Charleston Fashion Week 2009

March 25-28


Marion Square

The economy has taken a big bite out of the fashion industry. When people start trimming the fat, designer duds and shoes that cost more than your paycheck are often the first to go.

But besides a few stores closing, the fashion scene in Charleston seems almost immune to the pinch. Tourists still flock here to shop, new designers keep popping up, and well-dressed people still fill the streets — whether they got their duds at a local thrift store or a boutique on King Street.

And perhaps the greatest indication of the Holy City’s strength of style is Charleston Fashion Week 2009, which is expected to enjoy its most successful year yet.

Tuesday night marked the beginning of the city’s third annual Fashion Week. Ayoka Lucas, the fashion editor at Charleston magazine who sprouted the idea for CFW in 2007, never expected it to grow as quickly as it did.

“The first year was successful,” she says. “People embraced that we are a fashion mecca in the South. The growth was so unexpected. It was such a euphoric moment to look out into the tents and see 1,000-plus people.

“That’s when I knew Charleston loves its fashion.”

Lucas says ticket sales this year are better than ever. Fashionistas are all atwitter about the shows. And models have come from all over just to be a part of it all; over 700 auditioned this year, a tremendous increase from the 50 applicants just two years ago.

The event continues to grow in other ways. Following the popularity of last year’s Emerging Local Designer Competition — which sold out twice — organizers added a second night featuring up-and-comers.

This time, the applicant pool was extended to North Carolina and Georgia. Six semi-finalists presented runway shows Tuesday night. On Saturday, three finalists present their shows and compete for the grand prize: $1,000, a runway show at CFW 2010, and space at Atlanta Apparel Mart.

The three finalists — Lindsey Carter, Alena Fede, and Maria Dobrzanska Reeves — all live in Charleston, but come from vastly different geographic backgrounds. Carter is originally from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., Fede is from Russia, and Reeves lived in Poland until she was 14.

“The finalists’ design aesthetics are completely different,” Lucas says. “You’re basically going to get three points of view on being a designer.”

Reeves — known to friends as Marysia — studied at L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising before moving to Charleston. She debuted her line of swimwear in 2008, and her CFW show will include new swimwear as well as beachwear pieces.

“I’m calling the line ’80s ballerina,” Marysia says. “The lines will have an ’80s cut, the colors will be brighter, neon, and black. But the ballerina in me always loves the light colors and the soft lines and the clean finish.”

Lindsey Carter draws much of her inspiration from New York, where she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. After interning with companies like White + Warren, L.A.M.B by Gwen Stefani, and T21 by Elie Tahari, she worked for J. Crew’s sister company Madewell. Her debut line, Troubador, will undoubtedly reflect her New York aesthetic.

“It’s essentially called elegant punk,” Carter says. “It’s like a downtown punk mixed with uptown silhouette.”

The third finalist, Alena Fede, graduated from the Voronezh University of Art and Design in Russia. Fede founded her line Fede Grada in 2007 and moved to the U.S. the next year in hopes of furthering her career. Her feminine designs are romantic and sexual at the same time.

While the competition remains based in the Southeast for now, Lucas won’t rule out the possibility of going national.

“There has been demand for people nationally to get involved in our contest,” she says. “It is Charleston Fashion Week and we do want to keep it Southeast, but if the demand grows, it would be a benefit to our city.”

The emerging designer nights will undoubtedly be the week’s biggest draw, but Lucas says you can’t ignore the many retail stores involved in CFW.

“We are a premier shopping destination,” Lucas says. “Our retail stores make up the majority of our fashion community. Until designers become the majority, it’s inevitable that we would have our retail community involved.”

From Wednesday through Friday nights, nearly 20 local stores will present shows featuring the season’s best fashions. In addition, this year the tents will include an accessories and style lounge.

Another new event is Friday’s Catwalk for Kids, a benefit luncheon for MUSC Children’s Hospital. Brett McKee of Oak Steakhouse will prepare the meal, and celebrity guest Wayne Newton will present a grand finale performance. A portion of proceeds go toward Dress for Success as well.

The Bridal Couture show returns on Saturday. On Saturday night, the glamorous finale gala will once again cap off the week when Cynthia Rowley will announce the winner of the Emerging Designer Competition.

It’s anyone’s guess what’s in store for CFW 2010.

“I think Charleston will determine where this event will go,” Lucas says. “If we continue to have tremendous interest, I definitely see it becoming a national, an almost international, event that takes place in Charleston.”

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