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Source: Chicago Tribune
By: Susan Chandler

'Paris of the Pampas,' Buenos Aires attracts Chicago's fashion aficionados

Jessica Lagrange used to love traveling to Europe to shop for designer clothes. The combination was heady: eye-catching pieces at bargain prices thanks to the strong U.S. dollar.

The rise of the euro ruined that fun, and now Lagrange is looking to a different continent for a fashion fix: South America.

On a 2005 trip to Argentina, she bought hand-knit sweaters, sterling silver ornaments, antique furniture and a suitcase full of clothes for her 22-year-old son. Finding new labels was one thrill, but the real charge came when she divided price tags by three. If something cost $300 in Argentinian pesos, it was $100 when it showed up on her credit card bill.

"It made me shiver. It sent chills through my body. It was fun. It's a lot more fun than doing it the opposite way," recalls Lagrange, a Chicago interior designer who has her own Michigan Avenue firm. She is planning another trip to Buenos Aires for later this year, and this time, her husband will be coming along.

International shoppers like Lagrange can thank the Argentinian economic crisis earlier this century for the favorable exchange rate.

With its stately boulevards and European feel, Buenos Aires was once one of the world's most expensive cities. But a radical peso devaluation in 2002 changed that, making Argentina's hotels, restaurants and wines an incredible value for U.S. shoppers, despite double-digit inflation in the past few years.

Lagrange's willingness to look outside Europe for fashion makes her the exception rather than the rule among chic Chicago women. Few Chicagoans can name a designer from Argentina or Brazil, even though a growing number of South Americans now show during New York's Fashion Week. Accenting the move north, Brazilian Carlos Miele recently opened a boutique in Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking District.

It's a shame that South America has been so overlooked as a fashion resource, says Tommy Walton, a veteran Chicago designer and instructor at the School of the Art Institute who has recreated his wardrobe after several trips to Argentina.

"I really fell in love with the culture, the people, the architecture, the food," said Walton, who led a group of Art Institute students to Argentina and Brazil two years ago. "The street shopping is fantastic. If you spend all your time focused on New York designers, you are really missing out."

Tribune photos by Bill Hogan (above and on cover) Above: Model Nicolina of Elite Chicago wears a Trosman draped gray jersey dress with beading, available in Buenos Aires at Paseo Alcorta ( and Patio Bullrich ( Ring, art director's own by Xhilaration at Target. On the cover: Model Emily Senko of Ford Chicago wears a Carlos Miele turquoise silk satin chiffon top, $630, and wool shorts, $570, at Saks Fifth Avenue, 717 N. Michigan Ave., 312-944-6500, and at the Carlos Miele shops, 408 W. 14th St., New York, and São Paulo, Brazil. Cutler and Gross sunglasses, $320 at Ikram, 873 N. Rush St., 312-587-1000. Alexandre Herchcovitch cummerbund, not available; some Herchcovitch pieces are carried at Hejfina, 1529 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-772-0002. Stylist: Patric Chauvez, Artists by Timothy Priano/Elite Chicago. Hair and makeup: Peggy Pliscott for Stila, Ford Chicago. Photo shoot location: The Greenhouse at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago.

A luxurious handbag is a steal at Buenos Aires' Qara boutique. Purchased online, the "Justina" clutch in blue is $190 plus $20 shipping to the U.S. at Brazil's Carlos Miele (dress photos) and Rosa Cha (swimsuit) now show their collections in New York. Ultimo, 116 E. Oak St., 312-787-1171, carries some of Miele's evening dresses. Rosa Cha has a Miami Beach store, 305-673-3665.

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