By  on June 27, 2007

CHICAGO — Chicago wants to climb higher on the fashion food chain.

With support from Mayor Richard Daley, the city is pursuing efforts to elevate its fashion status in staging its third annual fashion week. The six-day event, Fashion Focus Chicago 2007, will feature some 100 local designers and kick off a partnership with Macy's Inc. to introduce a fashion incubator, among other projects.

"We have to show people that the fashion industry is part of our creativity, part of the soul of the city," Daley said during a news conference last week. "We have to educate people in Chicago about the great design here. These people are great artists."

As the city seeks a bid to be the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics, "this will be what Chicago is all about," Daley said.

Twenty-two designers highlighted their work in a runway portion of the news conference, which provided details on Fashion Focus Chicago. The event, running from Oct. 9-14, will include five fashion shows, fashion installations from local design schools, boutique shopping tours and industry seminars.

Several designers spoke about how they have built viable businesses in Chicago. Katrin Schnabl, for example, moved from New York three years ago and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as she continues developing her clothing line.

"The mechanics of fashion are changing," Schnabl said, noting that with e-mail, the Internet and cell phones, "it's not that necessary to be in one place anymore."

And there are benefits to working outside New York. "When it's not so high-pressured, it gives you more space to think outside of the box," she said.

Daley began his fashion initiative last year, creating a new city position, the director of fashion, arts and events, and appointing a fashion council to promote, consolidate and support the industry. In particular, Daley wants to provide designers with more exposure and resources to keep them from fleeing to the coasts.

He has announced an extensive partnership with Macy's, which will launch the fashion incubator, featuring production and showroom space for at least six emerging Chicago designers who will work alongside Macy's buyers, marketers and executives."We may find the next Ralph Lauren or Cynthia Rowley," said Andrea Schwartz, a Macy's spokeswoman. "The designers that are here are serious and trend right. They should be able to be here and be national and be world renowned, and we can help."

Ralph Hughes, vice president of corporate communications for Macy's, highlighted other fashion initiatives for Macy's on State Street, including plans to purchase fall collections from at least five designers and showcase an assortment of locally designed women's and men's apparel, handbags, jewelry and other accessories on consignment for an entire season as part of the Chicago-based Designer Collections project. There also will be the annual Distinction in Design competition in which a panel of judges meets with designers and awards a "Best in Show" cash prize and sponsors a Designers of Chicago fashion show during Fashion Focus.

Schwartz, who sits on the mayor's Fashion Council, said such efforts should help Macy's reach out to the public in Chicago, which has not embraced the retailer's takeover of Marshall Field's as well as anticipated.

"We hope our decisions translate to the public that we are here to stay," she said. "We're the flagship in Chicago and we make sure to nurture our own."

Beginning Oct. 9, Gen Art's Fresh Faces in Fashion will kick off Fashion Focus Chicago with its fifth annual runway show spotlighting six Midwest designers, followed by World Fashion Chicago on Oct. 10 featuring designers that represent each of Chicago's 27 sister cities, from Paris and Milan to Lahore, Pakistan, and Busan, Korea. All fashion shows are slated for Millennium Park.

On Oct. 11, the Apparel Industry Board presents Chicago Is…Red Hot!, including about 50 top apparel and accessory designers, and on Oct. 12, Macy's sponsors its Designers of Chicago show featuring select designers carried at Macy's on State Street.

A new addition to Fashion Focus, The Allure of Couture, will be the finale and feature urbanwear, avant-garde designs and couture creations with a special emphasis on showcasing designers of African, African-American, Asian and Latin descent, including Michelle Tan, James de Colón, Nick Cave, Sujata Gazdar and Double Stitch, among others.

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