The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, whose fashion alumni include Halston, Cynthia Rowley, Maria Pinto and Creatures of the Wind’s Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters, celebrated its 150-year anniversary by staging its annual student fashion show at the Garfield Park Conservatory on Friday.
The botanical setting of the Conservatory, replete with vaulted ceilings and thousands of plant species, inspired the show’s theme, “Reflexion,” and the students’ mandate: to explore personal and global concerns in concept and material use, to relate the future of fashion to sustainability and to embrace nature in their work.
“Garfield Park is truly one of Chicago’s premier cultural institutions, with a long history of supporting leading artists,” said Walter E. Massey, president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “The Park has challenged our fashion design students to showcase their concepts in a different kind of environment than they are otherwise used to, and to think about their practices in new and creative ways.”
Approximately 250 guests attended the show held on the city’s west side, including performance artist Nick Cave, artist Ellen Sandor, Chicago Fashion Incubator design director Andrea Reynders, gallery owners Monique S. Meloche and Andrew Bae, clothing boutique owner Stephen H. Naparstek, artist Hebru Brantley and stylist Teri Tkachuk Benedetti.
Under the creative direction of Anke Loh and Conrad Hamather, chair and faculty member, respectively, of the Art Institute’s fashion design department, the show featured more than 100 designs created by 21 seniors, with each student showing at least five looks. Encompassing men’s and women’s ready-to-wear, sportswear, cocktail and floor-length gowns, the styles ranged from transformative Muppetlike costume pieces — some with dragonlike heads, tentacles, knit masks and dangling legs — to complicated yet wearable designs showcasing sophisticated and detailed craftsmanship, pattern-making and textile manipulations.
Martha Vandemortel opened the show with a vibrant collection inspired by the maps of New York. Her pieces featured intricate acrylic beading and other embellishments, such as leather coats with hand-cut details and a silk jumpsuit accented with edgy hardware.
Fashion Council Award winner Thais Mazelli created original prints inspired by a video game, blown out in fresh pastel colors. Highlights included a satin T-shirt dress trimmed in Neoprene with back drapes and3-D pleats, a satin origami-inspired draped jacket and a printed shirt with a leather metallic collar teamed with folded-waistline, loose cotton pants.
Many of the designs at the show, while modern, held hints of another era. Abigail Germond, a Fashion Council Award winner, showed minimalist, almost Amish-inspired pieces in sophisticated neutrals, accented with ties and sashes that provided movement; some of them, which appeared to be rendered in organic fabric, looked retail-ready. Jack Alexander, a Fashion Council Award winner, turned to colonialism and military Askari uniforms when creating his expertly tailored collection, featuring hand-sewn details, tactical vests and hand-dyed fabrics.
Other highlights of the show included a cotton twill shirt dress by Franky Tran and Noa Loewald Hu, both Cornelia Steckl Fashion Fellowship recipients, featuring an invisible collar, oversize sleeves, swiveled cross-back design and voluminous silk organza gores; a printed velvet cape by Mady Berry, a Shirley Schnackenberg Grant winner; and a cherry red jacket and skirt with cutout details and unfinished edges by Fashion Council Award winner Nana Park.
But it was the animated costumes designed by Eda Yorulmazoglu, in homage to her late grandfather, that drew the biggest applause of the evening. “Each look connected to my family members as a joyful way to say goodbye to him,” said Yorulmazoglu, a Fashion Council Award winner. “I always like to create characters. I don’t like to think ‘what should this person wear.’ Instead I dress this character and feeling of this character.”
All of the seniors’ looks, as well as works created by fashion design sophomores and juniors, were on public display amidst the lush gardens and exotic plants through Sunday.