CHIC-ago

For the September 2012 issue of Chicago magazine

By Paige Wiser

In June, Vogue editrix Anna Wintour whisked into Chicago to host a fund-raiser for President Obama at Harpo Studios. She traveled with an entourage that included fashion heavyweights Jason Wu, Rachel Roy, Narcisco Rodriguez, Chanel Iman, Thakoon Panichgul, and Prabal Garung.

One accessory she was without: her signature security sunglasses. It could have been a sign of respect for Obama’s custom Hart Schaffner Marx suits, or for Michelle Obama’s championing of the skinny belt.

Or maybe the trip was an official acknowledgment that New York is running scared. Chicago is nipping at New York’s heels as a fashion capital. We are the scrappy terrier of style, and we dare you to ignore us.

To extend the metaphor even further, we’ve been breeding some of the most influential tastemakers the world has ever seen. The avant garde Lady Gaga herself declared that

Chicago’s Tavi Gevinson, a 15-year-old blogger who champions retro flash at thestylerookie.com, is “the future” of fashion] journalism. If so, prepare yourselves for a new generation of flower children.

And who’s wearing the clothes a season before they’re edgy? Chicago is responsible for Karlie Kloss, currently ranked as the third most important model internationally. New Yorkers in the top 10 at models.com? Zero.

We’re coming on as an eager young upstart, but in truth we’ve been laying the groundwork for years. We gifted the fashion industry with its first healthy model with DeKalb’s Cindy Crawford. Rather than starve herself, she segued from the catwalk to vigorous (but tasteful) workout videos. How’s that for edgy?

We are the home of the legendary Joan Weinstein, who made a cosmopolitan name for herself – and Chicago – when she founded the powerful Ultimo boutique on Oak Street. She elevated shopping to an art, and illustrated that the City of Big Shoulders had nothing to do with padded shoulder pads.

If it weren’t for fashion writer Peg Zwecker, mother of columnist Bill Zwecker, Roy Frowick would have tried to launch his label under his original name. It was her suggestion to go with his snappier middle name, Halston. Who would have partied at Studio 54 with Roy Frowick?

Eunice Johnson of Ebony magazine redefined the new black, crafting the Ebony Fashion Fair in 1956 and bringing it everywhere from New York to Jamaica. She was often the only black woman in the room at fashion shows in the ’60s and ’70s. In the process, she catapaulted models like Richard Roundtree into the stratosphere. His starring role in “Shaft” had no small impact on the fashion scene.

Recently we were reminded of Chicago’s trailblazing when “Soul Train’s” engineer, Don Cornelius, died. With his show, he popularized Spandex, high-waisted bell bottoms, enormous polka dots, open shirts and leisure suits. Ready-to-wear became ready-to-dance, and we’ve been a groovier, looser city ever since.

Not to be competitive, but what has New York contributed to fashion? Well, they’ve introduced us to

*the vulcanized rubber girdle,

*Barbie dolls,

*heroin chic,

*“Project Runway,”

*Sarah Jessica Parker’s iconic tutu, and

*the Olsen twins.

Sure, there might be more, but we’ve completely run out of room.

There’s only one logical conclusion: If you want to be stylish, young New Yorkers, follow Anna Wintour – the mother ship – to Chicago. Go west, darlings. Midwest.

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