Each fall, Gen Art kicks off Fashion Focus with its anointment of the latest and greatest emerging local designers amidst a charged-up atmosphere that somewhat successfully imitates the elitist air of fashion in New York. While jewelry and accessories designers have to stand in the hall, so to speak, the fashion designers get a runway showcase, complete with front-row celebrities (Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson), local celebrities (the usual suspects) and an enthusiastic audience who’ve paid good money, or schmoozed the right people, to be here.
Here’s our take on this year’s fashion designers, each accompanied with a slideshow of photos supplied by Gen Art. (Brian Hieggelke)
Sophia Reyes debuted a muted palette for spring in her accessible line, highlighted with pleasing details rather than bold ideas. Black and white dominate (except for an incongruous, though not unpleasant, burst of purple), with patterns and small details in her dresses elevating this very market-friendly line above the mundane.
Anne Novotny’s eco-friendly Frei Designs offers elaborate constructions, with layering, color and fabric choices that seem both original and individualistic. She does creative things with “barnacles” of fabric that manage to work in non-obtrusive ways. The line was the first of the evening to introduce what would become the dominant color spectrum (peach/rust/copper), with shades of rust throughout. Novotny’s looks are creative but wearable; that is, perhaps except for the over-the-top scarf that closed her show on a surprising note that evoked “Halloween costume.” Nevertheless, her show really had something to say and stood as one of the night’s highlights.
Read the Boutiqueville profile of Frei Designs
The design collective Shorty made its statement with big hair. And peach-peach-peach, plus pops of purple, green and color. With short, flowy, even gauzy dresses, Shorty evokes a dreamlike spring season. And they’re not confined by their name, with a variety of dress lengths both short and long. They’ve even got a prom dress for Miss America, if she needs it.
Apparently we don’t have much of a menswear design scene here in Chicago, because Gen Art reached out to Toronto designer Philip Sparks to represent. Not a bad choice though, as Sparks crafts a contemporary silhouette out of classic retro ideas. Think cocktails at the tennis club with gold cotton v-neck sweaters, sort of a Bill Tilden chic—if Bill Tilden wore short shorts, that is. By day, the Philip Sparks man is a Poindexter, in bow tie, who sometimes wears a blazer with his short shorts. But he knows how to step out in style—just take a gander at his monochromatic three-piece grey glen plaid suit, with skinny pants and a textured gray tie on gray shirt. Dapper!
Elise Bergman showed why she’s taking off in Chicago, with her accessible but feminine collection. Smart details, varying hem lengths—something for everyone, but nothing crazy. Lots of beige, perhaps in more than one sense of the word.
Read Boutiqueville’s profile of Elise Bergman
The design duo behind Eskell, Elizabeth Del Castillo and Kelly Whitesell, were a great choice to close the show, with their vintage-inspired fashions and strong sense of vision. They’re masters of taking unconventional approaches, like a zipper-front dress, and making it look anything-but-contrived. I’m not sure I’m in love with the high-waisted shorts—a little too Olivia Newton-John-gets-Physical for me. Like Frei Designs, Eskell’s strong flavor is not for every taste. But there’s a definite opinion here, and you can agree or disagree. Oh, and I did mention the colors peach and beige?
Read about Eskell’s boutique here
Chicago boutique sensation Akira recently took its game to a new level, moving closer to the fashion-show spectaculars that Macy’s Glamorama represents, and taking it a long way from its nightclub foundations. On a day when Hurricane Ike was reaching all the way from the Gulf Coast up to Chicago, Akira produced a multimedia fashion show that occupied the House of Blues with a voodoo-inspired theme drawn from the back streets of New Orleans and the bayou. Live music-performance acts Brilliant Pebbles and He Say, She Say provided atmosphere. Ford models sporting featured labels Chinese Laundry, 7Diamonds, Artful Dodger, FiveFour, Ben Sherman and PF Flyers showed Akira’s fall looks. (Brian Hieggelke)