Fashion Focus wasn’t just all about Chicago. On Tuesday night, the Sister Cities International Program hosted a runway show at the Chase North Promenade in Millennium Park honoring fashions from its 25 participating global cities. In the words of Fashion Advisory Council Chair Melissa Turner, who gave a short speech before the show, the aim is to put â€œa spotlight on designers with ties to a sister city.â€? But with familiar names such as James de Colon and Basia Frossard in the evening’s roster, it soon became clear that these designers also shared ties to Chicago. For many of them, it’s now their home. And all of them, in fact, sell their pieces in stores and boutiques throughout the city.
Preceded by a reception and brief speeches by Mayor Daley and Trevor Holt, the head of the Sister Cities International Program, the runway show began promptly at 7:30. A model in a long black evening gown strutted down the catwalk, twirling a small globe in her hand. Yes, it did look a bit cheesy but the point was nonetheless firmly made. This was going to be a global event.
Divided by country, the 90 look show allowed each designer to present between two to three outfits. While this made for a broad range of styles, at times it was difficult to get a strong point of view from a particular collection, especially when the outfits were presented in such rapid succession.
The first looks came from Yigal Azrouel of Israel, three black, sexy, minimal outfits with sheer embellishments. Adding a strong dash of color a few minutes later was a memorable, layered, knee length cocktail dress in shades of browns, purple, and pink by Jan Zhou of China. Duval from South Africa also played with color as well as animal prints; his zebra and leopard printed dresses were worn underneath bright fabric, which when removed by the models were actually long, flowing capes. The effect wowed viewers, but ultimately this was more a testament to good marketing and visual presentation than to the actual quality of the clothes.
Providing business attire options for viewers, Basia Frossard showed a chic ruffled white shirt with a slightly bubbled tweed skirt. Lida Baday from Toronto showed four extremely polished looks in a muted gray palette. A form fitting gray suit as well as another one with a smart capelet along with an ensemble of wide trousers and a short gold jacket seemed very well suited to the style of many Chicagoans.
Some very famous designer names drew claps even before their clothes made it onto the runway. Armani showed signature, sharply tailored business ensembles while Dolce & Gabbana veered from their usual sexiness to present two understated, simple black dresses. Paris had Commes de Garcon, but the loveliest piece from the famed city was a collared evening gown with a simple gray sash available at Contessa Botegga.
Evening dresses, in fact, seemed to be the focus towards the end of the catwalk presentation. Making better use of animal print was a light, layered, billowy leopard print dress from Ireland. The nearby city of Birmingham showed a shiny gold, flapper inspired number with even brighter ornate embellishments. From Hamburg, there was a shiny two piece purple dress with a mermaid like tail that moved rather nicely with the wearer. Closing out the runway was James De Colon who showed a breathtaking, voluminous, black lace gown and a surprisingly elegant plaid dress.
What was most surprising about the show was that despite the global focus, it would be difficult to place most of the clothes within a specific cultural context. Exceptions like Raaz boutique showed updated versions of traditional Indian outfits. In most other cases, however, an item from one city could just as easily have been mistaken for one from another place. In part this is because the pieces chosen were geared towards a Chicago clientele, which usually tends to get turned off by anything too outlandish. But on a larger scale, it’s evidence of a growing global interconnectedness and exchange of ideas. African inspired prints were seen on European pieces while traditional English plaid was wonderfully updated by a Mexican designer. We truly do live in a small world.