By Amanda Look
Hours: Tues to Fri 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Sat to Sun – 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Lesley Timpe has made a name for herself in Chicago. Our avid CBSChicago readers will remember seeing her label appear on our site before–when her store was rated one of the top ten boutiques in Chicago–and she’s still rocking the Chicago design world today. With a newly expanded store in Ukrainian Village, Squasht by Les offers Chicagoans a variety of locally designed merchandise, most famously, her reversible knit hats. CBSChicago had a chance to sit down with Lesley and learn more about her life as a designer in the windy city.
CBSChicago: How did you get into the design world? What inspired you to do so?
Lesley Timpe: I began designing clothing and accessories at a young age. I was always intrigued by the way that fashion allows you to express yourself as an artist and as a person. I never designed within a certain category, I always liked to play around stylistically and dress differently every day. I went through a lot of phases in fashion that mirrored phases of my life in school and work. I was always inspired by street fashion and anyone who could make things by hand.
CBSChicago: I understand you attended Maestro Mateo Design School in Spain. Tell us how your design training and experiences there influences your collection.
LT: Maestro Mateo Design School is a small art school located in Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest region of Spain, north of Portugal. The region is called Galicia, in the province of La Coruña. My design training there was very intensive and competitive. The Spanish school system is much stricter than schools here in the US. I was constantly in awe of the beauty of the city; it is truly a gorgeous place to study art. Now, people tend to notice a European vibe about my collections. I am sure that is due to spending three years in Santiago, immersing myself in the language and culture, and studying fashion there in the Spanish language.
CBSChicago: When did you open your shop in Chicago? Tell us about how that came to be.
LT: Squasht by Les Boutique was opened in May of 2010. To tell the honest truth, I was simply looking for a new studio space to work from and had no intention of opening a store. Then I found the perfect spot on West Chicago Ave in Ukrainian Village: a place that I could use as a studio but also included a beautiful street level storefront with large windows. Relatively spontaneously, I decided to take a leap and go for it, and we opened Squasht by Les Boutique at 2556 W Chicago Ave in Ukrainian Village.
CBSChicago: That’s so exciting! What types of garments do you sell in your boutique? What is the most popular?
LT: Squasht by Les creates a seasonal collection of ready-to-wear apparel and accessories. Our top selling items continue to be our signature reversible handmade hats. We specialize in sizes in the hats, so most of our hats are available in small, medium or large. People with large or small heads often get excited upon learning we have made a selection of hats that fit them. People are also enthusiastic about the reversible aspect of the hats, you can just flip the hat inside out and it’s a completely different hat. We do a few different styles in the reversible hat: the bella is a modified newsboy, the darby is an earflap hat with a high-end fleece interior, and the furry aviator hat features a plush furry interior with ribbon ties.
Additionally, our vintage-modern style dresses are very popular. They feature easy but unique silhouettes that truly flatter many different body types. We try to keep our collections endlessly wearable, while adding a unique edge that makes you feel confident you have selected a special and unusual item. The apparel is subtly sophisticated, combining comfort and wearability with fun and unexpected details in the garments.
CBSChicago: What is your collection like this year?
LT: We currently have a wonderful selection of dresses and tops in stock. They are made from high quality knits in solids and prints. We have several silhouettes to choose from: the circle dress combines a flowy circle skirt with a gently pleated bodice and a three-quarter length sleeve and features pockets and attached belt. It’s “lady length” which most women really enjoy for winter: the skirt falls just below the knee. We also have a balloon sleeve knit dress with a long dramatic contrast cuff, plunging v-neck and shoulder rusching. Our batwing tops continue to be popular, and our favorite is made from black crocheted lace with a long cuff and wide waistband. Some of our hats this season feature sporty stripes on the brims, or lace appliques, or removable bow pins. The beauty is in the details with Squasht apparel and accessories.
CBSChicago: What are your favorite pieces? Favorite fabrics?
LT: My favorites continue to be the hats and the dresses. We like to stick with what works, but remaking the hats in new fabrics and adding new details always tends to lend a surprising effect. My favorite fabrics to work with are silk tweeds, wool tweeds, and high-end imported fabrics for the hats. For the apparel I like to work a lot with knits. Whenever I can find knits in prints, I buy up as much as I can. I like combining prints in unexpected ways that surprise people but are still wearable.
CBSChicago: How does living and working in Chicago influence your collection?
LT: I love living in Chicago! I love working here and having my home base in Ukrainian Village. I am continuously influenced by the art that is happening in the city. I love attending the gallery walks in Pilsen and the West Loop, and I must admit that while I am a resident and not a tourist, I have been on the architectural cruise more than my fair share of times. My collection does tend to respond to what Chicagoans want at least in a certain regard. Let’s just say, the people here love to wear black and dark colors, and there is a practicality to their buying habits. Black, brown and grey hats are my best selling colors every winter.
CBSChicago: I understand you’ve expanded your shop since you opened in May 2010. Tell us about that!
LT: Yes! On Oct 2011, we moved our shop just one door over to occupy the corner retail space on our block, on the corner of Chicago Ave and Rockwell. The address remains the same: 2556 W Chicago Ave. It’s in the same building as our old store, just one door over. It has made a huge difference in our visibility from the street. People are noticing our store more now than ever. We carry other independent designers in our shop as well as our own brand. We are very careful in selecting the brands that we carry, focusing on our favorite new and innovative jewelry, knitwear, and accessories designers. Expanding the shop was one of the best things we ever did!
CBSChicago: Favorite design moment?
LT: Last month, Bill Murray bought some of our darby (earflap) hats at a store called Co-op 28 Handmade that carries our hats and apparel in L.A! The store owner emailed me to let me know this bit of information as well as the fact that Mr. Murray also wanted to special order the darby hat with an orange fleece interior. We ordered the orange fleece and made up a batch of hats in different fabrics for him to choose from. I am so excited about the prospect of Bill Murray and/or his family members wearing Squasht hats! So far this has been my favorite design moment. And it makes a really cool story! [Laughs].
CBSChicago: What goals does Squasht by Les have for the future?
LT: Our goals remain simple: to support the local economy, to continue to provide an outlet for shopping local in the community here, to continue to work and thrive in a creative atmosphere, to keep meeting people and expanding our business.
Amanda Look lives in Chicago and works for an academic association doing event coordination. She is a lover of all things Chicago and blogs about the city’s shopping and nightlife.