Compact (yay)! Tame (nay)! That’s our mini-review of 2009 Fashion Focus, which was thankfully condensed into four days this year. At one point, we asked ourselves: “Do you judge Chicago fashion as art or do you simply applaud the effort?” If you judge as art, the best presentation overall belongs to Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, a Chicago designer who sells through Wicker Park boutique p.45. Glaum-Lathbury threw her own show on Thursday night at Prairie Productions on West Randolph. She has a way of tailoring and understanding fit that seems to elude most of the other designers in town. Her embellishments are few but well-chosen—think cowl necks and accentuated hips—and she drew the most discerning crowd, a mix of shop-owners and faculty and students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Glaum-Lathbury is an SAIC grad).

Artistic merits aside, generally it’s still best to put aside your judgment during Chicago’s Fashion Week and simply applaud the effort. At the Dress Code show (student designers) on Friday night, Columbia College student Alexis Aprati sent some dresses down the runway that—while neutral in color—featured snug, coiled bodices that were extraordinary. At the GenArt show (emerging designers) on Saturday night, we found two new people to watch. One was Christina Fan, a Northwestern grad who designs under the label C/Fan. The fact that she was headed for law school when she decided to become a fashion designer doesn’t surprise us: Her collection lacked subversion, but she did have a good sense of color, favoring greens and corals when most designerss were working only with grey, black, and white.

GenArt’s standout was Tatyana Merenyuk, the crowd favorite, who designs under the label reddoll. She sent down two of the highlights of the night. The first was an ice-blue silk dress with hand gathered knots that looked like roses or mitochondria, depending on how close you were to the stage. The second was a fire engine red dress with a deep V-bust. Someone in the audience gasped during its graceful traipse down the runway. When the designer came out, the crowd erupted with the kind of wild applause heard at sporting events. This was the moment we’d been waiting for all weekend.

Check out photos from Saturday’s GenArt Fresh Faces show below.

Photography by Billy Rood