The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual fashion show, THE WALK, is not only one of the top fashion events in Chicago, but it is a show of national renown, recognized across the country as an exhibition of fashion’s top emerging design talent.
Each year, SAIC’s Fashion Design program bestows a distinguished alum or fashion talent with the Legend of Fashion Award. This year, designer Cynthia Rowley and her husband, artist Bill Powers were awarded at the event’s 7pm evening gala — hosted by Paper magazine’s Mickey Boardman. “As an alumna of SAIC this award has a very special meaning to me and Bill,” said Rowley in a press release about THE WALK. “We both believe that a marriage between fashion and art is something to strive for in the 21st century, and we hope that future fashion and design students continue to draw inspiration from both the runway and the gallery.”
That connection between fashion and art resonated throughout THE WALK’s all-day, three-show event on April 19, showcasing the final collections of the program’s Sophomores (1 look, all in grey scale), Juniors and Seniors (3 and 5 looks respectively, in unrestricted color and fabric palettes).
THE WALK represents a conceptual explosion in fabrics, patterns and styling that thrill and dazzle visually, with little-to-no (and gladly so) emphasis on street style wearability or approachable shapes and textures. This presentation of art-as-fashion, and fashion-as-art, showcases immense technical skill and a sense of intellect and passion that supersedes that of other student, or even mainstream and luxury collections.
The Sophomores delighted in unique points-of-view on volume, texture and form that enhanced an imaginative experience, defying the necessity of color with their success within a restricted palette. Shay Troy’s exaggerated, metallic-infused bubble-hemmed skirt exhibited a playful elegance when paired with a fluffy sleeveless crop top hit with asymmetrically crossed stripes of muslin. Morgan Childers explored the peplum trend in a stunning coat with oversized ruched and pleated sleeves and collar, embellished with a brocade-inspired pattern that crawled throughout the look’s layered waist. Her darker-toned ankle-length skirt was textured in a mini-quilted pattern that highlighted Childers’ prowess for fine-tuned detail.
It is Junior year when the designers get to showcase their first foray into color, and this season’s explosion of voluminous shapes and unique combinations of textural elements was no disappointment. Siena Von Knopka produced a gorgeous, modern reconstruction of Victorian-inspired shapes — hats, high necks, a cape, a waistcoat — in a vividly printed palette that was stunning with its exaggerated layering and diligent detailing. Christina Dougherty’s use of texture was sublime, both visually — in her expert deconstruction and re-piecing of printed, dyed and quilted fabrics — and in her fabric choices — most notably in a knit, ankle-length halter dress that was impeccably constructed and paired perfectly with a long wool coat and knit green lapel. Her muted color palette and Dickensian styling was breathtaking with its anachronistic detailing. Luxe furs, elegantly draped satin gowns, bubbled knits and platinum beehives fixed with wiry fascinators were the opulent substance of Lucy Silverman’s collection. Embracing a chic futurism, there was an elegant austerity to these three looks that resonated as the very epitome of glamour.
When it comes to the Seniors, their four years of exhausting preparation and immeasurable hard work always culminates in a series of spectacular 5-piece collections, reflecting a maturity and confidence that completes THE WALK’s journey in a truly poignant way. Amongst many standout collections was Macie Francis’ elegant use of printed detailing and clean lines, in modern reinterpretations of 1920s and 30s shapes. Laura Dodd’s very feminine looks (a brave and fetching departure from last season’s CFDA-award winning apocalypse-themed collection), featured elegant satin draping and beautifully tailored jackets. Dodd’s looks were tinted with a darkness in styling enhanced by black shoulder-length wigs and seductive face masks of various textures and sizes. Alex Ulichny’s collection, which won him the $25,000 Eunice W. Johnson Fellowship from the Johnson Publishing Company, was incredible, and worth every bit of the recognition it earned. The technical skill of his opening look, an ombre fishtail gown with a black, finely pleated skirt, featured elegant hand beading in shapes that resembled dotted branches climbing up towards the bodice. Evoking peasantry, Ulichny styled his looks with sheer headscarves, and an array of patterns and textures that included a cape made of carpet, a raw-edged, multi-paneled skirt and a flowing double-layered, floor-length, blue-green caftan. Pulling from rich sources of inspiration, Ulichny’s work displayed the type of talent that will breed an incredibly successful fashion design career.
As it is every year, THE WALK 2012 was a breath of fresh air for Chicago fashion — and the greater fashion world, in general. Showcasing the type of work that communicates a raw enthusiasm for design, rare passion for artistry and a conceptual approach that rivals top designers in its commitment to ensuring fashion’s forward movement, the SAIC students, yet again, proved that they are at the very top of their field. A show that never ceases to excite and inspire, THE WALK 2012 was no exception.
— Amanda Aldinger
*For more information and photos, like School of the Art Institute SAIC The Walk on Facebook.
Photos: SAIC student Elaine Li