Anne Slowey–the very chic fashion news director of Elle magazine– said it best: “The future of fashion is in the front row.”
Slowey referred to The Windy City’s 79th annual, much-fussed-about and very well-attended benefit gala, The Walk, pulled together by the fashion students attending and graduating from The School of the Art Institute in Chicago. The inventive, hour-long show, cocktail hour and post party sponsors included Ulta, MacLean-Fogg Company, Sage Foundation, Maybelline and Swarovski and offered a cacophony of fabrics, textures, styles and colors that blended art and concept and in at least one case, even spoke out against the ills of society.
“I’m from Jamaica and there’s a lot of racism and no one wants to talk about it,” according to Jacqueline Nadolski, a graduating senior and recipient of last year’s prestigious Nick Cave Scholarship. Her collection for 2013 – which took a year to make, mind you – featured statuesque black models donning gas masks and bespoke garments made of silvery gray aluminum fabric and fiberglass. Nadolski, who hails from Kingston and is married to a Polish guy, told me that her collection speaks to the multiculturalism of Jamaica, with its black, white and Indian heritage.
“Most of my looks were quilted in the back and the neck,” she told me. “I wanted to show how the strength of the woman and male in the garment and also in the blending of the garment. You have to really look into it to see the details of it. It’s the same thing as racism; the stereotypes are based on the outer shell.”
Nadolski was shy. Unlike the other seniors, she didn’t finish the show by walking with her models. That was fine. I found her anyway at the after party and strolling dinner on the rooftop terrace of the Harris Theatre next to Chicago’s famed Millennium Park. (Where, by the by, the sake and unagi sashimi was to die for.)
Each class of students presented capsule collections that, collectively, seemed to signify a free spirit. Some collections were neon bright. Others winter white. And still others seemed to play it safe with neutral fabrics sewn with razorsharp precision. Marketing and branding clearly is part of the curriculum as well, as two students in particular, Rosa and, separately, Gnat Brilmyer, stand out to this writer as having catchy names that roll off the tongue, stick to your brain and were rolled into the design of key runway pieces.
That said, shyness still seemed to abound amongst the truly talented on this evening. Kate and Laura Mulleavy – the sister duo behind the swanky Rodarte label – were honored at the event with this year’s Legend of Fashion Award.
Though they didn’t want to say much, they wound up saying a lot and in particular reminded the students that fashion world doesn’t always have to start in New York City.
“We owe a lot to Chicago,” Kate said in her speech. “We really wanted to thank Ikram. We wouldn’t be here without her.” (For those that don’t know, Ikram is the self-named owner of the iconic Chicago boutique that kicked off the careers of designers such as Jason Woo and also outfitted First Lady Michelle Obama, among others of the city’s well-heeled elite.)
“We’re very nervous about speaking in public,” she added. “For us to be here, it’s such a huge honor. I don’t think you ever stop being a student.”