During her highly anticipated homecoming, Barrington High School alum and famed fashion designer Cynthia Rowley had a little fun with a fan, local business owner Melinda Hartz McElroy. Melinda was thinking about purchasing one of Cynthia’s dresses while waiting to meet her during the designer’s weekend pop-up shop. When Cynthia asked her to try it on, Melinda says she couldn’t refuse. Next thing Melinda knew she was “twinning” with THE Cynthia Rowley in a pink silk floral piece from a current line. So did Melinda buy the dress? “How could I not?!? Cynthia was like, ‘Oh my gosh it looks so good. You’ve gotta buy that dress.’ Now it’s so special I can never wear it.”
The memorable exchange followed a special “Conversation with Cynthia” event at Barrington’s White House with about 150 guests in attendance. Melinda, who owns Billet-Deux Couture Stationery & Invitations says she was impressed that Cynthia Rowley took the time to visit with every guest who waited to meet her. “She was so gracious and genuine.” Melinda particularly appreciated Cynthia’s words of encouragement. “She told us to just put yourself out there and not worry about rejection. It was refreshing to hear, especially for those of us in the creative industry where your work is so driven by your personality. When you’re getting negative feedback it can feel more personal. She was very inspiring.”
Cynthia shared that she started sewing at age seven with her mom Clementine’s sewing machine and encouragement. After Barrington High School she went on to graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She got her first big break when a buyer for Marshall Fields spotted her on a train from Barrington to Chicago and complimented Cynthia on the jacket she was wearing, one of her own creations. That buyer gave her the opportunity to make a collection of five pieces, which Cynthia rushed to complete in two days.
From there, Cynthia shared that she has always worked to be constantly creating and trying new things while keeping an element of surprise in her work. To a group of aspiring young designers from Saint Anne Parish School, Cynthia encouraged them to embrace their own sense of style. “I have always believed that kids should make their own decisions about what they wear and what they like. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to wear what you love and express yourself through the way you dress.”
The Saint Anne students were among nearly 20 local designers who took part in “Project Rowley”, a design competition hosted for Cynthia’s visit. The local creations were on display as part of of Cynthia Rowley’s Barrington pop-up shop. Guests voted for their favorite pieces with winners to be announced.
During Cynthia’s homecoming, she also visited with guests at a welcome reception and gala fundraiser for Barrington’s White House. She was named an honorary member the Barrington chapter of gun-violence prevention group Moms Demand Action. She even arranged a fashion photo shoot at alma mater, Barrington High School for Vogue Magazine featuring her resort collection.
While Cynthia says she finds great inspiration when she travels, with adventures opening her mind and allowing her to “think expansively”, she emphasized that she’s grateful to be from Barrington, still such a tight and supportive community. “Maybe the greatest adventure is coming home.” We hope she comes home more often!
Here’s one last look at our collection of photos from Cynthia’s visit. To see and learn more, visit CynthiaRowley.com.