This month, the City of Chicago joins forces with Marshall Field’s and Gen Art, as well as a few other fashion-related outfits, for a ten-day lineup of runway shows, exhibits, and events called Fashion Focus Chicago 2005. We took a look at five topflight prospects coming out of the city’s fashion design programs; you can see their clothing at a student show on September 28th, starting at 11:30 a.m. on four State Street stages between Washington and Madison streets.
When Anna Pers wasn’t making stuffed animals, she spent her childhood dreaming about being a wedding gown designer. She was born and raised in a small town in Sweden where sewing class was mandatory for schoolchildren, boys included, from ages 10 to 16. As the daughter of a seamstress, Pers was a prodigy, sewing by age four and making elaborate ball gowns for friends by the time she was a teenager. Just starting her junior-level coursework at the International Academy of Design & Technology, the striking Swedish talent is, once again, ahead of the curve. Last year, she won a General Motors fashion design competition for a futuristic silver one-piece number inspired by the automaker’s new Saturn Sky convertible. Most of her other work reveals subtle Swedish influences such as brocade, underskirts, patchwork, flounces, and peasant-shirt styles borrowed from native costumes worn for special occasions. Still, her gowns look modernly minimalist. Maybe that’s because she doesn’t want the clothing to speak too loud. “When you wear it,” she says, “it shouldn’t be, ‘Your dress is so beautiful.’ It should be, ‘You look beautiful. ‘”
SEUNG YUN YOO
Raised in a city in South Korea, Seung Yun Yoo spent her childhood poring over glossy American fashion magazines that her mom, a painter and photographer, brought back from the used book store. Dreaming of making clothes like the garments she saw in Elle and Vogue, she decided on fashion school in Seoul. “I learned the practical side,” she says. “But it was too strict.” With three years of sewing, patternmaking, and basting under her belt, she applied and was accepted to Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Art, where she is currently a senior. “I will always make clothes that I want to wear,” Yoo says. From the looks of things, she likes to wear denim-but rarely in the conventional low-rise, boot-cut sort of way. In a style part bohemian, part futuristic, Yoo mixes different denims, from green metallic to faded vintage, with amoeba-shaped panels of tulle, wool, cheap kitsch lining, and loose hand-knits. Drawing inspiration from the sculpture artist Lee Bontecou, her chic strapless dresses, paneled trousers, and belted hand-knit sweater tunics are marked by organic shapes and unusual textures. “I want to make clothes that people aren’t necessarily comfortable in, but willing to be uncomfortable because they like it,” she says.
“There’s an outfit for everything,” Chad Knight says, and his eyes light up. As an extreme sports guy-semipro Rollerblader, rock climbing instructor, bike rider-Knight got the sewing bug from repairing his clothes as a teenager. “They didn’t make clothes to do what I needed them to do,” he says. “And I couldn’t afford to get anything new.” Instead of athletic gear, the Columbia College senior is more interested in the intersection of fashion and lifestyle. “I’ll see someone walking their dog, and I start thinking about an outfit that would work. I do that for everything.” He talks about an invisible zipper compartment for credit cards on the inside of a slinky, night-out dress or a three-quarter-length dress shirt with a small pocket that would perfectly house an iPod Shuffle. Right now, the bulk of his work-tailored men’s jackets he makes to order, cropped stretch jackets with deconstructed details, kimono-style blouses-is aimed at an important part of his own lifestyle: upscale, ready-to-wear clothing for Chicago’s late night scene. Involved in “new designer” fashion shows held at local nightclubs such as Entourage and Soundbar, Knight is already working his crowd-good marketing, considering that he plans to stay in Chicago. “I think people who are here have a lot of love for the city,” he says.
When Moire Conroy graduated from Evanston Township High School, she floundered as a waitress and then as a salesperson at a clothing store before deciding to become a designer. “It was in me,” Conroy says. “I wanted to be making the clothes, not selling them.” Now a senior at the School of the Art Institute and an intern with the hip local designer Shane Gabier, Conroy will study technique this fall at a prestigious Paris fashion academy. Four years ago, she couldn’t even sew-hard to believe after you’ve seen her work, which favors fanciful and elaborately detailed jackets, dresses, skirts, and jump suits. Beyond the more obvious touches-boas sewn into wrap dresses, reversible silk bomber jackets with white rooster feathers, and pleated mini dresses with a removable tulle underskirt-Conroy’s collections tell a fastidiously researched story. Goose feathers, paneled and striped pants, leather foot wraps, top hats, tailcoats, and suspenders surfaced in a collection inspired by the historical uniforms of chimney sweeps. Conroy recently designed a pair of sleek cropped pants, made of black duchess satin and peacock blue leather, as part of a collection inspired by nocturnal animals. Two structural flaps that flare at the hip mimic bat’s wings. “The saying ‘Everything’s been done’-it’s pretty much true,” she says. “For me, it’s how to make it your own.”
A graduate of Loyola University and lifelong Chicagoan, Melissa Serpico was climbing the ladder as a graphic designer when she realized she wasn’t challenged creatively anymore. But her graphics training has emerged as a hallmark of her fashion portfolio. A senior at the School of the Art Institute, Serpico is a pro at creating her own surfaces. Through a meticulous and technical process of drawing, numbering, cutting, stitching, and beading, Serpico details a hooded lambskin jacket with an art nouvelle–inspired graphic pattern in black leather. Nearly as magnificent as the Gaudí cathedral in Barcelona that inspired it, one of her more ethereal dresses features swirling gold leather designs, simulating vines growing up the yellow and chartreuse brocade. “I like things to contrast-fabrics and colors and silhouettes,” Serpico says. Even as she searches for uncommon shapes-“not just big skirt, small top”-the clothing has to be wearable. “Being a woman, I know what’s flattering. It takes a while to get silhouettes and proportions right, to achieve the most dramatic and flattering effect on the body.”