Fashion Focus Chicago Returns

By Brian Dukerschein

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Chicago’s fashion week.

Fashion Focus Chicago returns for its seventh year on Oct. 17 to showcase the local fashion industry with a long list of designer runway and trunk shows, shopping parties and industry events.

This year’s highlights are an eco-fashion show in Millennium Park, a masquerade ball featuring Chicago’s most envelope-pushing designers and a new exhibition celebrating the work of a world-renowned couture designer with Chicago roots.

Approximately 25,000 people attended 20 various FFC events last year, according to Kiran Advani, fashion programming director at the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, which coordinates the week’s events. This year’s FFC calendar has more than 35 activities, an increase Advani attributes to Chicago’s unique fashion community.

“New York is the fashion capital of the U.S., and it’s very hard to compete with that,” Advani said. “But I think we’re definitely a growing industry and community with a wide variety of talent. You get a sense of really being able to get something unique and different because the inspiration in Chicago is so different from anywhere else.”

Fashion Focus Chicago takes place on Oct. 17–22. For a complete list of events,visit ExploreChicago.org/Fashion.

Fashion’s Green Thimble

“Vert Couture,” a carbon-neutral fashion show featuring Chicago designers who create eco-conscious clothing and accessories, has been part of FFC since 2009. However, this year marks its debut in the main fashion tent at Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.

According to Michael Alexander, one of the show’s executive producers, the change is indicative of the growing awareness of the need for sustainable fashion.

“I think it’s time for green to be on the main stage,” Alexander said. “[People] are beginning to understand that eco-fashion doesn’t have to be hemp bags, and you don’t have to look like a hippie who doesn’t shave [his or her] armpits.”

Alexander said eight local designers will be presenting their collections on the runway this year, including Richard Dayhoff’s line of men’s underwear made from recycled plastic fibers and Lauren Lein’s eco-friendly dresses cut from repurposed fabrics.

“Vert Couture” is also serving as the Chicago premier of Heart, a women’s clothing label that prints fine art photography onto garments. The company, founded in 2009 by photographer Christina Nöel, designer Jenny Greco, and painter and merchandiser Lisa Selby, strives for sustainability in practically every step of its operation.

According to Nöel, the label sources organic and domestic fabrics, uses eco-friendly printing techniques and contracts local manufacturers to produce its garments.

Nöel said Heart currently has revenue coming in from custom clients and the sales through the company’s website, and the “Vert Couture” show will be an important step in expanding the business.

“This is our very first cohesive collection for spring/summer 2012, so we will actually be reaching out to buyers and retailers and trying to get into boutiques worldwide,” she said.

“Vert Couture” may be Heart’s Chicago debut, but the label had its first runway moment at a fashion show for Paris Vegan Day on Oct. 1. Although Heart doesn’t bill itself as a vegan clothing line, Nöel said the organizers saw enough similarities to warrant an invitation.

While a spot on a Parisian runway is certainly an auspicious beginning, Nöel said it is more meaningful to show the collection in Chicago and help bridge the gap between eco-fashion and luxury.

“I think in the past it has been sort of oxymoronic to put the two together,” she said. “You either had your ‘crunchy granola’ or haute couture. I don’t think there needs to be such a divide. I think you can still have luxury and beauty and high fashion but still be very responsible and have that transparency.”

“Vert Couture” will take place on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Millennium Park’s Chase Promenade Central, 201 E. Randolph St. General admission tickets are $35 and can be purchased at VertCouture.com.

Fantastical Fashion

Looks from a selection of Chicago’s avant-garde designers will be on display at “Masquerade: An Evening of Fashion and Fantasy,” one of FFC’s closing celebrations on Oct. 23.

According to Tee Lam, president of K Dock Media, the event marketing and media firm organizing the event, the evening will feature seven designers who have received a lot of press for their innovative creations, including 2010 Gen Art participants Hakeem Gayden, Alexandre Chandoha and Que Shebley.

Julius LaCour Jr., one of the evening’s featured designers, will be showing a look from his spring 2012 Maison de LaCour collection, which is debuting at a special presentation at The Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton Place, on Oct. 20.

LaCour, a 2008 graduate of the Illinois Institute of Art at Chicago, said his latest collection, titled “Körperkulture,” is inspired by nudist groups. Through the use of monochromatic lambskin, crepe chiffon and jersey, LaCour said he strove to find “an ironic way to cover the body but still have a naked appearance.”

Maison de LaCour is the latest evolution of a clothing line LaCour has produced since moving to Chicago from his native New Orleans in 2004. After presenting his first collection in spring 2010, he showed at the following season’s Latino Fashion Week, Fashion Focus Chicago and won the Italian Expo’s fashion competition at Navy Pier.

LaCour currently works out of his studio in Pilsen, using couture techniques to create made-to-order garments for male and female clients. He said he enjoys making clothes for both sexes equally, finding inspiration in the work of Karl Lagerfeld and Ricardo Tisci for Givenchy. He described his customers as people who want a unique garment and are not afraid to go down a separate path in fashion.

“Every collection I put out, every collection I do, you could say it’s experimental,” LaCour said. “What I do with the label is always find new fabrics, new finishings and new ways of doing things. Nine times out of 10, things come out accidentally.”

“Masquerade: An Evening of Fashion and Fantasy” will be held on Oct. 23 at Crimson Lounge, 333 N. Dearborn St., from 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. Tickets for the 21+ event are $10 and can be purchased at KDockMedia.com/Upcoming-Events. Masks are required and cocktail attire is requested.

Designer Hat Trick

“Charles James: Genius Deconstructed,” the new exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., explores the career of one of the few American designers to create garments at the level of haute couture.

James began his fashion career as a milliner—a person who designs and constructs women’s hats—in 1920s Chicago. He started designing dresses after moving to New York City in 1930 and spent the next three decades crafting one-of-a-kind creations for women in the U.S., London and Paris.

According to John Russick, director of curatorial affairs at the CHM, what makes James’ pieces unique is that he used his millinery expertise to design dresses with unprecedented construction.

In order to understand James’ methodology, Timothy Long, the museum’s costume curator, had CT scans taken of a number of dresses that revealed their complex structural layers. It was the first time the museum had gone to such lengths to examine a garment.

“The notion was to deconstruct—as the title suggests—James’ method for creating fashion designs,” Russick said. “I think that by looking at the way these dresses are developed and constructed, you get a sense of his finely-tuned ability to imagine what it would take for a dress on a [mannequin] to express his idea of what the female form should look like.”

According to Russick, James’ designs are not only noteworthy for their construction, but also his lavish use of fabric, particularly during the conservative fashion climate of the Great Depression and World War II.

“[James] was really looking at opulence and excess at a time when most sensibilities and styles were defined by moderation,” Russick said. “The idea of extra fabric just for effect was unthinkable, or at least not done by any other designer. But James was lead by his vision, and despite his circumstances he worked in these patterns and styles that defied the conventions of the time.”

The exhibition will showcase 18 of James’ most iconic designs, all of which were donated by the women who originally wore them. Russick said the museum also commissioned touchable models of several dresses to give the public a sense of how the garments were assembled.

“Charles James: Genius Deconstructed” will be on display at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St., from Oct. 22 – April 16, 2012.

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