When Chicago Fashion Fest began six years ago, it was just a tiny show set up in a parking lot by designer and M.GO Fashion boutique owner Michelle Gomez. "We started really small," Gomez says. "It was about four designers, including myself." Now, the annual fashion show and shopping market has grown to 40 designers and boutiques, large enough to shut down Division Street (from Damen Ave. to Paulina St.). 

Throughout the weekend, models will walk a runway showcasing local collections while shoppers can pick through the outdoor bazaar filled with goods from around the neighborhood. "The whole purpose of me starting the Fashion Fest was to promote local small businesses and give opportunity to the up-and-coming designers who need the exposure," Gomez says.

Designers like Anastasia Chatzka, Prin by Prina, and Gabriella Zwick will be participating, along with some young blood showing for the first time. Clarke White and Alina Srichinva, two 16-year-olds in the fashion program at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, will debut their teen line called Srichynella. "They called me, they made an appointment, and came to see me with their portfolio," says Gomez. "They're designing a whole collection just to feature here at Chicago Fashion Fest."

This year, the event has a New Orleans theme, so expect plenty of cajun cuisine, Big Easy tunes and lots of beads. Gates opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 23 and Sunday, August 24. Runway shows, which happen all day long, start at 1 p.m. and culminate with a celebrity-hosted runway show at 8 p.m. (Jaslene Gonzalez from America's Next Top Model, Natalie Martinez from NBC Chicago). Entrance to Chicago Fashion Fest is a suggested $5 donation; a VIP ticketed area is also available.