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CHICAGO — From Nick Cave’s surreal soundsuits to a runway show featuring both the outré and the retail-ready, the reciprocal relationship between fashion and art was explored on Friday at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s 80th annual fashion show and benefit gala, entitled The Walk, at Millennium Park.

For the milestone birthday of the Art Institute’s fashion design department — graduates include Halston, Cynthia Rowley, Maria Pinto and Creatures of the Wind’s Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters — the school honored Cave, an internationally renowned performance artist, professor and former chair of the fashion design department, with the Legend of Fashion Award. Previous recipients include Rowley, who congratulated Cave via a prerecorded video; Pinto; Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy, and retailer Ikram Goldman.

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“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for a scholarship,” said Cave, who also thanked his mother and professors at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he pursued his master of fine arts. “I’m thrilled to be a part of the School of the Art Institute. It’s been inspiring, challenging, rewarding, exciting. I’m honored to receive this award and stay focused on what is my mission work.”

This year’s presentation featured the student collections interspersed with a three-part performance art show by Cave, showcasing his famous rainbow-colored soundsuits. Dancing down the runway to House music, African and South American inspired beats, the giant shaman-like furry soundsuits (the sound refers to the noise they make when they move) had a joyful yet eerie quality, bedecked with a whimsical assortment of cheerleader pom-poms, cleaning dusters, tinselly Christmas trees, sequins, crocheted yarn and even a duck.

The 250 student-designed looks from sophomores, juniors and seniors ranged from the wearable to the wild: Blair Watkins Disbrow, the Honorable Mention Junior Walk Scholarship recipient, showed a sleek gray coat with fur sleeves; Rosa Halpern, the Perry Ellis scholarship winner, showed a collection inspired by Japanese gangs featuring intricately draped pieces contrasted with heavier materials, while Jeehye Kim’s blanket dress was embellished with a pileup of teddy bears. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was when Serena Sandoval, who, minutes after the show ended, received a customer order for her silk and cotton patchwork sundress, inspired by her New Mexico heritage and designed as a eulogy to her mother. When asked how much she would sell the dress for, Sandoval was not sure: “Maybe $700 or $800. This dress was very time-consuming to make.”

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