Rush Fashion Show R.I.P.

                       But What a Run It Was!



Skip Grisham, Fashion Show Producer, Director, Set Designer and personification of the show’s glory years, photographed by Mr. John Reilly at the former Pump Room for the 2004 Fashion Show program.


        By Megan McKinney 


Ninety years ago this summer, Mrs. Hathaway Watson and Mrs. Frank Hibbard, two members of the St. Luke’s Hospital Woman’s Board, traveled separately to France. Each attended a fashion show—one in Deauville and the other in Cannes.

After returning to Chicago and determining their husbands would pay to see them—and their peers—walk on a runway, Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Hibbard were well on their way to inventing not merely the nation’s oldest and largest continuous charitable fashion show but also a major Chicago legend.

When other members of the Woman’s Board accepted their proposal to sponsor such a show as a benefit, Chicago socialites were for the first time performing before the public; however, it wasn’t merely husbands who paid money to watch prominent ladies conduct themselves as though they were paid entertainers. Their friends—those who weren’t themselves among the mannequins—bought tickets to sit in the front rows and their maids even paid for balcony seats.  

For decades, the message of the great medical center would go out in a powerful manner to the community as a whole on an annual basis.



The Hilton Chicago—then the Stevens Hotel—and the great Fashion Show both originated in 1927.


The first show, on October 27, 1927 in the brand-new Stevens Hotel—today the Hilton Chicago—netted the then impressive sum of $32,000. And, from the success of that afternoon, there emerged the annual event that was for so long known as the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Fashion Show or variations thereof—90 years is a long time in the life of a medical center.

It began as a runway show, however, by the mid-1940s, it had morphed into a stage show, and, as the century moved along, prevailed as the singular production it became in the Medinah Temple and then Symphony Center. It was energetic. It was exciting. It was unique.



The production had long been a legend in 1954 when Mrs. John V. Farwell III posed on a spot where Water Tower Place stands today.

In a field of fungible benefit balls, dinner dances, season openings, charity luncheons, awards dinners and so on, only the Passavant Cotillion became as inimitable a vehicle at the highest level of Chicago fundraising.

Then, in 2009, the Rush Fashion Show was transformed from an energetic, exciting, unique stage production into a standard benefit runway show. Perhaps we should have known then that it was only a matter of time before we would hear the recent announcement that the runway show would be replaced this fall by a benefit dinner.  

The following historic photographs, from 1942 through 1981, are marvelously nostalgic, but they don’t begin to convey what this show was to become to Chicago from 1979 until its demise as a stage production.


The finale of the 1942 show starred Mrs. Walter L. Cherry Jr. She wore a bridal gown of pink shipper satin and a fez-like cap with a pink tulle veil.

Also in 1942, mannequin Mrs. George S. Chappell Jr. modeled a slinky black dinner gown accented by a midriff of multicolored stripes and a flaming red sash with ends that hung to the floor in the front. The eye-catcher was the jaunty striped hat she wore with it.      


This undated photograph shows Mr. and Mrs. Gardner Stern with Mrs. George S. Chappell Jr., left. Mrs. Chappell was both a past president of the Woman’s Board and former Fashion Show chairman. A long-standing fashionista, Mrs. Stern was three times Fashion Show chairman, last in 1972. She also often wrote the show’s script.

             The 1962 bride, Mrs. James F. Ott, paused for a cautious sip of water before going onstage. Mrs. Andrew Block was her bridesmaid.      

Skirts were on the rise in 1967 when Mrs. James W. Alsdorf and Miss Susan Lennox modeled these girlish fashions. 

Mannequin Mrs. Richard B. Ogilvie and longtime Woman’s Board member Mrs. Brooks McCormick posed with a model of the set for the 1970 production in this Stuart-Rodgers photograph.   

A reunion photograph of mannequins who appeared in the first St. Luke’s Fashion Show in 1927 was taken a half century later with then Hospital President James A. Campbell, M.D. Seated in the front row from left were Mrs. G. Corson Ellis, Mrs. Templeton Brown, Mrs. Harold Richardson and Mrs. T. Clifford Rodman. Standing or half-seated in back are Dr. Campbell, Mrs. Frank H. Woods, Mrs. Clive Runnells, Mrs. James Baggott, Mrs. John T. Pirie and Mrs. Lester Armour.

Behind the scenes in the basement dressing room of the Medinah Temple, where, for decades, the Fashion Show was held before it became Bloomingdale’s Medinah Home, Chicago. Mrs. David K. Sims was being prepared for her appearance as a mannequin; next would be professional makeup.

Petite designer Adele Simpson posed with Mrs. Frank Woods, Miss Amy Beard Carpenter and Miss Stephena Romanoff in the Medinah Temple dressing room before the trio made their stage entrance during the 1976 production.

Mayor Jane Byrne acknowledged the applause with a characteristic finger wave during the 1981 show. She and her look-alike daughter, Kathy, modeled identical evening gowns and jewelry.  

Mrs. Marshall Field V’s brisk stride emphasized the flow of this dramatic evening dress in 1976.


Beloved Rush Fashion Show R.I.P


Skip Grisham Photo: John Reilly

Author Photo: Robert F. Carl