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Michelle Tan Back in Bucktown After Winter Hiatus

By Alisa Hauser | March 11, 2013 11:24am

BUCKTOWN — Renowned Chicago fashion designer Michelle Tan wasn't sure if she was going to reopen in Bucktown when she shuttered her studio and boutique in November after six years in the neighborhood.

But when broker Demetrius Simpson got wind of a newly vacant storefront one half block north of Tan's former space, the designer — whose edgy yet fun dresses and oversized handbags have graced the like of celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Scarlett Johansson — jumped at the chance.

"I'm so glad I did it. This space is smaller and more inviting. It's perfect," the 37-year-old designer said of her new boutique at 1920 N. Damen Ave., just north of her old space at 1872 N. Damen Ave.

Tan, who grew up in Bridgeport, opened her new boutique Friday after spending the winter developing an online store, shopmichelletan.

With no clothing item over $500 and four styles of limited edition handbags priced at $250, Tan said her designs cater to "strong woman" who are "funky, cool, edgy and not afraid."

Some of the items can be worn different ways. For instance, Tan was wearing a top Saturday that can be worn with the sleeves hanging down or tied in bows.

Tan's spring collection features jackets, tops, skirts and dresses with plenty of zippers and bold bright belts.

Tan's current best-selling outfit is a cotton black and white jacket and skirt set.

To take the popular outfit one step further and to "do something that I haven't done that can excite people," Tan added a detachable train of bright pink human hair to the bottom of the jacket, which she said is better than horse hair since it's less coarse.

"The hair piece scares some people. I thought it it was fun," said Tan of the $310 one-of-a-kind jacket.

She added: "I realize it's not for everyone, but it is detachable."

Tan said that got the inspiration for adding the human hair while shopping at a Milwaukee Avenue wig shop.

"I saw [the hair] and thought, 'Oh My God, it is perfect,'" Tan recalled.

The International Academy of Design and Technology graduate said she can't comment on springtime trends and what's hot or not in the design world because she purposely keeps herself away from the hype.

"[I] just want to make clothing that looks good and makes women feel good," she said.

Tan said she's willing to cut deals with loyal customers who tell her the only thing preventing them from buying a piece is that they're waiting for it to go on sale.

"If I could I would give it away for free," Tan said.

Tan said she's happy to have a storefront again so that she can meet customers in person to create custom outfits and provide alterations.

Recently, Tan altered the plunging back on a simple black dress for a young North Shore client who needed something to wear for a Bat-Mitzvah.

Eschewing structure and deadlines, Tan designs whenever the mood strikes her and uses a vision in her head rather than a sketch.

"I don't push it. When I feel like I need to make a dress, I do it," Tan said.

When asked how often she gets in the mood, Tan replied, "Every week" and then added: "You have to love what you do. Sometimes fashion is like drugs. I can't stop!" 

It was an after-school sewing class in fourth grade at James Ward Elementary school in Bridgeport that got Tan "hooked."

She started with stuffed animals and by the following year had a sewing machine of her own and was forcing her younger sister to lay on the floor so she could trace patterns around her, using newspapers as pattern paper.

Though Tan had enjoyed a studio in the back of her previous space, which was larger than her new 600 square foot space, her design studio is in her Bridgeport home.

Tan said when she feels the need to design,  she can head home and leave the shop to her longtime assistant and store manager Randall Hill.

Michelle Tan Boutique, 1920 N. Damen Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Monday hours are by appointment only. Shop anytime at shopmichelletan.com. Ph: 772-252-1888.