Maria Pinto, the Chicago-based designer known for her high-end fashion collections from the 1990s and early 2000s (favored by women like Michelle Obama and Oprah), is celebrating her 25 years in fashion this season with an exhibition at the City Gallery in Chicago, on view through January 8, 2017. Pinto began in 1991, designing accessories and scarves, before launching her eponymous collection, and then in 2013 launched M2057 via a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. M2057 is a collection that marries versatility and functionality with designs inspired by architecture (such as the work of Jeanne Gang and Zaha Hadid) and minimalist aesthetics. Her first collections for M2057 were made from just one fabric—an Italian stretch material that is machine washable and travel-friendly. This fall, she launched a leather collection, and she plans to expand further into stretch leather, and knitwear in the future. Whitewall met with Pinto at her West Loop store in Chicago to discuss versatility and style, and how M2057’s unique beginnings have led to an even greater connection to her customers.
WHITEWALL: The Fall/Winter 2016–17 collection introduces your first pattern for M2057, a plaid, and found inspiration in the shape of the square. How did you arrive at that pattern?
MARIA PINTO: I was going through the prints that I had access to and this one resonated with me. I use a lot of ideas from architecture as an inspiration. The rigid scheme of a plaid was the jumping-off point. The square shape was not only embedded in the print, but it also becomes part of the shapes. So the square became kind of my mantra. The Velma dress is a whole series of squares that cascade down.
WW: Can you tell us about the new leather collection, which you introduced this season, too?
MP: The collection was out in mid-September in six shapes. The images for the campaign were shot by Sandro Miller. He’s amazing. He shot it with these beautiful custom-built motorcycles. As I was researching the history of leather, the rock icons were the first girls to take it from the boys and wear—Joan Jett, Blondie, Tina Turner—so those were the muses of the collection. That gives me parameters and a framework to build from. Right now, I’m in the middle of Spring, and my inspiration is Zaha Hadid.
WW: Wow! I know your collections have architectural influences, but have you ever looked to a specific architect before?
MP: Oh, yes, Jeanne Gang. I wanted to focus on Jeanne because of the Architecture Biennial in Chicago [in October 2015]. She has a really wonderful book about her process called Reveal. Her whole idea is to reveal the authenticity of the material, what’s happening within a building, and so that became my mantra—revealing the seam or panels that reveal the body. Jeanne was the jumping-off point for this.
At the end of the day, though, in the back of my mind, is always the idea of creating pieces that are like a blank canvas. The idea is that any woman could come to this collection and find a piece she could style and remain true to her persona, her lifestyle. It’s all machine washable, hang dry, packs into nothing, doesn’t wrinkle. It’s really for all of us who are busy, active, women.
WW: How did you arrive at the first material you worked with for M2057?
MP: I was invited by a company in Shanghai to work with their design team as a consultant for a week. While I was there, I went to a trade show (I’m just a textile junkie), where I found it. I requested a reference, put it away for a year, and then I decided I wanted to launch another collection and I wanted to do something new. I wanted to evolve, I didn’t want to go back to luxury, and I wanted to do something in this more accessible price range. There’s a saturation of luxury, and the consumer is getting a little tired and knows that she needs these kind of core pieces in her wardrobe that are accessible and functional. I wanted to be sure it was something relevant and meaningful.
WW: How did the line’s launch from a Kickstarter campaign affect future collections?
MP: M2057 is fashion meeting technology in all forms, including e-commerce. Kickstarter is a very tech way to start a business. What’s brilliant is that we could have raised money through an investor, but you don’t get what we got that way, which was proof of concept, data on what colors customers like, what sizes they needed. And then we had over six hundred active clients. And through the e-commerce site now we can gather data, styles, colors, and sizes that are selling, trying to get even deeper in terms of learning about the customer and who she is.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s winter 2017 Luxury Issue.