Chicago fashion designer Thierry Andre Roger, whose clients included violinist Rachel Barton Pine, dies at 60

Calls to Mr. Roger often traced back to a simple cocktail party question: Where’d you get that dress?

SHARE Chicago fashion designer Thierry Andre Roger, whose clients included violinist Rachel Barton Pine, dies at 60
Chicago fashion designer Thierry Andre Roger

Chicago fashion designer Thierry Andre Roger died May 8. He was 60.

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After answering an unknown number on his cell, the challenge of a lifetime was laid out before Chicago fashion designer Thierry Andre Roger.

World-renowned violinist Rachel Barton Pine was on the line.

Every ball gown in her closet was dazzling, elegant, and, suddenly, useless.

For years, they’d flowed and swayed as she stood on stage with the help of a prosthetic leg and played her violin.

But Pine had just suffered a medical setback that left her unable to walk, at least for a while, and the flowing fabric that made the gowns beautiful now posed a risk of getting caught under the scooter that carried her to center stage.

Her regular dressmaker couldn’t take on such a short-notice job.

It was an emergency. Could he help? Mr. Roger said yes.

His husband, Steven Martin-Roger, sat nearby as the phone call played out.

“It’s funny because I remember hearing parts of this, and then Thierry got off the phone and said ‘You’re not going to believe the conversation I just had with someone.’ And I grabbed her CD off the bookshelf, because I’m a big fan, and showed it to him and was like ‘Are you talking about Rachel Barton Pine?’ ... He didn’t know who she was,” Martin-Roger said with a laugh.

Pine had been in an accident that severed her leg and mangled her remaining foot in 1995. The strap of her violin case got caught in the closing doors of a Metra train as it left a station in Winnetka and dragged her hundreds of feet. She’d overcome adversity, years of surgery, and won further acclaim as she played the world over, including alongside musical greats such as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin.

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Chicago fashion designer Thierry Andre Roger with violinist Rachel Barton Pine after a show she played last year at Millennium Park while wearing a dress created by Mr. Roger.

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Her request was challenging: A slimmer design for a seated client that would still flow with the athletic moves of a violinist’s arms and back, and pop from a distance, as well as look beautiful up close.

“It also had to drape in such a way that it still felt like the kind of princess dress you want when you’re doing a violin concerto, but with a minimal enough amount of fabric that it was compatible with sitting in the electric scooter,” she said.

“He created a really innovative, two-piece dress that made it 10 times easier to get in than a normal one-piece dress. But what was really clever, really genius, was he made it look as though it was a one-piece dress,” Pine said.

He made four such garments for Pine and was starting on another batch when a battle with cancer claimed his life.

Mr. Roger died May 8 at his home in the Mayfair neighborhood on the Northwest Side. He was 60.

Rachel Barton Pine performs in one of the dresses that Thierry Andre Roger made for her.

Rachel Barton Pine performs in one of the dresses that Thierry Andre Roger made for her.

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“It was so wonderful that I got to know him and have him in my life, even if it was far too brief,” she said.

Mr. Roger — pronounced Rozhay — and his husband saw Pine perform in the dresses several times, including last summer at Millennium Park.

“He was very humble. He had lots of clients,” Mr. Roger’s husband said.

“He worked hard on social media and keeping up his website but never had to advertise. It was more referrals, women saying ‘Where did you get that dress?’ at parties, and he’d get a new client that way. He was very steady,” Martin-Roger said.

“He’d been approached by producers of ‘Project Runway’ about being on the show as a contestant, but it was never something that was an interest to him. He didn’t want to be a big huge famous star. He wanted to make his one-of-a-kind pieces for his clients and make them happy, and have a wonderful, happy marriage.”

Mr. Roger was born in Switzerland to a German father and a French mother and split time between the two countries — including time studying fashion in Paris — before moving to the United States in 1990.

Before focusing on private clients and working out of his home studio under his Thierry Roger Couturier label, he owned and operated a small Roscoe Village boutique called Collection Privée.

He was diagnosed with cancer at the outset of the pandemic and — with the fashion business on ice for a while as people stayed home — he focused his time and efforts on making thousands of masks with the reams of fabric he had in his basement.

Mr. Roger posted about the masks on Facebook and would leave bags of masks outside his front door for anyone who sent him a message expressing a need.

“And everyone on staff in the chemo ward at Swedish Covenant Hospital, where he received treatment, got one of his masks,” his husband said. “It was a way to focus on other people and not on his own issues.”

“You would find them fashionable, but it’s just because that’s what he had on hand. He didn’t sew his label into it or anything,” his husband said.

The kindness was met with kindness, as people left baskets of baked goods, boxes of sanitary wipes and rolls of toilet paper on their front stoop.

“He only started charging for the masks when he ran out of material, and supplies became hard to get. But it wasn’t to make money,” he said.

All the tools of his trade are being donated to Columbia College Chicago. Family and friends have started a scholarship fund in Mr. Roger’s name. Donations can be made at his website thierryroger.com.

Services have been held.

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