in resorting to thoughtful, well-considered design.

Pattern designed by COS

I am often astonished at the huge amount of clothing that seems made for skinny partying teenagers, or for staid corporate workers. So many of us fall in the middle of that spectrum nowadays, and I dare say our sartorial needs are not being met - I know that mine usually aren't. Case in point: I work from home, I am middle-aged, I am not slim, I am busy and active, I like comfort, I don't have a ton of disposable income, and, last but not least, I love looking good. For the warmer seasons, I found my answer: COS. An acronym for "Collection Of Style", COS is a higher-end branch of the H&M group. Am I happy to be allocating my dollars to a large international clothing chain? No. If I could afford it, I'd be shopping from local designers like Anna Brown - a mother and biker who understands the challenges of modern life and makes comfortable pieces with a contemporary aesthetic. Maria Pinto has excellent options as well. Like I said, I wish I could afford them.

Since I can't, COS has consistently rescued me from Frumpland. Last year I went to their serene Oak Street store and put together a capsule wardrobe that will hopefully last me many summers ahead. Their ample shapes, easy-to-care (yet soft) fabrics, and abstract contemporary prints make it easy to compose a striking outfit with just a few simple pieces. As far as winter goes, I still don't have a solution. I wish I could easily find roomy, comfy sweaters and sweatshirts in innovative shapes and interesting prints, but so far that has proven inexplicably impossible. Another hard-to-solve mystery is the absence of puffer coats in brighter prints and colors. Winter is already a gloomy season - do we need to be covered in black outerwear to add to our misery? Last winter I felt lucky to come across the Uniqlo/Marimekko collab. Their printed puffers made me feel a lot happier.

Before I get accused of supporting mass consumption, I wanted to clarify that what I am supporting here is thoughtful design. Pieces created with real life and real people in mind end up getting more wear - therefore they are good for the environment. I don't think we need anything complicated; quite the contrary. I look for interesting yet practical garments that don't necessarily get discarded with every fluctuation on the scale. After all, I have a life to live. Preferably in style.