October 05, 1981 12:00 PM

Though she has lived in Chicago for 23 years, Rosella Shapiro, 48, has never been mugged. As an adherent of the philosophy that you can never be too careful, however, she has devoted herself since 1978 to designing a line of women’s accessories that make it hard for a would-be thief to find, let alone steal, milady’s bankroll. “You see the need for this kind of thing every time you turn on the news,” Shapiro explains. “I have known people who have had their purses snatched, so I know what hardship it can cause.”

In 1976 she had begun to fight back by marketing what she called a “holdee pack” purse, a small (3″x4″) pouch suspended on a gold neck chain. It was designed to conceal money, credit cards and keys. The purse, however, may have lost some of its appeal since thugs began snatching gold chains from people’s necks in New York and elsewhere two years ago. In 1978 “Ro” Shapiro designed the “scarf purse,” a large oblong kerchief with a zippered pocket concealed in one end. And this year she has another patent pending on a pocketed umbrella with a zippered pouch on the underside of an extrawide strap that wraps around a furled umbrella. Her designs, she believes, will prove to be a boon to travelers as well as full-time urbanites. “The world is full of people who are afraid to travel, and rightly so,” she says. “But with our creations, at least their valuables are protected. They feel secure.”

Last year, with two longtime friends, Pat Surie and Frances Fingerhut, Ro incorporated under the trade name “Christine Lane.” The three women operate their business out of an office in downtown Chicago. “We are small,” says Ro, “but the very fact that we are surviving in this day of low inventory and high interest rates is pretty darn good.” Some 60,000 scarves (at $8 to $15) and 20,000 purses (at $5 to $7) have already been sold.

Ro was raised downstate in Pekin, studied business administration at Illinois State University and worked for an accounting firm before she married patent lawyer Norman Shapiro in 1956. Their son, Scott, 21, is a part-time student in Chicago. In 1960 she helped found the Chicago-based Barren Foundation, a nonprofit information research organization for the study of infertility, with endocrinologist Dr. Jay Gold. But she didn’t work full time until she and her husband divorced in 1979. She has lived for the past 20 years in an elegant Lake Shore Drive apartment, where she practices her bridge and piano playing and mulls another design for people who have something to hide. The details aren’t final yet, but the main idea is, well, keep it under your hat.

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