Fashion designer Elda de la Rosa at a Mad Men event, October, 2012 (Courtesy GlossedAndFound)

[PHOTOS] Six Figures: A fashion designer lives her American dream

Elda de la Rosa is a 44-year-old Mexican-American living her American dream as a fashion designer with her own couture line and shop in Chicago, Ill.

Since starting her business exactly 12 years ago, she grew from a being a one-woman show to hiring three employees and interns, and from one client at a time to hundreds. De la Rosa was recently one of the designers featured in the La Catrina Fashion Show at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago last month, and she just participated in Chicago’s Fashion Week this month at “Fashion Feast,” where she showcased her Gilt Collection.

“It’s a more mature collection – not as much of the fancy couture gowns – it’s more geared towards the working career woman,” says de la Rosa.

She says she loves to encourage women to be powerful and confident through her creations.

“I knew from very early on that I would be a fashion designer,” says de la Rosa who immigrated to Rockford, Ill. from Coahuila, Mexico when she was 2. “I grew up in a family that sewed – making quinceñera and wedding dresses.”

Although she studied in the School of the Art Institute and the Illinois Institute for Art and Design (where she is now a board member), de la Rosa says her first sewing teachers were her mom and aunts. And she says at 17, she learned couture working with an Italian woman who had a bridal shop in Rockford.

De la Rosa calls herself a hopeless romantic in the way she designs her dresses, and also in her taste in movies.

“I love, love, love ‘West Side Story,’” she says excitedly in her soft, feminine voice. “When Rita Moreno and her friends were working in the little atelier, and they say ‘Life is ok in America’ and Rita says, ‘If you’re white in America’…I always bonded with that movie. I love Rita Moreno, she’s one of my idols.”

She says this scene reminds her of her first studio – where she also had a little garden like in the movie, and she has always felt a pull towards the retro dresses. She keeps the film in her shop and watches it for inspiration every so often.

“It’s ingrained in our culture to be seamstresses, and I loved seeing that on TV,” says de la Rosa who is also inspired by colors and flowers. “Even though I really feel we are not so different or separate. This is the American dream for everyone.”

Today, de la Rosa is living her own American fast-paced life with fittings at 9am, noon, and 4pm.

“It’s very hectic,” says the busy designer. “A lot of my clients are career women, and then there are the fashion shows…We work around everyone’s schedule.”

She also has to fit in being a mom to her two sons, who are 8 and 15. “It’s been a way of life,” says de la Rosa. “It’s my life…I enjoy sewing…I love hearing the machine, the smell that comes out of the fabrics – I just love the whole process of it.”

After sewing for more than 30 years, de la Rosa knows her craft very well. She says she believes it’s good customer service that has contributed to her success, and also learning to wear several hats.

“You have to be accountable for everything around you,” says de la Rosa about what it takes to own your own fashion line. “You have to know accounting, how to prepare yourself, and be the secretary, the designer, the seamstress. You have to know all those hats before you delegate anything to anyone else.”

It was a good 7 to 8 years after graduating fashion school before she opened her shop. Before that, she was an independent freelancer and she used to work on the sets of commercials and advertising for O Magazine.

Now, in the addition to dressing the directors and executives of Chicago, she says she wants to grow her business to other demographics and start having shows in New York and Dallas.

“Have you seen ‘Valentino: The Last Emperor?’” she chimes in eagerly about a documentary about the life of designer Valentino Garavani. “It shows how he grew up and how he started – he’s sleep deprived, his partner is stressed out – this is the life he chose. Even with the luxurious lifestyle, he’s a little grouchy. I can relate, and I know that’s how my life will be the rest of my life.”


  1. Shaunn says:

    Hello, I like the way you have organised your information on your website, Do you find the fashion industry changing much. Thanks for the great information and informative posts.

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