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Fashion Tue May 10 2011

The Walk 2011: Fashion at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

This article was submitted by Mia DiMeo. All photos courtesy of Elaine Li. For a complete collection of her photos from the fashion show, visit her Facebook albums: Sohpmore/Junior Collections and Senior Collection.


Over the sound of thunder and sheets of rain beating down on the tent in Millennium Park last Thursday, Sally Singer, Editor of T: The New York Times Style Magazine said she doesn't believe fashion is always art. I'm not going to wrangle with the whole "what constitutes art?" question right now, but I saw some in the garments on the runway at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's four-show, all-day fashion extravaganza. As the student work paraded by in an over-stimulating blur, and I joining the crowd of craned necks, struggling to take in the construction and color and texture as it presented itself on model after gaunt model.

An interesting element to the show this year was the Swarovski Crystals sponsorship, showing itself in the bedazzlement of some garments. I'll try not to be too bias towards the sparkly, but here's some of my favorites from the show. These are the designers that I think produced fashion that is unquestionably art--some art that I'd like to see hanging in my closet.


The object of these designs (it appeared) was to focus on construction and fabric manipulation using a reduced grayscale palette.


Kara Mia Fenoglietto
made an Italian witchcraft-inspired ensemble with a cowl hood, all done in what looked like a gothy tie-die. Like many of the designs, it was all about romantic draping and extreme volume at the hips. I think this is celebratory of/reassuring to womankind.


Derek R. Conrad's hand-painted black and white skirt made his model into a walking origami sculpture. This piece would take up a whole row of seats on the bus, it's true, but it looked great on the catwalk.


Alena Savinova
made a poufy skirt and halter-top with cylindrical wing pieces, inspired by the volume and shape of sushi. Trimmed in black Swarovski Crystals, Savinova's insane amount of craft her love for fantasy was apparent.


Allowed three pieces each, there were lots of strong mini-collections.


William Jiang's bright pink, exploding crotch pants made me happy when I saw their preliminary sketch featured in the program. I was also happy to see an old buddy of mine from Kansas working them on runway. Creative menswear that has a sense of humor and pushes the boundaries of societal appropriateness is awesome.


Soh Park was one of last year's big scholarship winners. Her head-to-toe knitted outfits in green and white were about her cross cultural experience and food: Vietnamese Pho soup and Coca-cola, seen in the red cans on one model's head. Overall the collection looked like beautifully made mummy or swamp monster costumes. It stood out in a powerful, theatrical way.


Alex Ulichny
's three looks were inspired by Tutankhamun's tomb, and he translated the opulence of ancient royalty perfectly, complete with a killer headpiece. Blingin' black and gold with tons of detailed beadwork, Ulichny showed that his skills could easily develop into a career in costume design, "high" or street fashion. Or all three.

fashion burton.pngfashionMuadsong.jpgfashionWittenberg.jpg

Natalie Burton's saffron sweater dress wrapped the model up like one huge warm, sexy scarf. I want it. I'll also take Pirada Muadsong's red silk chiffon dress with candle wax knit mesh around the hem. And the stormy print dress with cutouts by Dan Wittenberg. Just sayin'.


With five outfits each; these were the most realized conceptual collections.


Jacqueline Kim
used only black fabric, huge, curly wigs with hats and other details that evoked the 1940s. Draped gowns and menswear-inspired suits looked modern and archaic all at once.


"Bonnie Alayne only does gowns," I was told by fashion writer and blogger Amanda Aldinger. And gowns she does. This floor length, full skirted dresses in whites and pale browns looked equal parts Maid Marian and Virgin Mary, but somehow all that fabric really worked in the looks to heighten their eroticism.


Erin Pianetto's collection came from nightmares and 1950s children sleepwear and it looked like just that--frilly ruffles in peach and baby blue were made less sweet with a cleverly incorporated spider motif. Very Black Swan, and that's appropriate because the Rodarte sisters, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, were in the audience.


And there were many great designs. I appreciate the minimalism of Amanda Bauer's long gowns and poppy pantsuit and I'd wear every architectural piece that Liz Patelski presented.

To return to Singer's speech though, she presented SAIC's Legend of Fashion Award to shop owner and former fashion advisor to Michelle Obama, Ikram Goldman--who accepted the award poised and humble, wearing an amazing lizard broach. It's familiar for Chicagoans to get overlooked, downplayed or flat ignored for being...not New York or Los Angeles. Often referred to as Second City Syndrome, I was surprised it would come up so obviously at a runway show that celebrated and benefited a new generation of designers coming from a prominent art school, albeit in the heart of the Midwest.

Rainwater now leaking rapidly through the tent's roof, Singer really trampled through her speech. To paraphrase, she mentioned that she doesn't get to Chicago often and was initially amazed that Goldman could find women here to buy (and wear) off-the-runway high-end fashion. She said that Goldman was often found typing messages on her Blackberry during fashion week in New York and Paris, "to Chicago, actually." It went on from there with Singer finally coming to the point that Ikram has an ability to recognize and promote the kind of fashion that is very much art. That made me, and hopefully some of the designers backstage, happy to be living here-- in a fashionably windblown city of big shoulders and few pretensions.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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