Meet Helen Melchior

Location: Chicago, IL
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: Single
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Northwestern University

Ten years ago, Helen Melchior got divorced after 34 years of marriage. “Until I left, I had never spent the night by myself,” she remembers. “I didn’t drive at night; I didn’t know a thing about my finances; I didn’t even know how to work the VCR.”

Today at 64, Melchior is one of Chicago’s most prominent fundraisers. As the President of the Women’s Board of the Joffrey Ballet, she raised 5 million dollars and increased membership by 150 percent. She also created one of Chicago’s hottest fundraisers: Couture & Cocktails. Most importantly, this mother of three daughters has taken control of every aspect of her life. “I love to learn new things and keep up. I love Facebook, my iPhone, my Kindle. I’m on the Board of my apartment building, I manage my finances, and I know how to run everything in my house—including the DVD player!”

How do you define your style?

Understated elegance with an edge. I wear a lot of little sleeveless, belted Prada dresses with little pleated skirts. And I love colored tights. I wear cropped paints with high-heeled boots.

Who are your favorite designers?

Prada, Piazza Sempione and Maria Pinto. That’s truly it—with a little Etro thrown in maybe.

Why do you love Maria Pinto?

My daughter moved to Chicago before I did, and she would come to visit me in California wearing these wonderful wraps that were from Maria Pinto. Once I moved to Chicago I started wearing her clothes all the time. The fit is perfect and the fabrics are gorgeous. Every board meeting and every ball and every gala I go to, I wear Maria Pinto.

How has your style evolved over the years?

After I got married at 22, I moved from Indiana to Newport Beach, California. I remember my first party there. It was September, and I wore a red plaid blouse with a tie at the neck, a red cardigan sweater, a black skirt, black tights and Charles Jordan shoes. Everyone there had on white slacks and Hawaiian shirts. I thought, “I just really don’t belong here.”

Do you have a signature accessory?

I wear my mother’s twisted gold bracelet and her ring, which has two square sapphires and two square diamonds.

What’s your beauty routine?

I use LaMer cleanser and moisturizer. In this Chicago winter, it’s the only thing that moisturizes. And I get my hair cut and colored at Charles Lord—he does all the hair and makeup for Maria Pinto’s catalogs. He’s amazing—I always had super short hair above my ears, and Charles convinced me that I have good hair and I should grow it out.

Favorite restaurant in Chicago?

Sepia. It’s right next to Maria Pinto and it’s just lovely. The food is sort of French, but it’s not too fancy.

Favorite book?

My favorite book is always the one I am currently reading. Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese is at the top of my list. I enjoy historical fiction where I can get the flavor of a time and country. I like multi-generational, family sagas. I love to live vicariously, and I find books, rather than movies or TV, satisfy that need for me.

Also, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. It’s about the reality of life in India through the eyes of a servant and is brutally revealing about the harshness of that life. It’s fiction, but I am learning about the country and another culture so it fulfills my requirements.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about money?

When I got divorced, I new nothing about my finances. I didn’t know an equity from a fixed income. So I went to Harris Bank and took a class called Finance for Women. But I still didn’t feel confident until I found a financial advisor I trusted. I took a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia with some friends, and she was another single lady on the trip, and we became buddies. She handles my money now.

How do you rejuvenate?

I exercise every day. I ride a stationery bike for 50 minutes (while reading my Kindle) and then I life weights.

Favorite wine?

La Crema Chardonnay.

What inspires you?

The dancers at the Joffrey ballet. I’m a real Balletomane. That’s why I do what I do. I love the dancers. For the last four years I’ve produced a fundraiser called Couture & Cocktails where the dancers go as our guests and we get to dance with them. I love it—they’re just adorable.

Is that your passion project?

Absolutely. I am passionate about it, and I think people trust me, because they see how I work so hard for it. I’ve really found my passion late in life.

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