Orlando Espinoza tucks a model into a dress, the one I covet. Hand it over, model!

Gowns by Cyndi Chan’s line, Orien

Even I could feel the intensity. Thirty or so local clothing designers (when you count accessories, there were 70 in all) had trucked their wares up to the 9th floor of Macy’s in the hopes that they’d get picked up by a major department store. By “picked up,” I mean that Macy’s had set aside budget money to add pieces by local designers to their collection. This is huge, seeing as how Marshall Field’s (and later Macy’s) used to buy on consignment only. Now they were going to buy entire “lots” up front-a purchase that could make an indie designer’s year.

To figure out which designers’ collections they would buy, Macy’s invited several of the top local designers up to the 9th floor to meet with its buyers. I got invited to tag along and eagerly accepted-I find this push to make Chicago the next fashion capital of the world endlessly fascinating. And while I’m saying that slightly facetiously, I do think the city is onto something here. I love the idea that I’m wearing something that has been made in a small production run (and won’t likely by duplicated en masse). Plus, there’s the geek factor: How’d you do this? Why’d you choose this color? How did you end up sewing scarves in your basement?

Sketches by Nicole Winning, an artist breaking into the fashion design world.

The funny thing is, we were on deadline, so I just showed up with a camera, my notepad, and trusty intern Leona. But these folks had been prepping for this for days: The mood was edgy, as buyers walked around in pairs scouting the different tables. It was serious stuff!

Of course there were the veterans, who’ve really laid the groundwork to get Chicago noticed: Lara Miller, with her flowy, wraparound designs; Orlando Espinoza, who crafts a black-and-gray dress I’m dying for; Michelle Tan, who owns a boutique on Damen; the Oak Street vets Sansappelle, who make custom gowns; Katrin Schnabl, the Art Institute prof who has brought her Euro sensibility here. You get the idea.

But then there were some newcomers I hadn’t met yet: Melanie Nicole, who dressed Jennifer Hudson before she won the Oscar; the two lads behind Deiter Kirkwood, who, from the looks of it, know how to structure a jacket; and Cyndi Chan, a goddess with evening wear.

It was most fun. And, the best part is, Macy’s is making a quick decision. They say they’ll tell me tomorrow whose collections they’re buying. Stay tuned.