Since first hearing about Charleston Fashion Week three years ago, I’ve searched for the best way to cover it. Around that time similar events started popping up all over the South, and I wondered what might make one more relevant to our region than the other. What would make someone in Texas or D.C. care about runway shows happening in South Carolina?
After doing some digging into all the fashion weeks in the South—most major cities have one these days—it’s evident they are all important to the Southern style scene. Each one showcases local trendsettters and draws national attention to the South’s emerging fashion culture.
However, CFW, which concluded its seventh year on Saturday, is the most established in the industry. Showcased designers have gone on to grace the pages of national magazines and store racks from coast to coast. Here are five of the ingredients that have made CFW a success.
1. A focus on emerging talent. CFW programming emphasizes emerging designers. The five days of shows are like a March Madness of fashion with young designers facing off each night for a chance to make it to the final round. This year, CFW debuted a mentoring session with the judges in which the designers get to ask the experts all their industry questions and get feedback on their collection. Kind of like Tim Gunn does on Project Runway. This year’s winner, Afriyie Poku from Atlanta, can look to past winners such as Marysia Dobrzanska Reeves of Marysia SWIM, Troubadour’s Lindsay Carter, and Hannah Goff to get a sense of what is to come for him—major fashion magazine placements and potential to be carried at stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys.
2. Southern Hospitality. “We take the intimidation out of fashion by adding the Charleston charm,” says Charleston Magazine style director, Ayoka Lucas, who started CFW in 2007. The shows are open to the public and everything happens under one tent. Attendees don’t have to fret to keep up with schedules or make mad dashes from location-to-location, making the experience easy to digest even for fashion novices. There’s little snobbery— for all the high heels and eccentric dresses in the crowd, there’s also gals in jeans and boots. And when a model stumbles and has to kick off her shoes mid-walk, the crowd cheers as she gracefully struts on.
3. Community Support. Charleston is a relatively small town made up of a tight-knit, supportive group, making it easy for collaborations to abound throughout the week. It’s not uncommon to see a jewelry designer offering up the baubles for another’s show, a shop owner lending her space for trunk shows, and reputed locations opening its doors for events. As was the case with the Social Primer’s show at the Charleston Library Society—a theatric display that concluded with a photo shoot for the new SP Smoking collection in the basement of the library while the crowd feted upstairs.
4. Shopping. The CFW team acknowledges retail is the backbone of the fashion industry, which is why each night of shows kicks off with a local boutique showing off its favorite looks. Between shows, attendees are directed to the Style Lounge, where most photo ops and all drink refills occur. But while in other environments intermission might get a little stale as people sip champagne and wait for the next act, the Style Lounge hosts pop-up shops for Southern favorites such as Theodosia Jewelry from Charleston and Bourbon & Boweties from Florida. Because there is nothing to get you in the mood for shopping like seeing beautiful dresses floating down a runway.
5. The location. It doesn’t hurt that Charleston is one of the most beautiful cities in the country with a slew of buzzy restaurants and shops to its name. Just a little added incentive to attract reputed guest judges, which this year included Project Runway winner Christian Siriano (who wrapped up the shows with his newest collection on Saturday night) and Fern Mallis, the industry maven behind New York Fashion Week.
We can’t wait to see what new things are in store for CFW in 2014!
Have you been to any of Southern-based fashion weeks? Tell us which and what you liked about it.