Vintage Chicago, Part 2
After a light dinner and a few glasses of red, Madge was raring to go. Yesterday had been a mad dash through the Cats Pajamas Vintage show in Elgin, see part 1, and this morning, gal pal Mary was taking Madge on a tour of her favorite vintage haunt – The Antique and Resale Shoppe, a modest name for an amazing shop situated in the northwest corner of Chicago.
Madge had to admit she was unimpressed as we drove up to the nondescript strip center. But once the door opened, Holy Cow! The shop bills itself as the 8th wonder of the world, with a sign claiming 15,000 square feet of vintage. But that’s a typo because it’s actually measured in cubic feet, stuffed floor to ceiling with shelves, display cases and racks, it’s 360 degrees vintage.
As you first walk in there is a lovely selection of vintage linens, then once around the corner you see literally thousands of pieces of jewelry, some not particularly old, but plenty of true vintage pieces as well. Winding her way through the display cases, Madge was amazed that every little piece was marked with a stock number and a price. What at first looked haphazard was in fact meticulously curated.
Farther in, loads of home goods including barware, dishes and even a fascinating selection of historic photos. But we were on the prowl for fashion and that ARS has in mass quantities, including dresses, belts and shoes. From the 20s to the 80s, You name it they’ve got it.
Finally, in the back of the shop, the Holy Grail – hats. Lots and lots of hats. Mary who is writing not one, but two books on Chicago milliners is always on the look out for obscure local labels and this shop doesn’t disappoint. Of course Madge snagged one right from under Mary’s nose and bought it before she saw it. Hey, it’s a jungle out here.
Co-owner Susanne and the gang really get into showing of their wares. There are no minimalists here. Everyone is decked out head to toe in fabulous vintage.
Even the VP of customer relations, a lovely French poodle, gets in on the act. And the best part of all? Their prices. Their motto must be, why buy one item when you can afford to buy twelve!
Check out this fun video with both Susanne, and co-owner Jules showing off the place to a local news anchor. A comment from one of their regulars sums up this shop. She comes to Antique and Resale for “their special kind of retail therapy”.
After the shopping extravaganza it was time to do my other favorite thing in Chicago – eat. Mary took me to one of her favorite lunch spots, Portillo’s, a local chain famous for their Chicago dogs where yet another mindboggling array was on display, only this time it was food instead of vintage.
Back on the road, Madge gasped at an amazing site and implored Mary to stop. There it was, the Leaning Tower of YMCA.
Oh yes. A half-size replica of the famous Pisa Tower built in 1934 by industrialist Robert Ilg as part of a recreation park for employees of his company, Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company of Chicago. Is that a fabulous company name or what? Originally serving as a water tower for the park’s pools, the tower became marooned when Ilg family members donated most of the land to the YMCA. Sadly this wonderful monument to kitsch has seen better days. Let’s hope the city of Niles can get their act together and restore this tower to its former glory.
After this ersatz Italian extravaganza it was on to Mary’s house to view her collection of hats by Bes Bens and Raymond Hudd. As I mentioned, Mary is writing two books on Chicago Millinery history. One is on the history of Chicago milliners, including her favorite hat designer, Bes-Ben. Started by Benjamin Greenfield and his sister Bessie in 1919, here is Mary’s Bes-Ben entry in the book Hatatorium: An Essential Guide for Hat Collectors (buy this book!):
“When Bessie left the business he consolidated to one shop on Michigan Avenue. He was famous for his whimsical hats including a 1941 Dalmatian hat. He became known as ‘Chicago’s Mad Hatter’ in 1940s and 1950s. Every summer Bes-Ben held its famous midnight sale, in which the store cleared its last season’s inventory at prices as low as $5, and tossed the unsold inventory to be grabbed up by hat lovers. The madhouse these sales created was notorious, with press photographs showing throngs of eager shoppers pressed against each other to grab the hats. Injuries ensued. Customers included Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, and Marlene Dietrich.”
The shop closed in the 1960s and Benjamin Greenfield later became a philanthropist, endowing an exhibition wing at the Chicago History Museum.
As you can see, Mary’s Bes-Ben collection did not disappoint:
Mary’s other great Chicago love is Raymond Hudd, whose work is covered in her second book. Hudd’s hat designs were even more fanciful than Bes-Bens. Born Raymond Huddlestun on the family farm in Michigan, he moved to Chicago in 1945. Hudd began his career as a window dresser opening his first hat shop in 1950. As self-taught milliner he wasn’t shy about creating hats with unusual materials such as dead tree branches. In a short documentary about his life, “In Everything I Saw a Hat” by Laurie Kennard, Hudd makes his design philosophy clear. “Don’t take me for a walk in the woods because I’ll take dead branches from trees and put birds’ nests in them, and it’s just something that goes together. In everything I saw a hat.”
His trademark was a silk violet flower, often with a rhinestone, sewn into the interior of each hat, a loving tribute to his mother. Hudd dressed most of the fashionable ladies of Chicago in the 1950s and 60s and was still designing well into the 1980s when only the most ardent fans were still wearing hats. Phyllis Diller was one of his major customers and had over 500 Hudds.
Mary was lucky to get to know this unique designer before his death at age 86 in 2011. She was even tasked with finding homes for many of his pieces when the Chicago History Museum decided to deaccession part of their collection of Raymond Hudd. Of course Mary and her Hudd posse made sure each amazing hat found a new home, including Madge’s!
After a weekend of total hat nirvana and figuring out how on earth to get her Hudd space age creation home, Madge sadly bid adieu to her Chicago mad hatter friends and also to one of her favorite cities. But first – breakfast!