Welcome to the ‘Secret Garden’: Macy’s Flower Show with a fashionable twist

Blog, Writing
CFI designers

From left to right: Chicago Fashion Incubator designers Alyssa Kahle, Lagi Nadeau, Takako Yamanaka, Shelby Steiner and Grace Lee with their garden party designs inspired by flowers for the Macy’s Flower Show. (Photo via CFI Facebook.)

Pristine calla lilies, colorful desert candles, sparkling daffodils — but not in the garden.

The ninth floor of Macy’s on State Street was filled with thousands of plants from March 23 to April 6 for the annual Macy’s Flower Show, but among the displays of “The Secret Garden,” budding designers had the chance to shine.

This year Macy’s Chicago Fashion Incubator designers took part in a flower show challenge, where each of the designers chose a flower for inspiration for a design. To match the “Secret Garden” theme of this year’s show, the designers incorporated a secret element into their designs.

“It’s really nice to have these opportunities to use something as inspiration and then see how in the end all of our own styles remain in our pieces,” Lagi Nadeau said, one of the six participating designers-in-residence at Macy’s two-year program that provides up-and-coming designers free resources, workspace and mentorship to launch their own labels.

Nadeau’s frock was inspired by the desert candle, a bright orange prickly-stemmed wildflower that’s mirrored in the burnt orange silk wool a-line design. The texture is matched in the beaded sequined silk organza stripe down the center of the bodice, with the same fabric as the lining to secret pockets on the skirt.

“We naturally gravitated toward flowers that reflect our styles,” Nadeau said.

The designers had one month to sketch and create their dress for the Garden Party Dress Challenge, all displayed at the entrance of the Flower Show for its duration.

The styles of the six designers are as eclectic as the flower show itself, ranging from the androgynous modern style of Shelby Steiner to the feminine, vintage-inspired bridal styles of Alyssa Kahle for her line Alyssa Kristin.

Kahle’s knee-length ivory dress drew inspiration from the calla lily, blooming like the flower with its trumpet-shaped skirt floating around the body while the base sheath dress of silk shantung hangs tightly, like the center stem.

The outer silk jacquard skirt is removable, leaving the simple dress with its art deco-esque detail on the bodice as a second look.

“My secret element is the removable skirt, but that’s something I have in my collection,” Kahle said. “I give the bride two different looks to go from ceremony to reception.

Kahle began designing only last year when she was unsatisfied with her options for dresses for her own wedding in July. Still not a full-time designer, she works her day job as a CPA for Accretive Health four days per week while devoting the rest of her time to CFI.

“It’s something I always wanted to do and now’s the time,” Kahle said. “I don’t have kids, I don’t have a mortgage, and if it doesn’t work at least I can say I tried.”

A more seasoned designer, Olivia Hwang, is one of Kahle’s fellow bridal designers in the CFI, basing her design from the daffodil.

A more traditional gown than Kahle’s, Hwang layered gold Chantilly lace overlay on the bodice of the flowing ivory dress, giving it a similar sparkle as the daffodil would. Covering the shoulder strap of her design is a removable beaded lace garter in the same gold hue.

Like Nadeau, this is Hwang’s second year as a designer in the CFI, for which she was accepted after working with Zac Posen in New York and as as associate designer at a bridal boutique in New Jersey.

“I wanted to come back to Chicago,” Hwang, a native of South Korea but spent most of her school years in Chicago, said. “I consider it my home town.”

Other CFI designers including Steiner, Grace Lee and Takako Yamanaka designed flower-inspired looks as well, drawing their inspiration from the juniper topiary, lady slipper and hyacinth, respectively.

Luckily for the designers, their inspiration flowers were seemingly picked just for them.

“There were no fights, surprisingly,” Hwang said with a laugh. “We all got the flower we wanted.

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