A look at some of the best events of Fashion Focus
By Elizabeth Seeskin
“I find it’s not where you’re at, it’s what you do in the space you’re given, ” says local designer Soo Choi, explaining how the limitations of the Chicago fashion industry inspired her “Trial and Error” collection. Choi’s sentiment could serve as the rallying cry for this year’s Fashion Focus Chicago, a series of runway shows, exhibits and lectures sponsored by the city to promote our small but growing fashion community. Chock full of small artisans bringing their wares to a local market, as well as high-concept, art-inspired garments meant for a gallery display, the various shows represent the entire spectrum of Chicago designers, all of whom struggle with living in the shadow of New York and L.A.’s massive industries. But Melissa Gamble, Director of Fashion Arts and Events for the city and the head of Fashion Focus, doesn’t see the city in competition with other fashion weeks. “We aren’t the same, and that’s what makes so many people choose to be here.”
The center of Fashion Focus? The runway shows, which are all held in the Millennium Park Chase Promenade. “Sister Cities International’s World Fashion Chicago,” on Wednesday, featured both local designers and designers representing Chicago’s twenty-seven sister cities. The Apparel Industry Board’s Thursday show “Chicago is…Red Hot!!!” represents the most diverse group of designers, and includes clothing, jewelry and accessories for men, women and children. Macy’s “Designers of Chicago” show on Friday features the work of designers chosen by the Macy’s buyers to sell in their department stores. Rounding out the runway shows is Sunday’s “The Allure of Couture,” which Turner promises will “showcase the best designers doing everything from avant-garde to couture.”
Perhaps more inspiring than the shows are the number of exhibits and installations focused on the future of the medium. The work of Columbia College Art and Design faculty are on display at the Chicago Hilton and in their Michigan Avenue windows. Compare their work with that of Illinois Institute of Art students, whose work is displayed all week at the Holiday Inn at Chicago Mart Plaza. But the most cohesive student show will be “Skirt Blouse White Green” by the students of the School of the Art Institute. Each garment uses one green accent, allowing viewers to appreciate the detailed construction of each piece and its relationship to architecture, sculpture and nature. Still, I’d place my money on two exhibits showcasing established fashion innovators Nick Cave, Shane Gabier, Katrin Schnabl and Anke Loh. Loh, famous for her light sensitive fabrics, has teamed up with an engineering professor at Northwestern to bring her latest project to a warehouse in Pilsen in “Aloft: Fearless Fashion.” The new works are sensitive to sound and temperature, and Loh says she hopes to create “a different platform which does not yet exist in Chicago.”
Fashion Focus also offers lectures and seminars about the business side of fashion. Although most are not meant to excite those without a financial stake in the industry, “Whose Design Is It Anyway?” touches on the hot topic of intellectual property rights in the fashion industry. The issue has made it all the way to the Supreme Court, and with designers like Philip Lim receiving accolades for copying other artists, it’s become a question about the nature of the medium.
But all industry jargon and conceptual visions aside, the practically minded among us will also have a chance to shop our way through the events. Gen Art’s “Shop Chicago” will feature several of the artists from its runway show. You’ll pay a pretty penny for some of these clothes, but rest assured; prices are high because many of our local designers refuse to move production out of the city, let alone out of the country.
Summing up Gen Art’s interest in the event (and simultaneously summing up Fashion Focus) Director of Gen Art Chicago Amanda Nosal says, “Fashion to me is a complete art form. It’s how people express themselves all the time. A fashion designer is an artist just as much as a musician or a filmmaker or a painter. But there are a lot of designers out there that don’t get an opportunity.”
For dates, times and locations of Fashion Focus events, check out www.fashionfocuschicago.com