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  Written by
  Kimberly Sweet

  Photography by
  Matthew Gilson


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Elements of style

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With dash, daring, and determination, entrepreneur Jessica Darrow, X'93, is bringing fashion to the Chicago masses.

image: "Elements of Style" headlineThey say it's not what you know, it's who you know, but most of the time a combination of the two works best. Witness Jessica Darrow, X'93. Armed with several years of retail management experience and a knack for connecting with everyone from bank presidents to basketball players, Darrow and friend Tricia Tunstall opened their own clothing boutique in Chicago's oh-so-hip Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood in October 1997. Right from the start, the store, Phoebe 45, had plenty of hype--mentions in Vogue and Elle magazines, visits from Dennis Rodman and musician Liz Phair, fashion shows drawing the local beautiful people.

image: Jessica Darrow, X'93Two years after the store's opening, in-store sales are three times what the owners had projected. Phoebe 45 now includes clothing lines representing 35 mostly female designers from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, plus jewelry, scarves, hats, and bags. Recently, Darrow and Tunstall branched out by adding a men's section and a Web site for on--line shopping.

The store's success brought with it what could have been the death knell of the young business: a lawsuit for trademark infringement filed by Kay Unger New York, owner of Phoebe LLC, a women's clothing line. Though the Phoebe clothing line started up after Phoebe 45 opened its doors, Darrow and Tunstall had neglected to trademark their store's name. Unger's lawyers pressed charges June 1; four agonizing months later, Darrow and Tunstall agreed to an out-of-court settlement requiring them to change their store's name to p.45 as of January 1.

"We were not scared, we were pissed off and sad," says Darrow. "Having to settle was difficult. It was clearly a good business decision, because fighting the lawsuit would have cost a fortune, but the lawyers and judge thought we had a good case, so it was hard to walk away."

Taking risks seems to come naturally to Darrow, a native New Yorker who strides across the bustling intersection of Damen, North, and Milwaukee virtually daring cars to hit her. Tanned from a three-week trip to Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Paris, Darrow wears an Amy Zoller long--sleeved gray matte jersey shirt with lace--up V neck and a blue-gray, floor-length, bias-cut skirt by Paul & Joe--both from Phoebe 45, as are most of her clothes--and chunky black shoes. She tops this with a sleek black leather jacket and silver accessories--a thick bracelet, plus three rings for her fingers and a fourth for her nose.

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