North Shore native Alicia Bell recently returned home permanently from fashion Mecca, New York City. Her homecoming has benefited not only her family, but also her fashion career.
Photographs by Helen Berkun
After transplanting to New York City for several years post-high school, burgeoning fashion designer Alicia Bell has recently returned to her roots on the North Shore. Her infant son, James, was the main impetus for moving back to Winnetka. She and her husband, Wolcott Sprague, thought the quiet and quaint towns along the shore would be the perfect place to raise their child, as opposed to the bustling Manhattan lifestyle. With most of Alicia’s family still residing in the area, the move put Alicia and her new family in a convenient location. Naturally, her family is her first priority, with her fashion career coming in a close second; her relocation also put her nearer to work. Alicia’s flourishing line of clothing, Bell by Alicia Bell, is produced right here in Chicago.
Originally, her ardor for fashion was what drew her away from home. By her sophomore year of high school at New Trier, she knew she wanted to go into the industry. “I always felt the most comfortable being creative,” she explains. Growing up, her parents encouraged her to take summer school classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “That was where I realized that fashion design was what inspired my creativity the most,” she says.
In New York, Alicia continued her fashion education at Parsons The New School for Design, where she studied fashion design as an undergraduate. With Parsons’ training as a springboard, she proceeded to work with legendary designers like Vivienne Westwood. In January 2000, she decided to take a big leap and went into business herself. She launched Bell by Alicia Bell, a line of classic shirts with superior fit. “I just knew that was what I wanted to do,” she remembers. “I didn’t think about what could potentially happen.” Little did she know then that divas like Oprah and Madonna would be sporting her shirts one day.
While her success started out with traditional shirts, her line has since expanded to include a plethora of styles and sizes. Her website currently boasts five types of collared shirts—varying in lengths, fits, and embellishments. She also offers several different shirtdresses. Each piece is customizable with different fabrics and buttons, a unique bonus for her customers.
The fabrics and styles change seasonally. “For summer, we’re offering great cotton plaid shirts with a washed feeling, really soft cotton ruffle hem shirtdresses, and nautical striped knit polo dresses with our signature pleated fan cuffs,” she describes. This fall, she plans to offer more knit polos and henleys, and will be highlighting her shirt dresses worn with leggings and tights for extra insulation. A mini version of her women’s line is the company’s latest addition. Dubbed “Little Bell,” this line offers clothing for girls aged 2 to 12 and is available online at www.aliciabell.com, in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, boutiques around the country.
While her clothing can be found around the world in countries such as Canada and Italy, some of her most devoted customers reside right here on the North Shore. “The ladies of the North Shore want their clothing to be classic yet unique, but also not over the top,” Alicia describes. “I feel that Bell fits that very well. From our shirts to our dresses, there is something for every woman with real lives…Our signature crisp shirts and delicate dresses are elegant, yet sturdy enough for a full day of work and dinner afterward.” Her clothing can be found at local boutiques and stores like Frances Heffernan, Neiman Marcus, CUSP, Handle with Care, and E Street Denim.
With sales continuing to grow and a great amount of work going into her children’s line, Alicia doesn’t have any plans to expand. “I’m comfortable with the company right now and couldn’t be happier,” she says. Her relocation is partially responsible for this sense of contentment. On the North Shore, she not only has her company’s offices and close proximity to her production location, but she also has the fantastic support of her friends and family—always one of the most important ingredients for success.