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Chicago Athletic Association Uniforms, Part One

The first step of every project is R&D, and the CAA uniforms were no exception. So, in February of 2015 we had our first hotel walkthrough to grasp the design aesthetic and get initial inspiration for uniforms that would be cohesive and complementary to the buildout. Although the hotel was deep in renovation mode, we could tell that beneath the sawdust covered halls slept an iconic piece of Chicago history and we were stoked on the prospect of contributing to its resurgence.

The Chicago Athletic Association hotel was built in time for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago (yes, the same World's Fair from Erik Larson's Devil in the White City). The design detail and construction of the 241-room hotel are indicative of a time when things were done the right way, rather than the cheap or easy way. This was evidently the mentality behind the renovation project- rather than frugality, the development team placed restoring the integrity of this historic structure above all else. One highlight of the walkthrough was exploring the Ball Room that featured a massive wooden fireplace, panoramic views overlooking Millennium Park and Lake Michigan, and ceramic stalactites dripping from the ceiling.

Next, we checked out the actual spaces we would be outfitting: Cherry Circle Room, Game Room, and Milk Room- all three designed and developed by Land & Sea Dept. Because the space was still raw, we didn't get a full grasp of the furnishing aesthetic until we sat down with Land & Sea partner Cody Hudson, at his office near our factory to review mockups of the restaurant. He also shared with us the logos and secret society themed iconography that would accent everything from tapestries to dishware. We discussed the different roles within the restaurants and how we could delineate with uniforms. They were: manager, server, and bartender.

Over the next couple weeks, we worked on designing uniforms for each role that would be cohesive when viewed together, yet unique enough to stand alone in the space. At the same time, we worked on sourcing the right materials to support these designs and be durable enough for active servers going in and out of the kitchen. After a few iterations, here's where we landed:

The overall design concept incorporates classic style and clever details, to be at once informal and thoroughly contemporary through the use of high end materials. Details like the embroidery and apron flap are subtle tie-ins to the "secret society" theme, and a rich midnight navy complements the gold trim to reflect the windowless, mysterious vibe of the Cherry Circle Room. The stripe and solid interaction clearly identifies employee roles while tying everything together.

After receiving approval, we headed into development and production. A few weeks later, the pieces were finished and we loaded them into boxes and headed toward the hotel which was in it's final phase of the buildout. With hardhats perched on our heads, we carried the boxes up to the ballroom that had transformed from a dusty worksite into the polished venue it is today. Inside were dozens of employees awaiting their uniform fittings. As with all uniform projects, we brought our über-talented seamstress, Abigail, with us for delivery. She assembled her sewing machine in the corner and got to work measuring the employees for final alterations to perfect the fit of their new uniforms. With everything in place, we exited into the chaotic streets of downtown, a stark contrast from the serenity within the hotel.

Up next is a look at the uniforms we designed and produced for CAA's Game Room (pictured above)...

*uniform photos by Clayton Hauck

*we do not hold the rights to the hotel images