HEARTFELT HOMECOMING: Cynthia Rowley, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, returned to her alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, to receive the school’s 2012 Legend of Fashion Award along with her husband Bill Powers. Jerry Saltz, senior art critic for New York magazine, introduced the winners lauding their talent, energy (“they’re like burning bushes,” he said) and fearlessness (“they’re willing to fail flamboyantly,” he noted). Powers, co-owner of Half gallery and judge on Bravo’s “Work of Art,” joked, “I’m just the warm-up nominee.”

It was Rowley’s night. The designer recognized two of her teachers who still worked at the school. “I would not be where I am without their guidance,” said Rowley, adding that she was a rebellious student who liked to put wings on everything.

She spoke humbly about taking her first order from a retailer who asked her for style numbers. “One,” Rowley replied, noting the next item was “two.”

The designer then offered students several pieces of parting advice: There are no rules, hard work really pays off, be nice, surround yourself with smart people, enthusiasm is contagious and be grateful for everything, Rowley said.

With that the designer looked out at the crowd including her two daughters, family members and even an old roommate and got chocked up. “I can say for me right now,” said Rowley in her gold platform sandals, black shift dress and dark hair pulled back in her signature style, “this is a dream come true.”

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