Fashion Focus Chicago 2006, a 12 day extravaganza of runway shows, shopping events, and designer seminars, highlighted the city’s burgeoning fashion industry. Still in its fledgling stages, the events were nonetheless superbly executed and brought out sizeable crowds comprised of both professionals and everyday Chicagoans. We at Second City Style had plenty of fun and the opportunity to see some stunning clothes. And while we admire the dedication, talent, and hard work of everyone involved in making Fashion Focus a success, we also felt that there were still plenty of improvements to be made to the increasingly prominent venture.
One of the more noticeable trends of Fashion Focus was its consumer driven slant. On the positive side, it distinguishes our fashion week from those of other cities, and who wouldn’t enjoy a good shopping event with attractive discounts? Catering to consumers is furthermore important for a young industry such as ours simply because a large part of the whole affair is to educate Chicagoans on the fashion and retail options available to them. What we suggest however is that Fashion Focus juxtapose those consumer driven events with more fashion oriented ones, and clearly draw distinctions between the two. We wanted to see Spring ’07 clothes on the runway, and while Gen Art’s Fresh Faces show did just that, the other three fashion shows presented Fall ’06 pieces that many of us have already seen in the stores. If Chicago wants to be taken seriously, we need to look ahead to next season. Why not the Fashion Advisory put on a show of its own featuring the upcoming collections of the city’s top designers? And because we enjoyed the Macy’s Designer Show so much, we would of course love for them to come back next year to showcase the current sartorial offerings, but at the same time we want the city to let people know that events like that clearly have a consumer interest at heart.
In line with this consumer focus, we were disappointed at times with the over-inclusiveness of designers at a number of events. When there are more than 20 different collections in a forty minute runway show, viewers only get to see a couple of pieces from each set and consequently, many are unable to get a feel for individual designers, and different perspectives and styles become carelessly muddled together. There’s too much breadth in showcasing everything from accessories to menswear to evening gowns on one catwalk. Clarity becomes sacrificed for quantity, and at times quality as well. With such a large number of collections, it’s no surprise then that some are better than others, a situation that had us wondering why doesn’t Fashion Focus then simply include only the best?
The root of this problem rests in the fact there is no set criteria for designers here. There are, surprisingly enough, some benefits to this. According to Stephanie Niedospial, who works for the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, â€œThere is no criterion for designersâ€¦which is part of why I think Chicago is so unique in its fashion industry. Entrepreneurs are given more opportunity here; they just have to look a little harder for resourcesâ€¦and work harder to get it than those in NYC and LA, for example, who have their business plans practically made for them when they move there.â€? However, while this may be fine for now, as Chicago grows in its fashion visibility, those standards need to be established to not only ensure superb quality but to also allow us to successfully compete with designers from cities like New York. Instead of displaying everything Chicago has to offer, the Fashion Advisory Council should curate and hone these collections down to the best of what we have to show.
Chicago is home to four amazing design schools, and the works of its talented students were available for all the public to see during an informal outside fashion show held during a Wednesday afternoon downtown at State Street. The two hour presentation displayed a variety of pieces, from the wearable to the abstract, from the perfectly tailored to the slightly askew, and it was evident that a number of influences were at play. For us, it was the most inspired testament to the city’s fashion potential that we saw all week. Why not then take these pieces and put them on a proper runway at a proper show so that these bright young things could be given their proper due? London Fashion Week, for example, includes a show featuring student collections from the prestigious Central St. Martins Institute. Chicago’s fashion future rests on greatly on these individuals and the chance for them to present their work to a crowd of critics and buyers would inevitably lead to greater opportunities, and would help persuade them to remain in Chicago upon graduation.
But finding resources for manufacturing and production has been an area of frustration for fledgling designers, and while the city and organizations like the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center are tackling that issue, the problem appears no where near solved. One of the boutique owners whom we chatted with explained to us the frustration with finding affordable and knowledgeable productions personnel and resources for her own clothing line. Because of that, she had decided recently to move all her production to New York. Another jewelry designer experienced a similar situation, and she too relocated to the Big Apple. According to one model booker, â€œIf the city could actually back designers (and not just once or twice a year with an extravaganza), then I honestly believe Chicago fashion would be able to sustain itself. We simply need more and better design programs and incentives for great Chicago designers and models to stick around in the Midwestâ€?.
And finally, do we really need 12 days for Fashion Focus? That’s about 50 percent longer than the time allotted to more established Fashion Weeks in Paris and New York, and after attending the festivities, we were convinced that there wasn’t enough to warrant such a lengthy period. Different events could be spaced closer together while the more frivolous ones could be dropped, thereby reducing Fashion Focus to perhaps four or five days. That way, the effort will be more concentrated and focused (no pun intended), and those strengths alone will allow it to make an even bigger splash on the Chicago scene and the larger national and international scale.