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The School of the Art Institute of Chicago continued to push the boundaries of art and fashion at its annual runway show benefit “The Walk” on Friday. Showcasing more than 200 original student designs, the 81st edition of the event, held at Millennium Park, also honored internationally known fashion journalist and filmmaker Diane Pernet with the prestigious “Legend of Fashion” Award.

“I’m really touched. It’s a great honor. I’m kind of speechless,” said Pernet, whose blog, “A Shaded View on Fashion,” launched in 2005. The Paris-based critic also runs  “A Shaded View on Fashion Film,” her own fashion film festival.“[Blogging] now is a different approach than when I started. Now it’s more strategic. It’s like anything — you filter out what’s got value.”

Previous “Legend of Fashion” award recipients include Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, Maria Pinto and Nick Cave.

Following a performance art ballet entitled “The Dolls,” students presented their designs, showing works that combined a variety of scholarly disciplines: sculpture, performance, architecture and installation. Seniors each showed five looks, juniors presented a three-look collection and sophomores showed one design.

Senior Victoria Peterson, one of six Swarovski scholarship recipients, offered a heavily embellished collection she called “What’s Your Demon?” Taking cues from addiction, Peterson included a visually arresting print on her signature look that was inspired by vomit.

“A lot of the prints I developed myself. The embroidery is actually a graphic print I came up with,” said Peterson, who plans to go to Paris, London or Milan to work in fashion. “I do think it’s important to have a hand in your clothes and be able to manipulate the clothing. I made all of it and embellished all of it myself.”

The idea of being watched 24-7 via surveillance cameras and cell phones gave rise to Brady Drose’s sporty-elegant collection. “It [revolves around the question] ‘How do you dress while you’re being watched?’ I decided that as long as you’re [chicly] dressed, that’s what matters when you’re out and about,” the senior said. “I’m obsessed with couture, but I love streetwear.” His most labor-intensive design, consisting of 70 pattern pieces, was a fitted strapless color-blocked corset dress rendered in silk taffeta, silk faille, silk chiffon and crepe satin.

Other runway highlights from the school — whose notable alumni include Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters of Creatures of the Wind, Gary Graham, Cynthia Rowley and Halston — ranged from the wearable to the otherworldly. Thais Mazelli captured attention with her Swarovski crystal-accented pastel jacket and fur pieces; Mady Berry amused the audience with her animated green cactuslike sweater, replete with a flower gracing the head and slits for the eyes; and Zhi Chen presented a masked model in a full-body lace and low-slung draped skirt ensemble that had a hauntingly romantic warrior vibe.

Nick Cave, a performance artist and instructor at the School of the Art Institute, said that as teachers, the focus is to first and foremost push students beyond their comfort zone. “It’s always about innovation and working against the grain,” said Cave, who’s currently preparing for an upcoming show in Detroit. “It’s about providing this amazing platform to express their ideas through dress. What I sort of take away from these shows is looking back on the entire year and then asking myself are we as a team and as a faculty moving the department forward? That’s the role and our goal.”

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