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Feature Thu Feb 03 2011
It's all about the details. A great outfit is comprised not only of fashionable, quality clothing, but also the personal touches-- a perfectly folded cuff, a slew of gold buttons-- that distinguish one pretty young thing from the rest. On her popular street style blog, Chicago Looks, Brazilian-native Isa Giallorenzo hunts down the stylistically distinguishable Chicagoans roaming the galleries, music festivals, and vintage fashion sales that litter the neighborhoods. In one photograph, a young Black man's hair is wrapped and tied in a brown turban. He leans against a stone wall, hands stuffed within the pockets of loose army green pants as his chest, covered in a salmon pink t-shirt and thick suspenders, is thrust out proudly. In another snapshot, a twenty-something woman stays warm in a dramatically long blue coat seemingly cut to compliment the white-blonde bangs that nearly cover her eyes. Each photograph is a portrait of Chicago, a moment of time documenting one person in a city of millions.
Giallorenzo works not unlike a documentarian. She takes not only full-body shots but also close-ups of the little details that make an outfit pop. It is no surprise then to learn that the photographer comes from a journalism background. The role of a street style photographer entails investigating a look. The image is a form of storytelling as well as the answer to an abundance of questions: Why does this outfit work when others don't? Does the person make the style, or vice versa? Can anyone really pull off that look?
One of the purposes of the site is to bring audiences ideas they could use themselves. Giallorenzo describes her site as a means of connecting people and helping to "build a strong fashion and art community" in the city.
"It shows the care they put into every detail of what they do," Giallorenzo explains. "The clothes are just the outward symbol of that care, that love. This is what really makes me admire and want to photograph them."
Local art gallery and performance space Heaven Gallery has taken notice of the local community fan base and strength of Giallorenzo's images. The gallery will exhibit a selection of these collected "looks" in Chicago Looks-- a photo collection portraying street fashion.
Although she admits to "half-hearted attempts" at photographing everything from the city's sleek architecture to the local plant life, her primary interests fall towards documenting the inspirational wares of the people she encounters from day to day. After contributing to a Sao Paulo-based street style blog, Giallorenzo felt a burgeoning need to showcase the stylish people she saw every day. It was a final moment of inspirational epiphany that led Giallorenzo to create the website.
"One day I was at Forever 21 in line to pay and I saw this super, fantastic, incredibly amazing, and very senior lady shopping for accessories," Giallorenzo said. "I didn't have my camera with me and I felt so frustrated, I knew I had to do something."
In less than two years, that "something" has been a thankful reminder to Chicagoans that any Second City nomenclatures are outdated and untrue.
"This is the main misconception about Chicagoans-- that they're not stylish," Giallorenzo explained. "I beg to differ. Yes, they are."
Giallorenzo describes Chicago style as "cool, understated, and elegant-- even when it's trendy." These interpretations of the Chicago "look" are evident in photographs chosen for the exhibition. In one, a young brunette pairs a colorful and elaborately printed vintage dress with a matching wraparound headband and oversized green clutch. The woman appears strong, confident, and poised. On their own, the pieces might seem like too much, but it is the understated love of vintage clothing that makes the woman's style far more than just the pieces she wears. Although Giallorenzo believes that local style has largely stayed the same since she began blogging in April of 2009, it is the clear and unique aesthetic born only out of such a diverse city as Chicago that makes investigating local street style interesting both for the photographer and the audience.
Chicago Looks-- a photo collection portraying street fashion featuring Giallorenzo's photographs and others opens this Friday, February 4 at 7pm at Heaven Gallery, which is located at 1550 North Milwaukee, 2nd floor. The exhibition runs through March 7.
This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information here.