Byline: Lisa Bertagnoli

CHICAGO — For designers, there’s no such thing as too much attention.
Every year for the past three, Chicago’s Apparel Industry Board has made sure local designers get their fair share of the spotlight by staging “CHICago: We’re Red Hot,” a fashion extravaganza designed to showcase home-grown talent.
“We’re creating an awareness of the fashion excellence that’s available in Chicago,” said Dorothy Fuller, chair of the event and president of the Apparel Industry Board. “The show gives visibility that’s long overdue for what’s happening in Chicago.”
This year’s show, held April 3 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, displayed the work of 40 designers — new and seasoned — working in genres both classic and outre.
“Everyone seems to agree that the clothes really ran the gamut,” said Fuller, adding that another consensus is that the collections shown this year were more polished than in years past.
In a feature new this year, designers were given space to display their merchandise at the preshow cocktail party, a move meant to educate retailers as to what’s available from local talent. According to Fuller, this year’s show attracted more retailers, including Marshall Field’s.
Field’s has used Red Hot Chicago as inspiration for its Distinction in Design contest for local designers, which last week attracted more than 200 designers of ready-to-wear and accessories.
“There is so much talent in Chicago, and when you think of fashion cities you think of New York and Los Angeles,” said Laura Stuefen, Marshall Field’s buyer for St. John Knits. “It’s great to see the creative resources that are available locally.”
Stuefen said she particularly liked the good representation of merchandise across classifications, such as eveningwear, daytime separates and accessories.
The booth setup “was a nice idea,” said Geoffrey Mac, one of the new designers at the show. Mac, who works in latex and thus far has drawn most of his customers from the fetish community, was pleased to have a different venue for his work.
“It was nice to pull the latex into a mainstream audience,” said Mac, adding that the response was “great” to his unusual runway pieces, such as a pink top with floor-length sleeves that tapered to a point. “It’s nice to finally feel connected to the fashion community.”
For mainstream designers, the show offers a chance to see what fellow designers are up to, said Aimee Bae of Bae & Castro, a line of hand-loomed sweaters. The night is not, however, a hotbed of buying activity, Bae said.
“Attendees go to stores asking for our sweaters, but I don’t think any (buyers) have called us because of Red Hot Chicago,” she said. “We just enjoy being at the function. It’s nice once a year to get out of the cave of our factory and enjoy other people’s company.”
Fuller, dressed in a colorful, flowing evening gown by established designer Yolanda Lorente, introduced the show, which began with a parade of designs worn by prominent Chicagoans. Among the standouts were Hazel Barr, chair of CHIC of CHICago, a group of fashion-minded Chicagoans, in a red Reginalds gown with a sweeping red lace train; TV producer Donna LaPietra in a two-piece latex dress by Geoffrey Mac, and novelist Sugar Rautbord in a crochet-trimmed dress by John Schultz. Richard Driehaus, the event’s major sponsor, concluded the parade in an ensemble by Hart Schaffner & Marx, one of the few men’s wear firms included in the show.
Fall 2002 fashions by up-and-comers followed. Black-and-white denim separates by Amy Jo Jeans, flowing handpainted silks by Pries Art, classically tailored wool separates by 600 West and knits by Shibuy Hada drew raves from the crowd.
Among the well-known local designers present were Patricia Rhodes, who showed elegant evening gowns suitable for a stroll down a red carpet; Jane Hamill, who sent out flirty floral dresses, and Herbert VanStephens, whose designs are classic, urban and feminine.
Fuller said nearly 800 people attended this year’s show, which raised $50,000 for the Apparel Industry Foundation, which gives scholarships and holds seminars to nurture local design talent.
Next year, the show will most likely remain at the Hilton, a sprawling, Twenties edifice on South Michigan Avenue. One ballroom was big enough to hold the guests and the runway, while a smaller ballroom, complete with vintage frescoes and massive chandeliers, provided a romantic, if not intimate spot for the buffet dinner that followed.
“Each year it grows,” Fuller said of the show. “Each year it becomes a more prestigious event.”

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