Designer Maria Pinto-a favorite of Michelle Obama-has closed the doors of her once-popular Chicago shop and filed for bankruptcy protection. A longtime fashion veteran, Pinto started her own label in 1991, but really hit her stride in 2008 when her dresses were showcased by rising star Obama in an array of glossy women's magazine spreads and high-profile TV appearances. In fact, throughout the campaign, Pinto was responsible for some of the first lady's most iconic looks, including the famous "fist bump" purple shift and the subdued teal dress she wore to give her speech at the Democratic National Convention.
And, while Pinto cites ''increasing economic challenges'' as the reason for the closure, we can't help but wonder if the designer simply expanded too quickly-perhaps expecting that the first lady would keep her label in the spotlight. According to Chicago magazine, at the height of her popularity in 2008 (when Mrs. Obama was wearing her clothes regularly on the campaign trail), Pinto saw a revenue growth of 300 percent. That year, she opened her flashy, 2,000-square-foot store in Chicago's West Loop. But even though celebs like Oprah, Marcia Gay Harden, and Brooke Shields chose her clothes for events, the luxury brand-Pinto's prices ranged from $350 to upwards of $5,000-failed to truly reach a national stage and her clientele remained largely limited to Chicago's elite. Moreover, as Mrs. Obama grew in her role as first lady and international style icon, she turned to more renowned fashion players like Michael Kors, Diane von Furstenberg, and Narcisso Rodriguez and chose Pinto with less frequency and for less high-profile events.
Pinto is not the first celeb-favored fashion house to shutter its doors in the current economic climate. Last December, Phi, the innovative, edgy label owned by Susan Dell, wife of Michael Dell (of computer fame), closed for good. And beloved French couture institution Christian LaCroix fell into financial crisis in 2009, and is currently bankrupt and looking for a buyer.