International dancewear brand Wear Moi finds a home in Chicago

CHICAGO — Since its humble beginnings in 1992, husband and wife business owners Christophe Ridet and Elisabeth Miegge-Ridet built their line of dance apparel called Wear Moi, going from custom orders made on a single sewing machine to an in-demand international brand sold in 60 countries at more than 700 retailers.

For the Ridets, the next logical step was to plant roots with a flagship store of their own. The couple, who are both former dancers with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, had a soft opening on a first-ever Wear Moi retail location in East Lakeview last March, and on Friday from 10-4, is holding a grand opening celebration.

With plenty of dance retailers in and around Chicago, I asked Christophe a few questions about Wear Moi and why the couple chose Chicago for their flagship store. Here’s our exchange:

Lauren Warnecke: I understand that it makes geographic sense to launch a flagship store in Chicago given your markets across the U.S., Europe and Asia. But why Chicago, in particular? What excites you most about the Chicago market specifically, and the opportunities our city presents for your business?

Christophe Ridet: Initially, we made the choice for Chicago for our family. Chicago is a beautiful, progressive city, and you can’t beat the proximity to the lake. As French transplants, we felt the people living in Chicago made up a good representation of the whole of the United States.

The dance scene in Chicago is also quite diverse. I like to call Chicago a “big little city.” Yes, it’s big, but not so big that you would work for years without becoming well-known. There is a great mix of dance companies across the city, making our retail store sustainable. And being centrally located in East Lakeview, we can reach the majority of the local dance community, hopefully soon becoming a destination for professional, competitive and amateur dancers alike.

LW: Is this just the starting point? Do you intend to open more stores around Chicago, and/or nationwide?

If the concept works in Chicago, we could certainly see expanding the Wear Moi retail brand, but our likely next stop will be global, not US-based. We are seeing a lot of growth and demand in Asia, for example.

Since opening in Chicago, we’ve not only been watching our in-store sales, but we’ve seen a decent uptick in our online sales as well.

What we have been working on in Chicago will definitely set the tone moving forward. In fact, for years we have had a small showroom in our offices in La Garde, France. Now that we’ve seen the promise in Chicago, we will be moving out of that showroom and into a larger space in January 2020. That store will follow the same footprint and interior concepts as Chicago. We’ve developed our signature look and style here.

Christophe and Elisabeth Ridet

LW: How do you maintain the “personal touch” at the heart of your business as you continue to grow?

CR: The decisions today are being made by the same people as 25 years ago.

Both myself as CEO, and Elisabeth as creative director, were the two people at the origin of the project, and we are both still very much hands-on. That “personal touch” is really all down to Elisabeth. When it comes to the image of the brand, Elisabeth makes all those decisions.

As a former ballet dancer herself, Elisabeth is constantly looking at what’s happening in the industry, and looking at it from the dancer’s point of view. For 25 years, she’s been continually improving her knowledge of design, image and brand, and you can see that in everything from the fixtures in the Chicago store to the catalog photo shoots.

LW: Why is it important for dancers to seek relationships with retailers whose experience started in dance, as performers? What about this makes your brand and business unique?

Dance is an art to master, but it’s also very technical. You want a brand that provides you with support toward your technique. As people who started in dance and performing, we provide a unique design and product. When designing all of our products and clothing, we are always considering the shape and movement of the body. Dancers continually work to improve their lines, and our dancewear is made to meet the expectations of professional dancers.

We also consider the comfort of wearing our products, of course. For example, when you think about the stretch of a leotard, Wear Moi products give the extra stretch in the length, not the width as many might imagine. This is due to the movement of the body. You create much larger movements when you bend or stretch, rather than when you breathe.

Additionally, Wear Moi is the world leader in men’s dancewear. As a former male dancer myself, I understand exactly what is needed from a technical standpoint to outfit male dancers of many disciplines, whereas other companies may not see this as a big enough market.

Shoppers can visit Wear Moi at 3352 N. Broadway. Shoppers attending the grand opening on May 17 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. will receive a complimentary tote bag.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.