I don’t think I’ve ever seen more pairs of Stan Smiths in one place. I’d just walked into the backstage area of the 3rd annual Chicago Street Style Fashion Week show put on by PROjectUS, and was greeted by pounding music and a flurry of frantic preparation. I would guess there were around 100 designers, models and makeup artists from 16 brands scurrying around the repurposed Bridgeport warehouse. Tonight was the culmination of a lot of young artists work: there were an expected 400 guests in attendance, and all involved wanted to make sure things went perfectly. It was about 4:30 PM, an hour and a half until showtime, and most designers I talked to seemed to be in a head space of equal parts anxiety and excitement.

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I’d ended up here after doing some visual work for a a friends brand, Aqraba. Technically, I was here to model, but more than anything I just wanted to see how the show would go down. I quickly realized that my story of essentially stumbling into the event wasn’t typical. Everyone in the room seemed to go way back in one way or another, most conversations I heard started with clarification on where they had seen each other’s face before. Generally, people knew each other from a prior event, program, or just through mutual friends. I felt as though I’d stepped into a very defined subculture that was unique from anything else I’d seen so far in this city. I’d always heard that in Chicago, everyone’s grandma knows each other, but that never really made sense till I’d seen the dynamic in that fifth floor warehouse.

Something else I couldn’t help but notice in the backstage area was the duality of the calculated, sophisticated vibe you would expect from a runway show, and the kind of raw energy that’s more characteristic of a concert or house party. There were immaculately dressed designers calmly fitting their models 50 feet away from shirtless dudes doing push-ups and chugging Hennessy. The merging of these two typically separate environments created a lively and unique atmosphere that really reflected the diversity of designers and styles represented.

30 minutes to showtime. It was like a switch went off in the heads of all of the people backstage. All of the sudden it felt like Everyone was running in circles, trying to track down models, and making last minute outfit adjustments. Hell, even the guys who had been drinking since 3 were getting their stuff together. This pace continued for the next two hours of the show, which absolutely flew by. I wasn’t able to watch the majority of the lines walk because I was either helping prep backstage or walking myself. Though, if the constant applause from the audience was any indicator, just about every line killed it. There was something immensely satisfying about watching the models and designers walk out of the curtain looking nervous, and come back smiling and cheering like they’d won the lottery. The energy was great: as the show winded down bottles were getting popped, the music was getting louder, and everyone was celebrating in a way they only could if they were really proud of what they’d done.

Photos by Juan Anthony and Brody Ford.

To read more about PROjectUS and style bias, check out their website here.

 

 

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