Stylish Insight: Fashion Sense from Chicago Ideas Week

Industry lessons from experts including supermodel Elle Macpherson and more

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Tyler Golden / NBC / NBCU Photo Bank

Elle Macpherson presents during the finale of NBC's Fashion Star.

Elizabeth Fenner, editor-in-chief of Chicago Magazine, opened a 90-minute session on fashion—and its affect on our lives—by saying that the industry is more accessible than ever. From live-stream fashion shows and designer diffusion lines to fast fashion chains that knock off runway trends, our ability to tap into this glamorous world has never been easier. That unprecedented access has spawned countless ideas, trends and so-called authority figures (read: bloggers) that often make it difficult to determine what’s really in and what’s out—and what the casual fashion fan should know. Fenner brought out a number of experts in the field to share their insights during the session—but here are the ones that stood out to us (for better or worse):

Elle Macpherson, supermodel: Invest in yourself
After she scored her first couple of Sports Illustrated swimsuit covers in the 1980’s, supermodel Elle Macpherson started getting asked to pose for the annual calendar as well. She soon thought to herself: why aren’t I controlling this process? Macpherson went on to create her own calendar, overseeing everything from the photographer choice to the design aesthetic of the finished product. Years later, when a business approached her about being the face for its lingerie line, she turned the tables again: Macpherson offered to design, model and name the line (Elle Macpherson Intimates) for no upfront charge—she’d only take a cut if they profited in the first year, which the company did.

Dana Gordon, jewelry designer: Tread carefully with trends
A third-generation jewelry designer, Gordon recalled falling in love at an early age with her grandmother’s set of three flower rings. When her grandmother started losing her memory—and could no longer recall the location of those rings that had been promised to Gordon—the designer was devastated. When she saw the same exact rings on her mother-in-law’s finger, the occurrence brought her to tears. Gordon says it’s her goal as a designer to evoke “emotion like that”—and to create timeless pieces we can appreciate for years to come.

Borris Powell, designer: Dress up
Powell reminded the audience that fashion can “make or break” their everyday lives, and that there’s a difference between “comfy dressing and lazy dressing.” But, lucky for us, fashion is a very seasonal industry—so we have some room to add variety to our look. He suggested buying fashion magazines (GQ for men; Elle, Marie Claire and Vanity Fair for women) in February and September—when the major fashion weeks happen. Also, we shouldn’t be afraid to translate magazine trends for everyday life. Powell made a point to explain that just because we see a model in a head-to-toe red ensemble in a glossy, we should feel free to substitute a black blazer in order to make the trend feel more “everyday.” Most people we know aren’t gunning to look exactly like the models in a fashion magazine, but we appreciate Powell’s reassurance nonetheless.