I wonder what goes through the brain of a model when they first see what they’re going to be wearing in a show. Are they happy, honored, excited? Or do they look at the clothing and think, “Oh … oh god … OK, I guess I’ll rock that massive pastel shawl.���

This crossed my mind during the first show of the opening night of the fifth year of Charleston Fashion Week. One of the major improvements to this year’s event was the move away from local retailers who pay for their runway show. Tuesday’s round had only two presentations of this kind, from local boutiques Rapport and Copper Penny. I’m not going to spend too much time on them; each had pieces I would totally buy and others that I wouldn’t even if they were offered at a steep discount. That’s how it goes.

So let’s just move on to the good stuff. Barbara Beach presented first as a featured designer. She was declared the People’s Choice winner last year, and if it were at all possible, she’d probably win this year too. You just can’t beat endearing kids in endearing clothing. Inspired by the idea of the “well-traveled child,��� Beach dressed her tiny models in orange, yellow, and blue. They were cheerful in their coats and dresses and shirts, patched up with elephants and parrots, and they were impeccably styled with suitcases. There was even an itty-bitty Charlie Chaplin, but the show was stolen by one little boy who looked like he just woke up from a nap and didn’t know why he was in a giant tent with a million people cheering for him and sure as hell didn’t like it.

After the break, and a film by Jewell and Ginnie, the real draw of CFW began. This year, they decided to expand the Emerging Designer Competition from the Southeast to the entire East, inviting 16 designers (compared to the eight from last year). Four will compete each night for a spot in the finale on Saturday.

First up was Marie Cordella from Raleigh, N.C. Her pieces were a mix of textures, patterns, and fabrics, a concept that began a bit weak and almost piece meal. But her collection grew in strength once it became more toned down. Next was Van Hoang. The Knoxville lady presented a flowy, ethereal line of delicate fabrics in a muted palette of gray, lilac, and pink. Her designs looked like what a New England girly girl would bust out of her closet once the leaves start to change, right down to the ankle socks. Personally, it was my favorite show of the night.

Temporary Mt. Pleasant resident Veritee Hill said in her bio video (each designer had one before their shows began) that she was embracing her position as a costume designer. This was very apparent in her corset-heavy collection, a fine display of goth glam. I was on the fence about Hill. Some of her pieces were fabulous, like something out of Blade Runner or one of Tim Burton’s Batman movies. But some were candidates for a macabre high school prom outfit. I liked it, especially one particular skin-tight sequined number, but I didn’t love it.

Last up was Georgia’s Sarah Parrott. She presented a very trendy and flattering collection, with a big emphasis on high waists. Her color scheme was gorgeous and rich, focusing entirely on solids, and the show had a great flow to it. However, compared to what was presented earlier, it was very simple, and while simplicity has its place, it may have meant that Parrott was outshined.

While the judges deliberated, the audience was treated to the night’s second featured designer, CFW 2010 Emerging Designer finalist Jamie Lin Snider. She said her collection was inspired by cathedrals and graveyards, but I’d like to use another descriptor for it. Here goes: industrial desert. You could see it in her bone accessories, in the leather, fringe, and even (what I think were) feathers, and in her chain dresses, made from vintage jewelry. She had a couple of epic black gowns, then went edgier with sheer numbers with intriguing shapes. Her concepts are so modern and so outside of the box, especially compared to most of her local peers. As far as I’m concerned, Jamie Lin is Charleston’s most avant garde designer.

In the end, Parrott won the night’s people’s choice award, while Hill was chosen to move on to the final round. I was a bit surprised; I really expected Hoang to run away with it. I’m sure there will be nothing else like Hill’s collection in the rest of the competition, and I’m looking forward to seeing who else will impress the judges.