BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Having dressed both Queen Elizabeth and Duchess Kate, Carlo Goetschel, President of ALGO of Switzerland, knows about elegance for all ages.
Recently he sat down with close friend Ellen Stirling, owner of the Lake Forest Shop, to talk about style. The courtly Carlo returns to Ellen’s Market Square shop in Lake Forest April 20-26 for a trunk show.
Known for glove-like fitting and fabulous fabrics, ALGO began 100 years ago in Switzerland. Carlo’s father, Alexandre, first focused on ruffled aprons of the finest fabrics, followed by shirtwaist dresses for 30 years. It was the retail impresario Stanley Marcus who convinced ALGO to broaden its line.
“Marcus spoke no German and my father no English, but they communicated on the fashion level, and I saw him often at my parents’ home. Soon the line was carried at Neiman Marcus,” Carlo shared.
Today, Carlo’s wife, Sylvia, is the company’s chief designer, with high profile clients including the Empress of Japan and Barbara Bush, who humorously challenged Carlo to find something that fit her form.
“She was convinced that was impossible, but she has now been a client for a long time,” Carlo recalled.
Tell us about the ALGOs that Queen Elizabeth and Kate chose.
Carlo: With the Queen, we deal solely with her lady-in-waiting. On one occasion, we showed her a dress with white dots and a pleated, slightly flirty skirt. She quickly informed us that the Queen does not do flirty. I was dazzled that Duchess Kate chose our coat for Charlotte’s christening—it was a total surprise to us. She has the same coat in three different colors: red, blue, and white.
Who do you think are today’s style icons?
Ellen: I really think Kate Middleton is number one. Academy Award-winner Emma Stone is definitely someone to watch. And the Queen, for who she is and what she represents, is beautifully dressed. The royalty is much-watched, and they definitely set an example.
Carlo, I believe that you have also dressed the Empress of Japan?
Carlo: That began as quite an adventure! I was told to wait on a rooftop in Tokyo, and I would meet a wonderful client. It was very windy and after about 15 minutes, I asked myself, “What are we doing up here?” Suddenly, a very elegant woman arrived, and as she stepped off the helicopter, I noticed she had the tiniest feet. She has since visited our store in Zurich and continues to choose our designs.
What are fashionable women trying to achieve today?
Carlo: I find that women with wonderful taste are a little bit more casual today, wearing pants and knits; choosing a turtleneck or a tie blouse. There is an emphasis on being very active.
Women are definitely dressing for their own society. When I am in Paris, I love to have tea at the Ritz and observe women in elegant suits—that is a beautiful world. But I always go over to McDonald’s to look at casual dress—and besides, I love their French fries!
Ellen: I define it as “classic chic.” It is being able to think independently and not have something to prove. The label or the imprint of a designer isn’t important.
What looks will we be seeing for spring?
Ellen: Tie blouses are definitely at the forefront. In the ALGO line, you can choose from 60 different colors! Coats and dresses make for a very elegant daytime look.
Have fun and play with pieces! I might wear one of Carlo’s spring jackets with a t-shirt in the morning and then switch to a blouse for a meeting of the board of the Lake Forest Bank and Trust, perhaps wearing it with a dress for a meeting of the Women’s Board of the Lyric Opera later in the day.
Carlo: A crisp navy and white jacket is perfect for spring. We used a lot of cotton for our spring collection. My advice is always: “Try it!” Don’t be afraid!
Ellen and Carlo, you were both at Fashion Week. What were the trends you saw that we will be seeing in the fall?
Carlo: Buyers are looking for items that are elegant, sporty, and wearable. For fall, you will see a lot of floral embroidery, again, blouses with the stock tie bow. Leading colors include aubergine, green, and dusty pinks.
Are there misperceptions that women carry about themselves when they chose clothes?
Ellen: All women have their personal concerns, and it is important to listen to their needs; to keep the relationship very active. You also have to pick up what they are thinking. Most women have a feeling that they don’t like something about themselves, and you can help them feel more secure and confident.
Ellen and Carlo agree that their friendship is based on mutual business values and respect. As Ellen reveals, “I hold Carlo and his family very close. He views his business as we view ours—it is one of relationship-building; treating people with honesty and with respect.”