Photos: Flappers, factories, and funky knitwear set the tone for Friday night 

Charleston Fashion Week 2011: Night Four

The fourth night of Charleston Fashion Week saw a steady buildup of skillfully styled shows. It was the most exciting night I’ve seen so far this year. Local rapper Righchus paired up with Quiana Parler for a soulful duet that set the tone for the evening and had the crowd dancing in their seats.

There were a whopping four retail shows in the first half, but we had high hopes for some of them. Locally owned company Sucker Jeans presented a Great Gatsby-style show set to the tune of upbeat remixed vintage tunes. Long-legged models sported different shades and styles of the line’s seersucker jeans with colorful sheer tops, carelessly strewn beads, and pincurls, with dark lips adding a kiss of goth. Although I loved it at first, the combo quickly grew repetitive as one look blended into the next. The nude bras under the sheer shirts were clearly visible, making me wish they’d gone with something darker underneath. The menswear showed a little more creativity, with plaid blazers and colorful shoes channeling the era. Many of the models, male and female, sported hats and headpieces from local milliner Leigh Magar.

Mary Mojo and Shoe Fairy were next with a colorful South Beach-style collection featuring pieces from Escapada. Some of the looks were wearable, but they were too basic to be on a runway, and although I loved the models’ fishtail braids, it was evident that much of their hair was fake. Biton showed everything from beachwear to eveningwear, but the menswear shined the brightest. The best women’s look — a sparkling hooded minidress with pointed shoulders — was overshadowed by the model who fell out of her ill-fitting shoes and bent down to remove them, showing everyone behind a full view of her behind. Gwynn’s wrapped up the half with some good, luxe looks that might have had more impact if they were better styled.

After the intermission, we were on to the main event: the emerging designers’ presentations. Tampa’s La’Daska Powell started things off with a swimwear collection. The first look, black and lacy, looked like straight-up lingerie. The rest of the collection consisted of black, white, and gray one-pieces with deeply cut necks and backs and sheer cutouts paired with insanely high shoes. It seemed a little more sexy gymnast than swimwear, and I was ultimately underwhelmed.

Baltimore’s Thea Canlas was next, and she more than made up for the drabness of the previous line. Her cartoonish collection was genuinely interesting, her pieces like works of art blending a seemingly random selection of patterns, fabrics, and textures. It’s difficult to even summarize the collection because there was so much going on — maybe too much — but I still wanted to see more.

Brooklyn’s Isabel Crosby presented my favorite collection of the night. She cites Billy Reid as an influence, and it shows in her vintage-inspired mens- and womenswear. The models scowled down the runway, many looking like they’d just finished their shifts at the factory, with sturdy boots, work shirts, and jeans completing the 1940s wartime feel. My favorite look was a tan hooded cape paired with an olive skirt, sheer white socks, and shiny red shoes. At the end of the show, Crosby walked to the end of the runway with her models (something a lot of designers seem to avoid doing) and hitched a piggyback ride backstage on the last male model.

Charlotte Hess, a Philadelphia resident, finished out the portion with the best show I’ve seen this year. From the dramatic music to the consistently-styled models to the incredible clothes, Hess delivered a high-energy show, and the crowd loved it. Every look was multidimensional and interesting, like a golden knit dress paired with a knit, nearly floor-length necklace and a huge fur cape. It somehow managed to feel 1970s boho and avant garde at the same time. Hess danced down the runway at the conclusion of her show, and after a standing ovation it’s no surprise that she won people’s choice award and moved on to the finals.

After the steady buildup of the previous three shows, April Johnston’s dark collection was almost a letdown. The 22-year-old SCAD grad is actually younger than any of her emerging designer counterparts, but she has a stint on Project Runway’s Season 8 to back her up. Models channeled moths with flowing layers, long feathers in their hair, red eye makeup, and soft fabrics like velvet and silk. It was much more understated and quiet than the previous collections, but beautiful and well-crafted. Johnston especially excels with eveningwear.

Fashion Week wraps up tonight as the four emerging designer finalists battle it out for the title of Emerging Designer: East. We’ll also see shows from last year’s winner Larika Page as well as David Yoo.

We'll have shots from the photo pit shortly. Until then, here are a few snaps from the front row.

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