By  on October 9, 2008

The tanking stock market and vice presidential debates did little to deter local fashion lovers from flocking to Chicago’s fourth annual fashion week, Fashion Focus Chicago, which kicked off last week to its largest crowds ever.

The week’s first all-student show featuring styles from students attending the city’s four design schools attracted 1,500 people Friday, with showgoers filling all 850 seats in the white tent at Millennium Park and standing two-people thick around the perimeter. The spillover crowd of more than 400 watched the show via a live-feed large-screen TV in the tent’s reception area.

Two runway shows spotlighting some of the city’s veteran designers and serving as the week’s fashion finale Monday and Tuesday were expected to draw even larger crowds, with 2,000 people registered to attend, said Melissa Gamble, the city’s director of fashion arts and events.

Gamble attributes the jump to several factors, namely an increased awareness surrounding Fashion Focus, which ran Oct. 1 to 8, and a general rise in respect for Chicago’s place in the fashion community.

When Fashion Focus began four years ago, the city’s fashion week was received with a dose of cynicism, Gamble admitted.

“It was more of a surprise,” she said, as in, ‘Oh, there’s fashion there?’

“Now in our fourth fall, people are starting to look for it and look to us for what’s going on in fashion in Chicago,” noted Gamble, a former attorney appointed to her post in 2006, when Mayor Richard Daley created a Mayor’s Fashion Council and introduced a series of initiatives designed to promote Chicago’s fashion industry.

Since then, Fashion Focus slowly has grown in scope and sophistication, with organizers recently becoming more adept at ways of generating more buzz.

They rolled out the red carpet for Fall Out Boy bassist and designer Pete Wentz, who grew up in suburban Wilmette. He helped launch the festivities Oct. 1, introducing the week’s inaugural show, Gen Art’s Fresh Faces, which highlighted six of the city’s emerging apparel designers.

Decked out in a black Dior tuxedo, white Dolce & Gabbana shirt and his wife Ashlee Simpson-Wentz’s black, white and red scarf artfully tucked in his jacket pocket, Wentz quipped, “I have to thank Gen Art. A guy who’s 5-foot-6 couldn’t get on a runway otherwise.”

Fresh Faces, meanwhile, was followed by Thursday’s World Fashion Chicago runway show, a collection of looks representing Chicago’s 27 sister cities, that drew designers from Paris and Mexico City. Friday’s Dress Code fashion show presented work from 20 top student designers from the School of the Art Institute, Columbia College, Illinois Institute of Art and the International Academy of Design and Technology.

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