As much of Chicago sleeps on a Thursday night, Vertigo Sky Lounge is abuzz. High above the city, its inhabitants are paradoxically “digging the underground.” RAW Natural Born Artists, an independent country-wide arts organization that selects and provides a platform for independent creatives, is holding one of its grassroots showcases, one of seventeen such events held around the country each month to spotlight new talent.
A DJ spins in a buzzing corner of the room. Photographs, drawings and paintings cover the glass walls, and the crowd, well-dressed friends of the artists and guests from Art Chicago, appear to be suspended above the city lights. A little after 10pm, the crowd is asked to part and form a path for the upcoming fashion show. Ariya Sasaki, a University of Chicago student in the Geographical Studies department, is about to debut her Spring/ Summer Collection, which will include t-shirts that she has designed for Japan Relief—she was born in Kyoto and raised in Berkeley. “This collection is very much inspired by what is happening in Japan—thinking about global energy and being more conscious of how fabric and textiles are constructed,” she’d said over coffee earlier. “I am writing my B.A paper on fair-trade fashion.” Sasaki is also the co-founder and director of JAPAN Relief and Rebuild committee, and found her fashion feet in MODA (the UofC’s fashion organization), where she is artistic director.
It was at their annual fashion show in the Cultural Center that Sasaki’s designs were first spotted by RAW. “I was so surprised [that they chose me]. I feel like Chicago has so many art students and people who actually study fashion,” she says. “All my models are U of C students and U of C grads. I think it’s really great that I’m able to involve so many people who wouldn’t necessarily be part of the fashion world.” (Lauren Kelly-Jones)