Nena Ivon: 16-year-old gets first job at the Magnificent Mile Saks Fifth Avenue, becomes assistant fashion director one year later

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With the recent opening of the Chicago Styled exhibit at the Chicago History Museum, we are reminded of the impact that The Magnificent Mile and Nena Ivon had on the fashion industry.Nena Ivon, the head curator of the exhibit, is responsible for executing and showcasing the development of North Michigan Avenue as a mecca for high-end fashion. The Magnificent Mile has been known for its luxury retail and department stores since the 1920s and is frequented by over 20 million people every year. Nena Ivon had an invaluable part in shaping the Magnificent Mile and Saks Fifth Avenue into what it is today.

At 16, Nena was hired in Saks Fifth Avenue’s sports wear department. Having no prior work experience, Nena found herself in the middle of a nightmare.All of the clothes were tagged, but Nena didn’t know the color-coding system. Even if she knew how to help her customers pick out the right size, she couldn’t write a receipt. Nena wouldn’t describe herself as someone who cries easily, but she ended up bawling behind the counter that day. She decided then that she would never go back to Saks again. But, not being a quitter, she returned to her next shift and the shifts that followed.

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A year later at the age of 17, Nena was promoted to assistant fashion director. Eight years later she became the director of fashion and special events, a position which she held until 2009. During her employment at Saks, Nena brushed elbows with the who’s who in fashion, establishing household names for many designers through in-house shows. Today, Nena is the president of the Chicago History Museum Costume Council and a professor at Columbia College Chicago where she assists in documenting the history of clothing while inspiring others to make it.


To learn more about Nena Ivon and Chicago’s role in the fashion industry, visit Chicago Styled at the Chicago History Museum, Monday through Saturday 9:30 am – 4:30 pm and Sunday from noon – 5pm. Adults are $14; Seniors and Students are $12. Kids under 12 are free. For information about the exhibit, visit

Columbia College Chicago Archives holds Nena Ivon’s Manuscript Collection which includes photographs of her with famous designers and newspaper clips featuring her shows. The archives also stores Nena’s personal collection of over 100 perfume bottles. Here is a link to our finding aid if you are interested in learning more about her first hand.



About Calley Nelson

Calley Nelson is a freelancer based in Chicago who enjoys collecting records, going to rock shows, and writing fiction. She is currently Director of Communications at Lpdeezign and the editor of I AM FEMINISM MAGAZINE. Follow her @calleynlsn
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