Columbia College Chicago’s Window Fashion Exhibit Turns Heads on Michigan Avenue
Michigan Avenue is renowned for its popular Chicago attractions and retail spaces. With so many sites to visit, it should come as no surprise that the avenue also attracts a large number of cars, buses, and pedestrians. Although passers-by are probably accustomed to window fashion display advertisements by boutiques and large retailers, most are likely not expecting to see the ever-changing—and sometimes polemic—fashion window exhibit at 618 S. Michigan Ave.
“The gallery is usually switched out every three weeks. Sometimes the curator is a single individual, and sometimes the exhibits are a collaborative effort between lots of different constituencies,” said Dr. Colbey Emmerson Reid, Professor and Chair of the Fashion Studies Department at Columbia College Chicago.
The display, which initially featured mostly student work with installations constructed by students in Columbia’s visual merchandising classes, is at the forefront of one of Columbia College’s many South Loop buildings. The windows have exhibited fashion ever since the Fashion Studies Department moved into 618 S. Michigan Ave. More recently, the windows display a combination of student work, faculty work, designs by visiting artists or visiting brands, and objects from the Columbia College Fashion Study Collection, which was established in 1989 and is home to over 6,000 pieces.
“We often let the exhibits speak for themselves, as with the recent Noir exhibit that featured a collaboration between an Art and Art History graduate student, a Chicago artist, and the Fashion Studies Department. Sometimes we offer extensive critical analysis in the label copy, as with our fur, leather, and Appropriate[d] Dress exhibits,” Reid said.
The recently exhibited collection Appropriate[d] Dress: Native American [Mis] Representation in Fashion & Culture featured objects from Columbia College Chicago’s Fashion Study Collection. Although some of the items in Appropriate[d] Dress are embedded within a rich history, the items had been incorrectly and interchangeably described as “Indian,” “Navajo,” “Tribal” and “Native American” in the past. The lack of information about the objects left them open for misinterpretation and stereotyping. The exhibit is described as a first step in correcting our language and the organization and understanding of the items, and as a celebration of the work of contemporary Native designers.
Recent collections include Noir—Dawn Brennan’s provocative charcoal drawings depicting controversial thoughts of the characters within them—and Maria de Los Angeles’ Conversations in Form/Undocumented Youth, an exhibition of couture sculpture that combines symbolism, fictional and actual moments on the U.S.-Mexico border that emphasizes what life is like for undocumented persons in the United States. Like many of the others exhibited at 618 S. Michigan Ave., these collections not only turn heads due to their aesthetic, but also invite audiences to take a more analytical view of art, fashion, and the world around them.
“I'd invite our Columbia community to not only check out the exhibits from the street but to also bring a coffee or sandwich inside and watch passers-by pass by. It's fun to see their reactions, and exciting when we have an exhibit that makes people stop short in the street to look again or linger and read,” said Reid. “The exhibits show off our program's best features: the way we combine techniques in visual merchandising with the inventiveness of a design community, and how we introduce both to cultural commentary and analytical thinking. Fashion is a business, an art, an anthropological artifact, a history, a scene, and a ‘reading’ of self and/or of a moment. The windows feature all of these pieces in dialogue.”
You can see the spring semester schedule for Columbia College Chicago’s Window Fashion Exhibit below.