• Sean Money

Charleston Fashion Week kicked things off right Tuesday night with shows from some of the South’s most promising young designers. You know the drill: eight Emerging Designers showed their collections, and three were chosen to move on to undertake the final, Project Runway-style challenge, to be presented on Saturday.

First impressions were positive as we entered Marion Square. In its short lifespan, CFW has expanded greatly — there are now two big tents, one for the style lounge (basically a boutique/bar area) and a massive one for the runway. Despite the expanded size, the general admission area left plenty of people standing.

Call it the curse of the first, but Uriel Zamora’s show left the weakest impression on me. The 23-year-old Floridian cites Roy Lichtenstein as a major inspiration, which is reflected in his use of primary colors and bold, space-age shapes. Layers of ruffles, many in a clownish (or as one fellow writer called it, Wonderbread-ish) print emphasized the bust and shoulder areas of many pieces. Most of them were super-short, and we don’t know if it was intentional or if it’s just because of our front-row angle, but we got a serious eyeful of butt cleavage throughout the show.

Barbara Beach was up next with her children’s line. Most people will admit that they had their doubts about including a children’s designer in EDC. I for one wondered how she could compete with the other “grown-up” designers. But the talented 24-year-old, based in Charleston, answered that question really fast. The first few kids were just so dang cute, it was almost too much to bear, and my instincts rolled their eyes. But then the well-crafted clothes came into focus. Crewcut’s got nothing on Barbara Beach. Cute party dresses, fun prints (like unicorns!), and playful tees abounded, and her use of props was the most impressive of the night — she suggested a classic birthday party vibe with metallic hats and big balloons.

We couldn’t wait to see Julia Faye Davison’s line after hearing her description of it: “A regal Englishwoman and proud-spirited Native American man fall in love, and their cultures and aesthetics meld, creating balance in their lives.” The 25-year-old Summervillian certainly had elements of both Native American (fringe, leather) and equestrian (structured, tall boots) styles, but the overall effect was more Robin Hood than anything else. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Charlestonian Anna Lassiter charmed us with her lovely line. Pretty fabrics like silk, velvet, and tulle created an ultra-feminine Victorian boudoir feel. Many of the pieces sported a flattering corset cut, while a black feathery strapless dress drew whoops from the crowd. The 28-year-old only recently learned how to sew, but that just made us even more impressed with her output, and more excited to see how she develops as a designer.

When Hannalei Taylor took the stage, we thought for a minute that Barbara Beach had returned — the 29-year-old North Carolinian definitely expressed a child-like vibe with her line. Rosy cheeked with bouncy curls, the models looked genuinely happy as they skipped down the runway, and with good reason — most of them were wearing flats. The clothes themselves were mostly pretty shapeless and bright with a few cutesy details like a lace cut-out. Many of the pieces brought to mind nightgowns — the cute kind, not the sexy kind.

Georgia girl Larika Page (31) was a crowd favorite from the very beginning thanks to a stunning pair of high-waisted electric blue cigarette pants paired with a sheer teal cardigan/cape/shawl hybrid. She used tulle and other sheer fabrics as an unexpected, but never over-powering flourish, in many of the pieces. The retro shape of many of the pieces, combined with bright pops of color (and winning hair and make-up) brought to mind 1950s Boca Raton. Now can someone please teach me how to curl my hair like that?

Chelsie Ravenel was another designer that got a lot of buzz leading up to the night. Everyone knows the guy can model, but who knew he was a designer, too? The self-taught 30-year-old local said, “I want to create something amazing by thinking outside the box and mixing things up.” And we can certainly say he did that. The crowd was hollering for him before the show even started (and secretly hoping he’d be modeling in the show). As promised, his line was a mix of Western, Southern, street, and formal styles. Paint-splattered camo shorts, cowboy boots, and structured shirt dresses all combined to create a line that … we’re still not sure what we think of it. And that’s probably not a good thing.

24-year-old Jamie Lin Snider, who recently moved to Mt. Pleasant from Las Vegas, proved to be one of the most innovative designers of the night. Using a palette almost exclusively of black (or was it navy?) and seafoam green, the line was consistent and impressive. Structured, classic cocktail dresses sported details like billowy arms, an oversized shoulder, or a reverse hoop skirt. We loved the models’ peach heels with short, sheer socks — even if a few models nearly fell out of them.

Project Runway
star Gordana Gehlhausen brought up the rear with her Goga line, which — I hope I’m not shunned for saying this — wasn’t my favorite. Her signature knitwear was definitely the most impressive aspect of the line, while a tendency to use strips of craft store ribbons and beading was a low point. Leggings with big fur and bigger hair (not to mention bling) gave a fun Russian ice queen vibe. Our favorite was her ethereal gowns in black and purple, which had an earth-goddess vibe.

After Goga, the eight emerging designers took the stage and the finalists were anti-climactically announced: Barbara Beach, Larika Page, and Jamie Lin Snider. Their challenge? To take plain white men’s dress shirts from Goodwill and make them into something beautiful. The task was inspired by the late Alexander McQueen. While the designers work hard on their challenge, we’ll be at the tents every night seeing what else Charleston’s fashion community has to offer. Check back frequently for updates!

Check out Sean Money’s slideshow below, and see even more photos from Sean on our Flickr page. Mike Ledford, who shot video for us, also took some lovely pics, which he shares on Flickr. The video will be posted soon!


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