CHICAGO/SCENE

Byline: Lisa Bertagnoli / Melissa Knopper

A Runway Success
About 1,850 followers of fashion crowded the Chicago Theatre the evening of Friday, Aug. 17, to attend what Chicago magazine calls the city’s best runway show: Marshall Field’s Fash Bash.
As it has been for the past three years, Fash Bash was, through Field’s Project Imagine, a benefit for Evening Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago. The event raised $265,000 for the Evening Associates.
This year’s bash was cosponsored by Vanity Fair magazine and emceed by Brooke Shields.
Dressed for most of the show in a custom-beaded, champagne-colored Badgley Mischka gown, Shields showed the audience a video of her fitting for the gown with Mark Badgley and James Mischka. Before the show, the actress reminisced about her journey through the world of fashion. “When I was modeling, I couldn’t wait to get out of the clothes and get into my jeans,” Shields said of her days as a teen model. These days, “I have more of a desire to learn about fashion,” she said.
Marc Jacobs, whom Shields calls a favorite, was among the women’s wear designers featured at the fashion show, along with Donna Karan, Badgley Mischka, Celine, D&G Dolce & Gabbana, Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera, Jean Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel, Versace Jeans Couture and Just Cavalli.
The band Semisonic entertained the audience with two numbers, as did the singer Taylor Dayne. Don McLean of “American Pie” fame performed a truncated version of his famous song, to which some members of the audience couldn’t help but sing along.
After the show, attendees who paid $125 for the privilege of doing so traipsed along State Street to Field’s flagship store and the after-show party. The store’s upper floors were transformed into facsimiles of five famous hotels, among them the Mondrian and the Beverly Hills Hotel. The Mondrian, complete with Ian Schrager-style furnishings and a multicolored lighted dance floor, seemed to draw younger Fash Bashers.
McLean, Shields and others huddled in the VIP room after the show. It was there that McLean, dressed in jeans and a black shirt studded with white stars, waxed nonchalant that his signature song had been cut in half.
“It’s a long song,” McLean shrugged.

Spago Spruces Up
After five years of serving the Windy City, Spago has shed its bright California garb in favor of a more Midwestern-style ensemble.
The remodeling idea started with a simple plan to redo the booths, said Amanda Larsen Puck, one of the restaurant’s managing partners. She decided to remodel whole-hog after discovering that restaurant’s signature booth fabric had been discontinued. Puck interpreted that as a sign that a major change was in order and called in local designer Nate Berkus to make some changes.
With only a week to renovate, Berkus couldn’t make any structural alterations and worked with a mandate not to shock Spago’s loyal clientele. “We wanted to make it a little quieter,” Berkus said. “We wanted to create a luxe factor that wasn’t there.”
The result is a restaurant that looks different enough to spark conversation, but not so different that patrons gasp in surprise. Where, previously, there were bright colors and sparkly tiles, there are now quiet shades of brown and, true to Berkus’s word, luxurious finishes. For instance, large squares of saddle leather line the wall near the elevator. Like fine luggage, the leather will take on a rich patina as it ages, said Berkus.
In the dining room, a lush-feeling fabric, somewhere between rubber and suede, covers the banquettes, previously done in a wild fabric. Sage-green drapes, new to the restaurant, filter out the late-afternoon sun, which sometimes had late lunchers squinting into their soup. The drapes also dampen the room’s considerable din, but not too much.
The new design debuted in early September, as did a new menu by executive chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo. Because Chicago is a soup town, the chef now offers two soups of the day, for instance a creamy heirloom tomato number with a goat-cheese crouton. Chopped salad, another Chicago favorite, gets a lift from creamy garlic dressing.
Pizza, for which Spago is famous, is now prepared with herb-infused tomato sauce instead of tomato slices, making it “more what people grew up with,” Kwaku-Dongo said. In a nod toward hearty Chicago appetites, entree side dishes are served not plated, but in a crock that the table can share. And, to satisfy a local yen for simple, strong flavors, the dessert menu features the basics — creme brulee, chocolate cake and cheesecake, among other sweet treats. 520 North Dearborn Street; 312-527-3700.

Mod Matchmaking
In the basement of a River North lounge, Dawn, a blond real-estate agent, reclines on a plush bed, letting some cleavage peek out of the white blouse she wears beneath her pinstriped suit. Victor Sanabrais, a former Playboy photographer, says he loves the contrast between corporate and sexy as he’s firing off roll after roll.
A few feet away, sipping a cosmopolitan, Carol Bisland, president of MCW Ltd., a new exclusive dating service in Chicago, looks on with approval. In a series of free makeover events — at the Drake, Narcisse and Hotel Allegro — Bisland is recruiting women like Dawn, hoping to find matches for her wealthy male clients. So far, in less than a month, nearly a dozen men have signed up for the program, which promises to pair “successful men” with “a select group of very beautiful women.”
The price for this high-end matchmaking service belies the income level of its clients: Men pay $12,000 for a year of unlimited dates, plus access to personal trainers, image consultants and a concierge service.
Most of the men are over 40, and they all are millionaires, Bisland said. Women participate for free.
MCW’s guerrilla-marketing campaign aggressively targets men. One brochure features a woman spilling out of her bikini top as she lolls on the beach.
“So you think you don’t have a chance? Think again,” the brochure says. For the women, another ad screams in red letters: “Your mother always said it is just as easy to marry a rich man as it is to marry a poor one. Listen to her.”
Bisland admits some find the ads offensive. Still, she argues, most men do want beautiful women. And most women wouldn’t mind marrying a rich man. So why not be honest?
For details, call 312-953-4689 or visit mcwltd.com.

Hip to Be There
Among all the hotels that have opened in Chicago during the past few years, the Peninsula easily rates highest on the hip-ometer. Open since June, its restaurants — Avenues, Shanghai Terrace and The Lobby — have already gotten raves from local restaurant reviewers. Invitations for the opening party, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20, were much in demand. (In light of the recent terrorist attacks, the hotel canceled the event, preferring instead to make a donation to relief efforts in New York.)
Society is flocking to the hotel as well. “The Peninsula is divinely chic; everything about it is perfection,” said Bunky Cushing, a fixture on Chicago’s social scene. “There’s nothing else like it in town.”
Corridor upon corridor of marble and a hushed feeling give the hotel a Southern California feeling, he said.
Cushing is so enamored of the hotel that next spring, he and co-chair Hazel Barr will hold their annual hat luncheon, benefiting the Chicago Historical Society, at the Peninsula.
Peninsula management aims to make the 339-room hotel one of the top three hotels in the city, on par with the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons. The chain already has a good track record: Readers of Conde Nast Traveler consistently rank its other U.S. properties, in Beverly Hills and New York, among the top business hotels in the country.
Chicago should prove no exception. Amenities such as marble baths, a sleekly outfitted spa, complimentary local calls, and high-speed Internet access are meant to attract business guests as well as sophisticated leisure travelers. As one might suspect, such luxury doesn’t come cheaply. Room rates range from $425 for a single to $4,500 for the 3,500-square-foot Peninsula Suite. 108 East Superior Street; 312-337-2888.

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