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Last night Fashion Focus Chicago 2010 launched with the first runway show of the week, Macy's Presents the Chicago Fashion Incubator Designers Past & Present with CS Magazine. A lot has changed since last year's Fashion Focus: the city's director of Fashion Arts and Events, Melissa Gamble, resigned; Maria Pinto, arguably the city's biggest fashion success story, went out of business; and of course Mayor Daley, who made turning the city into a fashion capital into his pet project, announced he wouldn't be seeking reelection.
Outwardly, though, little had changed: The tent held a full house, as in previous years, although the celebrity wattage, such as it was, was dimmed a bit—Da Mare sent his assistant, leaving Commissioner of Public Affairs Lois Weisberg and the ubiquitous Billy Dec as the most recognizable people in attendance.
The CFI show combined work by current members of the Macy's-sponsored training program and its alumni. Although it’s convenient to group designers together under the CFI label, there’s a fundamental flaw in putting so many different types of clothing on a runway together, especially since some of the more sportswear-oriented work—although wearable in and of itself—just isn’t up to the grandness of the context and suffers in comparison. It’s like putting Prada and American Apparel in the same show.
Having said that, there were pieces and designers that stood out. Kate Boggiano (first photo) translated her easy-wear sensibility to a sleeveless denim-wrap dress with crisp white trim, the kind of retro piece that any dress-loving woman would love to have in her closet come high summer. Looking at the model, you automatically mentally added a vacation backdrop and a vintage Polaroid frame.
Kristin Hassan showed a series of dresses with an ooh-la-la theme—lots of polka dots and tulle, and giant pom-poms on the models’ heads. The dresses were as carefully sculptured, frilled, and delicious-looking as high-end wedding cakes.
Agga B has always offered resolutely urban-chic clothes, slim fitting and sexy without slipping into vulgarity—Gucci for beginners. It was fitting that for her first look, she sent out a form-fitting black turtleneck dress whose skirt featured protruding panels that echoed the jagged outlines of a cityscape. Agga also has a good hand with fur, using it judiciously for effect, as in a black dress with fur ringing the shoulders and kaleidoscopic gold-beaded sleeves.
When you specialize in vintage-inspired dresses, as Jessica Audey of Audey does, you run the risk of boring your customers after a few years. But this year, along with her usual vintage-inspired full-skirt silhouette, she offered body-hugging and maxi versions. Audey has a real knack for finding great, often whimsical prints and using them effectively, like a sculptor who is sensitive to the different properties of various types of stone.
It was great to see some menswear designers in the mix, but as always, they come up short when showcased with so much vibrant women's clothing. Nonnie Threads started out a little shaky with a dun-colored men’s shirt that resembled the uniforms in Star Trek VI in shape and details, but got much better, with separates inspired by traditional tailoring interpreted with a modern, layered sensibility.
It’s been a while since I saw a new local designer whose work really excited me, and so I was genuinely pleased when Miriam Cecilia Carlson’s designs hit the runway at the end of the show. You and I might not have many occasions to wear a billowing white gown with an inset of gathered plum fabric in the skirt, but what clothes-lovin' lady doesn’t have room for a charming chartreuse double-breasted coat or an A-line cowl neck dress in city smog-gray that manages to look both urbane and girly? With a firm grasp on both the technical and showmanship aspects of fashion and design, Carlson brought some genuine punch to this fashion show—the perfect ending.
All photos by me.