Stylists, personal shoppers and wardrobe consultants are often viewed as the trappings of Hollywood celebrities and New York socialites, far removed from anything resembling daily life. There are, however, a number of these professionals in Chicago who are working to improve the city’s image one client at a time.
Eric Himel spent over a decade styling private clients in Los Angeles before tiring of the constant focus on celebrities. Himel said he
believed ordinary people deserved help developing their sense of style, and chose Chicago as his new home after visiting the city in 2006.
“I liked Chicago,” Himel said. “It’s the third largest city and was leaps and bounds behind LA or New York when it came to fashion.”
Today, Himel charges clients $200 an hour for his expertise. Some clients use his services on a seasonal basis, while others seek his assistance only for special occasions. A select few—25 by Himel’s estimation—keep him on retainer to continuously find new pieces to add to their wardrobes.
Being at the disposal of his clients means Himel sometimes works up to 14 hours a day and can put in up to 80 hours a week during a busy autumn season.
Chicago’s wealthiest are still splurging on fashion despite the recession, although they attempt to do it inconspicuously, according to Himel.
“They spend an excessive amount of money here,” Himel said. “They’re very, very private about it, and they’re very discrete. They are super aware about that [need for discretion].”
In addition to personal shopping, Himel styles photo shoots for Michigan Ave and CS magazines, and is a regular style contributor on ABC’s “Windy City LIVE.” He also recently became the official stylist for guests of the Elysian Hotel.
Himel said he believes a willingness to work in multiple arenas is essential to succeed as a stylist in Chicago.
“You can’t count on just editorial [magazine work] here. You’re not going to survive. You can’t count on just celebrities here, obviously,” Himel said. “You need to be very adaptable to different things and willing to try different stuff. If you look at this [Chicago] like you would try make it in New York or LA, you’re going to fail.”
Finding new ways to expand has been crucial to Jennifer Burton and the success of her consulting business, JB Styles.
Burton founded JB Styles in 2008 after the recession forced her to shut down her line of knitwear. Time spent as a personal shopper at J. Crew developed her skills as a stylist and showed her there was a number of women in Chicago who needed help staying on top of fashion.
Burton offers packages ranging from $100 to $1,200 that include everything from an image consultation to a full-day makeover.
Despite her range of services, Burton said she needed to branch out in order to bring in new clients. She recently launched LUX Shopping Tours, a series of themed shopping excursions around Chicago. She has also been invited to be a guest blogger for Vogue magazine’s website.
Both Burton and Himel acknowledged that Chicago is not the easiest place to make it as a stylist.
Burton dreams of growing her business to the point where she’s able to open a second location in another city, but said she wants to be on firm financial footing before taking that leap.
Himel said he hopes to expand further into television in order to bring his stylish expertise to a larger audience.
“I want to help people,” Himel said. “I love Chicago, and I think there’s so much potential here. I have a place here, and I don’t think I’m going to leave it.”