That’s me—wearing a Vanessa Bruno dress with pockets from Jake—and Paul Blair, a.k.a. DJ Whiteshadow, who spins on Wednesdays at J Bar adjacent to the hotel.

“What do you think the biggest difference is between Fashion Week in Chicago and places like Paris or New York?” Lakeview Broadcasting Company‘s Stephen Westman whispered in my ear during Gen Art’s Fresh Faces in Fashion runway show Tuesday night. “The biggest difference is, instead of Anna Wintour sitting in the front row, we are,” I responded.

Although I’ve never attended Fashion Week anywhere else, I can only imagine what it’s like: lots of poseurs and poker faces, people posturing, trying not to show too much expression or mess up the very expensive designer outfits they’ll wear only once. From reading Elisabeth Fourmont’s Paris Fashion Week blog, which breaks it all down in terms I can understand, people also wear sunglasses at those shows. Now that’s something I can appreciate: The lights are so bright, especially if you’re sitting in the front row, you feel like the spotlight’s Right. On. You. It made me wish I had brought along a visor. Westman had it right; he wore an army-green cap pulled down over his eyes.

There was no sign of the Olsen Twins or Victoria Beckham anywhere, though I did find myself schmoozing with a few fashionistas who had just come from the Paris shows—people who refer to Stella McCartney by first name only. Otherwise it was mostly local people sprinkled among PR spokesfolk, boutique owners, bar owners, event planners, reps, photographers, and the ever-so-tragically hip. But that’s why I love attending: While Chicago may be a hotbed for rising designers, we still have a down-to-earth, everywoman attitude toward fashion.

For photos from the show, check out Cassie Walker’s blog, Coda. She really captured it.

At the James Hotel: Vox Entertainment’s Shawn Sedlacek covets a BlackBerry Pearl.

Thank God the runway show only lasted about an hour, because I don’t think I could have sat still any longer sans adult beverage. After the finale, everyone scurried to get to the James Hotel for the BlackBerry Pearl-sponsored afterparty. When we entered, instead of being handed glasses of Champagne or something—gasp!—actually edible, we were greeted by leggy models carrying around colorful BlackBerry Pearl cell phones in display cases. My first instinct was to grab one—until I realized they weren’t food (or even free, not that my journalistic integrity would have let me accept one if they were). So, we headed straight to the bar, because what else is there to do at these pretty parties? Well, other than ogle. Let’s face it: That’s why everyone was still standing—barely.

The funny thing about the afterparty: Nobody discussed fashion. Is that how it is in New York and Paris? The only buzz I kept hearing was about a “smoking lounge” on the third floor of the hotel. Ironic since Chicago is on the cusp of completely banning smoking come January. I had to check it out. I kid you not: There was a line to get in because, apparently, everyone knows the most fun partygoers are the ones who smoke. The long line was mostly due to people queuing up for free cigarettes from Dunhill (a sponsor, natch) and personalized cigarette cases. Pretty cool, if you like that kind of thing. Not surprisingly, the room was filled with puffers, which you can look at one of three ways: a) There’s still a market for smokers here, so give the people what they want; b) Having Dunhill sponsor an event only promotes the nasty habit (not that I’m judging); c) It was a fashion event filled with skinny models and model wannabes, so it makes sense that they’d be giving away free cigarettes instead of food.

Did I mention there wasn’t any food?

Find a complete Fashion Focus schedule here.

Photography: Courtesy of Sarah Preston