Fashion Focus Chicago 2009: Horacio Nieto Spring 2010

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Horacio Nieto’s Spring 2010 collections of menswear and womenswear draws inspiration from the past and future, creating two distinct lines that are cohesive on their own, and interestingly complementary together. An infrequent user of pattern, Nieto prefers to communicate his vision through silhouette and broad strokes of color, as exhibited during his fashion show on October 23. Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion Focus Chicago 2009 Schedule

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Here’s the complete schedule for this week’s Fashion Focus Chicago, in unedited form from the city:


Fashion Focus Chicago, a celebration of Chicago’s thriving fashion industry, returns for a fifth year in 2009. Running from Thursday, October 22 through Sunday, October 25 Fashion Focus Chicago showcases some of the city’s top designers, and features runway shows in Millennium Park and at various locations around the city as well as shopping events, and industry seminars.

For the first time this year, Fashion Focus has partnered with some of downtown Chicago’s most chic hotels to offer special shopping packages and exclusive Fashion Focus amenities. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a personalized experience at one of these world-class hotels while immersing themselves in Chicago’s hip fashion scene.

For more information, including making reservations for Fashion Focus 2009 events or booking hotel accommodations, please Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion Focus Chicago 2009, Take One

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Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Fong/Photo: City of Chicago/Patrick L. Pyszka

Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Fong/Photo: City of Chicago/Patrick L. Pyszka

The city announced the preliminary details for Fashion Focus Chicago this week, but the full schedule is still to come. Most notably, except for that Terry Hilfiger guy getting involved, is that the event is being held later than ever and that we’re beginning to see some movement on our call for designer-focused fashion shows. The Millennium Park shows have been reduced to three—gone is the ambiguous Sister Cities show. The full press release follows. Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion Capital: Can Chicago’s push to become a style center “make it work”?

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By Brian Hieggelke

Opening night of the Democratic National Convention, and Michelle Obama is scheduled to speak. Pundits are in a tizzy: will she be able to convince middle America that she’s one of them, that she loves her country, her family and her god enough to earn their votes? By the time she’s finished, even the skeptical have been sold. She’s answered every lingering question except one: where did she get that fabulous dress?

Of course, it was already well-publicized that the would-be future First Lady was a fan of Chicago designer Maria Pinto, and that alone, given the extraordinary national obsession with all things Obama, gave a priceless boost to Chicago’s fashion culture. After all, Obama obviously had the means to buy from just about any designer she wanted; the fact that she chose Pinto as her style muse sent a clear signal that you don’t have to hail from New York to get attention. Not since Oleg Cassini helped shape the Jackie Kennedy style had a designer and (potential) First Lady been so closely connected.

“Contrary to popular belief, Chicagoans are highly attuned with the fashion world.”—Sheri Roney, SoKo Fashion

At the beginning of this month, more than a thousand apparel buyers, designers, media types and all-round fashionistas each day gathered for five nights inside a tent in Millennium Park to watch runway fashion shows that comprised the cornerstone of Chicago’s four-year-old version of fashion week, called Fashion Focus Chicago. Set against the backdrop of unprecedented carnage in global financial markets, the events couldn’t avoid a bit of an “end-of-empire” air—and we’re not talking about the empire waist, which seems to be doing just fine.

Dying economy or not, there’s no denying the excitement that large-scale fashion shows bring, with their bright lights, booming beats and models strutting down runways. Spend nearly a week watching show after show and it’s hard not to feel like something’s happening here. But is it? I decided to ask the question. In addition to a lengthy conversation with Melissa Gamble, the director of fashion arts and events for the city (often described as the mayor’s “fashion czar”), I sent a short email survey to nearly 200 local boutique owners and managers, as well as thirty or so local designers, most of them past winners of the “Fresh Faces in Fashion” designation awarded by GenArt, one of the marquee events during Fashion Focus Chicago. The consensus? Progress has been made, but there is still much to be done. Read the rest of this entry »

Fixing Fashion Focus Chicago

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By Brian Hieggelke

Fashion Focus Chicago is not broken, but everyone involved agrees, from designers to retailers to the woman in charge of it all, Chicago’s director of fashion arts and events, Melissa Gamble, that much can be done to take it to the next level. Here’s our list, based on interviews with all of the above, along with our own observations.

Make it spring

Fashion weeks held in the fall traditionally show spring designs; spring fashion weeks show fall. Fashion Focus Chicago mixes it up, to the confusion of the viewer and, likely, reducing its value for the buyers who are so vital to the development of the week into an essential force in the fashion world.

Make the shows thematically cohesive

Great fashion is always as much art as it is function, but sometimes the scales tip definitively in the direction of art projects. This is especially true in Chicago, where the School of the Art Institute wields considerable influence. By having art fashion mixed in with spring lines mixed in with fall lines mixed in with evening wear/bridal, some of the shows, while visually stimulating, left little practical for the viewer trying to evaluate trends or designers. Read the rest of this entry »

The New Look

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Every year, dozens and dozens of designers show at Fashion Focus Chicago, many for the first time. Here are a few, beyond Maria Pinto of course, who seemed especially buzzworthy this year.

Shorty Clothing
Shorty bookended the week, opening with GenArt’s Fresh Faces in Fashion and closing out by winning Macy’s Distinction in Design competition.

5p1t’s on a roll of its own, starting with recognition by Fashion Group International as a Chicago Rising Star, followed by an appearance in the venerable “Chicago is Red Hot” show and capped by an appearance at Fashion Focus in Macy’s Designers of Chicago show.

Abigail Glaum-Lathbury
Glaum-Lathbury was one of the few designers repeating an appearance from last year (when she was a GenArt Fresh Face), with her show as part of the Allure of Couture evening.

Agga B
Agga B was one of four local designers sponsored by Toyota to develop work inspired by its i-REAL concept; she also showed as one of the inaugural designers in the Chicago Fashion Incubator project housed at Macy’s.

Anna Fong
Another Toyota i-REAL designer, Fong showed during the Macy’s Designers of Chicago show; she’s been picked up to be sold at Macy’s this fall.
—Brian Hieggelke

Fashion Focus Chicago: World Fashion Chicago

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World Fashion Chicago, an event designed to showcase the city’s Sister Cities program (October 2), oozed with admirable ambition. Chicago has twenty-seven official “sister cities,” including the style meccas of Paris and Milan, so why not have a show that conveys the global nature of fashion, and Chicago’s place within?

Unfortunately, the project was far too overwhelming to properly execute. Some cities were represented by Chicago designers who created looks drawing inspiration from a particular city, sometimes subtly, sometimes like costumes for a B movie. On the other hand, some Chicago designers simply represented their ethnic backgrounds by showing from their general collections. Six designers actually brought their designs from their far-flung cities, ranging from Amman, Jordan to Casablanca, Morocco. And in a few cases, models wore clothes from international designers who needed little exposure, like Escada and Dolce & Gabbana. Needless to say, the range and styles were literally all over the map.

The resulting show was a cacophonous hoot of excess without cohesion. Several cities, inexplicably, were even represented by multiple designers. Add to that the “commercial” presentation of looks designed by talented Chicago comers Agga B, Melissa Serpico, Evil Kitty and Anna Fong for Toyota’s “space-age” I-Real project, and you had a show that would defy anyone trying to actually take anything actionable (i.e., to buy the clothes or learn more about a designer) away from the runway. And we didn’t even mention that “Project Runway” contestant Steven Rosengard showed up to represent Hamburg, Germany. Eventually, we put our pens away and just enjoyed the show. (Brian Hieggelke)

Fashion Focus Chicago: Gen Art Fresh Faces in Fashion 2008

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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
Frei Designs
Philip Sparks
Elise Bergman

Gen Art Fresh Faces: Sophia Reyes

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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.

Gen Art Fresh Faces: Frei Designs

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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