Chicago struts its stuff

Tina Trenkner

By Tina Trenkner and Alex IlyashovPLAY Writer

On most days in Prudential Plaza, right off of Michigan Ave., businessmen and women briskly walk by the gardens and fountains without a second glance. But this past Monday, white tents lined up along the sides of the plaza. Besides providing shelter from the drizzling rain, entrepreneurs, designers, spa owners and make-up artists braved the harsh weather to show off their skills and wares to passersby. An eyeglass boutique displayed colorful modern frames from Europe, one handbag designer demonstrated how to wear one of her handmade purses in multiple ways and students from a newly opened beauty school provided makeovers as they discussed what they were going to wear to a fashion show this Friday.

Self-INDULGENCE, an accessories bazaar, was one of the first events to kick off the Chicago Fashion Week Fall 2006. The event promotes Chicago as a prominent fashion powerhouse. Most designers and fashionistas don’t think of Chicago as a fashion capital, maybe not even as a fashionable city. After all, the standard local uniform is a North Face fleece, designer jeans and UGGs. If you want to revel in haute fashion, you go to New York or Paris or Milan.

Eleven years ago, when Chicago Fashion Week executive producer Mackett A. Hidalgo arrived in Chicago from Milan, he asked around to find out when was Chicago’s fashion week. To his surprise, there wasn’t one. Since then, many groups have tried to put together a week to showcase Chicago as a fashion hotspot. In the fall of 2005, Hidalgo wanted to plan a local fashion week, but city officials requested that he hold off with his plans in order to create a collaborative fashion spectacle at a later date.

This did not happen, so Chicago Fashion Week had its first run in Spring 2006. The chic designers showcased during Chicago Fashion Week are evaluated by the production staff, who develop personalized plans for settled and emerging fashion professionals to expand the image and size of their businesses. Kellogg ’96 grad Kate Desulis was one of the accessories designers exhibiting her line at Self-INDULGENCE. A Chicago native of over 20 years, she grew restless with her job in marketing and realized she wanted to do something for herself instead of working for someone else. As a result, she started her accessories business, Gabbro Imports. “I’ve always loved accessories,” says Desulis. To her, a new bag can revamp an outfit. “Plus, you can always feel good about shopping for purses and scarves without any fitting room traumas if you’ve gained a few pounds.”

She got her start when the wife of a friend of Desulis wanted to expand her family’s tapestry business. Distributed at popular houseware stores like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn, the textile line presented inspiration for Desulis to parlay into women’s accessories. Desulis traveled to the family’s factory in India to see how the scarves were made and decided to work with them to create her scarves. “Chicago fashion is unique because it’s a blend of the best of both coasts.