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Retail Renaissance

More than ever, fashion’s biggest names are flocking to Chicago—and upping our sartorial cachet.

Runway looks from Ermenegildo Zegna’s autumn collection

Brunello Cucinelli’s cashmere check coat

The Man’s Store at Neiman Marcus

New Platers by Christian Louboutin

A runway look from Salvatore Ferragamo’s autumn collection

Take a stroll down one of Chicago’s shopping thoroughfares, and you’ll spot more than enticing window displays and the well-heeled carrying home their latest purchase. They may not be much to look at, but the scaffolding and temporary facades covering much of Michigan Avenue and Rush, Oak and Walton Streets herald an undeniable truth: Luxury retail is thriving.

The past two years have seen a flurry of high-end brands setting up shop in Chicago, with many giving prominence to their men’s offerings. Notable additions include Christian Louboutin (58 E. Oak St.), which opened last November with a floor dedicated to its coveted line of men’s sneakers and studded loafers, and Lanvin (116 E. Oak St.), complete with a broad assortment of menswear and accessories. Barbour (54 E. Walton St.) and Ike Behar (67 E. Oak St.) have also opened stores, while the long-awaited Tom Ford (66 E. Oak St.) emporium is scheduled for an unveiling. But the city’s biggest fashion coup was last November’s opening of Burberry’s new five-story, 16,800-square-foot flagship at 633 N. Michigan Ave., now the second largest Burberry store in the country.

The trend shows no sign of slowing. In July, Salvatore Ferragamo (645 N. Michigan Ave.) expanded its footprint in Chicago by adding an additional level to its boutique. The new store features the lauded brand’s entire range of men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, shoes, bags, silks and fragrances, as well as the new Su Misura made-to-measure program of custom suiting and shirting. Working with Ferragamo’s expert staff, men can choose from hundreds of fabrics and dozens of design details—think horn, metal or mother-of-pearl buttons or your choice of eight shirt collar options—before their selections and measurements are sent to Italy to be constructed by the brand’s master artisans.

Ermenegildo Zegna (645 N. Michigan Ave.) pulled out all the stops when it also expanded to a second story. Inspired by the company’s heritage as one of the world’s leading suppliers of fine fabrics, the boutique’s exterior and interior design elements invoke the woven threads of a super 120. Inside, you’ll find the full range of Ermenegildo Zegna and Zegna Sport collections housed in a 4,300-square-foot environment of rosewood, mahogany and bronze. The boutique is one of three in the U.S. to offer Stefano Pilati’s Couture collection and the Personalization Project, a new made-to-order program for clothing and accessories.

This fall will see the arrival of even more top fashion names, most notably the return of Saint Laurent (11 E. Walton St.), which closed its Oak Street boutique in 2010. Representing Team Italy will be Dolce & Gabbana (at a yet-to-be-determined address next to Tom Ford) and Brioni (12 E. Walton St.).

Freestanding stores aren’t the only ones making new investments. Neiman Marcus (737 N. Michigan Ave.) recently revamped its Man’s Store with 11 designer shop-in-shops from the likes of Isaia, Kiton and Ralph Lauren Black Label. The new department is also the city’s sole source for Stefano Ricci’s line of swank apparel—crocodile bomber jacket, anyone?—and accessories.

Saks Fifth Avenue is following suit, and next year will open a new two-story men’s department inside its 700 N. Michigan Ave. flagship.

It’s no coincidence that many of these brands seem to be playing a retailer’s version of follow-the-leader. “These companies like to be next to each other,” says Todd Siegel, vice president of retail brokerage for CBRE. “The Hermès shopper is also the Prada shopper and the Barneys shopper, so they cluster together. As international brands come to Chicago, they’re going to look to see who has already established themselves here and where they are.” And there’s plenty more on the horizon, with several new developments on Rush Street north of Bellevue that Siegel predicts will make room for up to 10 more high-end brands within the next three years. “I believe retailers have figured out that Chicago can be a very successful market at a certain level,” he says. “We’re still not at the level of drawing the international shopper that is more relevant on the Champs-Élysées or Fifth Avenue, where you see 50,000- to 100,000-square-foot flagships, but there’s certainly an opportunity for these brands to have a presence at 15,000 square feet.”

That is a sentiment echoed by Massimo Caronna, North American president of Brunello Cucinelli. The luxury brand had been sold locally in department and specialty stores for around a decade. But when space at 939 N. Rush St. became available, Caronna pounced and, last June, opened Cucinelli’s only freestanding boutique in the Midwest. “I really wanted to create a home for Brunello Cucinelli in Chicago,” says Caronna. “This has always been a very important city for us, not only for the business, but because it is one of the top cities in the U.S.”

With all these exciting developments, we can’t help but think of the old expression, “If you build it, they will come.” And from the looks of things, they’ll be sharply dressed.