Pouring rain and tornado warnings couldn’t keep Charleston fashionistas from packing the tent for the final night of Charleston Fashion Week 2009. The crowd was the biggest yet – latecomers’ VIP seats were ruthlessly given away while many were forced to stand around the edges of the seating area for the entire show (not fun in stilettos, I’d presume). Even some of us lucky enough to get a good seat didn’t have it made – the tent was leaking right onto my head, causing me to spend the entirety of the show daydreaming about what would happen if it were to collapse on all of us. Alas, it did not. We made it through unharmed, if a little damp.

It was a short show, but popular because the three Emerging Designer Competition finalists were presenting their lines. The judges of the competition – Mary Norton, Dana Campbell, Bob Siegel, Mychael Knight, Ashley Reid, and Ayoka – sat in the front row.

Russian designer Alena Fede – who now calls the Holy City her home – started off the show with what I like to call her Euro-emo line. Lots of dark colors, scowling models, and romantic, Victorian touches. Lace detailing and giant collars, light denim, and models clutching shreds of cloth. She said she strives to make “big-city-feel fits for a small city lifestyle.” One of the models accidentally kicked off her shoe, then quickly picked it up, took off the other, and continued strutting down the runway. Well done.

Lindsey Carter was next. The Wrightsville Beach native attended FIT and has worked with such esteemed companies as L.A.M.B., Elie Tahari, White + Warren, and J. Crew. Her Troubador line was inspired by a show called TV Party (YouTube it) which featured iconic guests like Blondie and Andy Warhol. The models sported huge faux-hawks and distinctive black, yellow, and purple looks. Vests, chains, Wayfarers, and one hot pair of catwoman pants. Several of the pieces were made of a cool stripey fabric that I adored. All in all the line was consistent, wearable, and a little rock ‘n’ roll. But was it distinctive enough? Still, my bet was on Lindsey.

Maria Dobrzanska Reeves (aka Marysia) took the stage for the final show of Fashion Week (sigh). The adorable Poland native cited living on Folly and surfing as a huge influence on her designs, which up until lately have included swimsuits exclusively. She tried her hand at cover-ups and other clothes for this fun line. I thought it was an interesting mix of Judy Jetson and pretty beach girl. The swimwear was awesome, with great details like exposed zippers, tiny ruffles, retro high waists, and tutu cover-ups. We also loved the pink cover-up that just looked like a shift with a diagonal zipper, but unzipped to reveal a matching bikini. Some of the other daytime pieces were a little more out there – huge shoulders, gypsy-esque pants with big hips, and bright, neon colors. Although I absolutely loved the swimwear, I thought the clothing wasn’t consistent with the great style she has developed with her swim line, and I felt sorry for the models who had to wear some of the clothes because even they couldn’t make them look good.

After the show, we all had to wait for the gala tent to be ready. We waited in a long line to get in, umbrellas awkwardly bumping, heels sinking into the mud. Once inside, the crowd flooded to the food tables and the bars (yeah, Grey Goose!) and for awhile it was mayhem. The dancefloor was like an island in the middle of a muddy, grassy marsh. The tent looked glam, but I wish they’d sprung for a hard floor throughout, because muddy feet are definitely not glam. But no one seemed too bothered by it. After a few minutes Ayoka and Cynthia Rowley ascended the DJ booth in the middle of the dancefloor, along with Darcy Shankland and the three finalists. Everyone quickly gathered around paparazzi-style to hear the winner of the competition. “I’m nervous!” Cynthia said, reiterating that she had had no hand in the judging – it would have been too hard to choose. Drumroll please…

Marysia is the winner of the Emerging Designer Competition 2009! Not a huge surprise, considering the attention-to-detail and inventiveness displayed in all of her pieces, not to mention the great audience reaction. She was choking back tears as she accepted the giant $1,000 check and thanked the crowd. Congratulations Marysia!

Twenty-six shows, five after-parties, thousands of pictures, countless cocktails, and many late-night write-ups later, Charleston Fashion Week 2009 is over – It was inarguably the best year yet. It’s hard to believe this was only the third year of the event. The designers keep getting stronger, the shows better, and the models hotter (over 700 tried out this year!). I look forward to getting back to a life of un-glamour for a bit, but I’m already wondering what’s in store for CFW 2010. It can only get better from here. 

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