By Maureen Post Special to Published Nov 14, 2008 at 10:30 AM

Having finished their fall shows, New York fashion designers are enjoying a bit of a break while preparing for spring.

That's not the case here in Milwaukee.

While we missed out on our local fashion week, tonight’s Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Annual Fashion Gala at the Milwaukee Art Museum steps up with couture designs, luxurious offerings and an exclusive social scene.

Gala co-chairs Tony Chakonas, Cynthia Stoll, Kyle Cherek and Jordan DeChambre plan year-round for this annual event, which this year showcases the designs of American designer Peggy Jennings.

"This show is exceptionally appropriate because it’s an election year," Cherek says. "Jennings is very classic in her design -- it’s not so much reinventing the wheel as much as very classic American design. She’s a great follow up to last year’s show, Bill Blass; both designers are quintessentially American."

Jennings, a professional designer since 1980, runs a family business out of St. Petersburg, Fla. With the utmost attention to detail, they make each silk-lined and hand-finished item to measure. Each collection incorporates hundreds of new fabrics from Europe.

"Jennings is completely off the radar. She doesn’t do fashion week in New York and she likes to keep her clients completely anonymous; she’s really an anomaly in a sense," Cherek says.

Jennings, often a designer to the first lady or a diplomat’s wife, promotes her style by word of mouth. Designing for some of the biggest icons in American politics and entertainment, Jennings never reveals a client’s name and remains relatively unknown in the mainstream fashion world.  Attesting to the high-end exclusivity of Jennings’ work, tonight’s show features the designer’s singular creation of each piece.

"The pieces are, of course, original, but this show is duplicate in caliber to a Bryant Park show in New York. All the models make their living walking down runways and many are flying in to do the event," Cherek explains.

Cherek politely declined sharing just exactly how much work and money went into this year’s show, but based on his description, little in Milwaukee compares to the events planned for tonight’s show.

Along with the live full-length fashion show, MSO’s event caters to the customer. There will be a tight, refined auction of selected items. Dismissing the typical wine and beer bar, attendees are encouraged to ask for drinks made to order. Want a sidecar? They’ll make you a sidecar. Want a brandy old fashioned? The bartender will muddle some fruit for you right away.

"This evening is going to be the antithesis of typical," Cherek promises.

To get your own fashion update, the evening offers a style bar. Sylists from Neroli, Beauty, Erik of Norway, Men’s Room and Studio 890 will be on hand to fix you up while you drink one down.

"It’s ideal to be able to sit and have a neck shave while sipping a martini. We want to pamper our guests," Cherek says.

The MSO’s Annual Fashion Gala began 44 years ago under the oversight of Peg Bradley. Familiar with New York style, Bradley pushed a level of luxurious fashion in Milwaukee. The MSO’s gala is the only event in Milwaukee to show couture collections from some the leading icons in the fashion world. Previous designers include Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang, Caroline Herrera and Zang Toi.

"The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is the biggest cultural institution in the state," Cherek explains. "They’ve been named in the top 10 symphonies in the country and some would argue top five. It’s this institution we want to honor and support."

Events start at 6 p.m. at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Tonight’s gala benefits the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Maureen Post Special to staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.

After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.

Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.