Charleston Fashion Week provides more than glitz and glam
Model Alexandra Bartee sits back as designer David Yoo carefully applies strips of black tape to her face. The look was created to enhance Yoo's black-and-white collection featured on the runway Saturday during Charleston Fashion Week.
Knitwear designer Charlotte Hess from Philadelphia dresses a model backstage during Charleston Fashion Week. Hess was both the grand prize and people's choice winner of the Emerging Designer competition.
Jennifer Blencowe and Taylor Williams were two of the models for the Mary Mojo and The Shoe Fairy runway show Friday night during Charleston Fashion Week.
Photographers jump from their front row seats as New York Fashion Week founder Fern Mallis takes a seat next to Elle fashion news director Anne Slowey and former "Project Runway" contestant Mychael Knight. A volunteer greets them with champagne. A production assistant settles an argument over a seat in the next row. Backstage, a model is missing five minutes before show time, and everyone is screaming her name.
It's Charleston Fashion Week, and chaos has hit Marion Square.
Since its creation in 2007 by Charleston Magazine, the event has helped make Charleston a fashion destination. Over five nights, Charleston Fashion Week brings in about 7,500 people, director Naomi Russell says.
"There's no doubt that the Charleston community is a growing fashion hub," says Donna Watts, a retailing instructor at the University of South Carolina. "When Fashion Group International announced in November its intention to open a branch in Charleston, industry professionals sat up and took notice."
Fashion Group International was created in 1930 after Edna Woolman Chase, former Vogue editor-in-chief, gathered 17 women in New York to discuss the importance of fashion. Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Arden were among the founders.
Watts says the organization hopes to make the fashion and design industry an integral part of the Charleston economy.
Josh Ratliff, personal assistant to Russell, says: "The hype and energy this event creates around the city of Charleston is amazing and cannot be ignored. The level of skill, professionalism and staging has grown with the production as well."
This year, the Emerging Designer competition showcased 16 semifinalists throughout the week. Charlotte Hess, 28, from Philadelphia took away a prize package valued at $35,000.
There were over 40 runway shows from designers and retailers along the East Coast, a spring bridal couture show and the Rock the Runway model competition. Winners Ajang Majok and Ceasar Hinleton received $1,000, a $500 gift bag and a fashion spread in Charleston Magazine.
While there's glamour on the runway, it's a different story backstage. Russell says the event's success relies heavily on planning and help from volunteers like Logan Phillips, a fashion merchandising student from USC. This is her diary of the last day as a runway assistant:
6:30 a.m. Alarm goes off and it's time for me to get ready. I put on black leggings and a black tank top, and style my outfit with a pair of funky brown boots and colored bangles.
7:30 a.m. Leave hotel. Stop at Starbucks to order large caramel macchiato ¬– need to start the day fully energized!
8:00 a.m. Arrive at Marion Square. Go straight to the backstage tent to get ready for the spring bridal show. I work with other volunteers to lay down tarps on the ground so the gowns don't pick up any dirt then sort through a huge collection of jewelry.
10:30 a.m. Doors open. Assist designers with model lineup. Make sure all accessories are backstage and everyone is ready to go.
11:30 a.m. Show begins. Everyone backstage is running around. Mass chaos occurs midway through the show when the wrong audio clip is played. All models that were lined up move in a matter of minutes. We hurry up and get the right models on stage.
3:00 p.m. Show finishes. Head to lunch with other volunteers, drinking lots of Red Bull on the way.
3:45 p.m. Arrive back to the tents and wait for next work assignment. About a half-hour later, I'm assigned to David Yoo. So excited!
5:45 p.m. David tells me to begin steaming his clothes. Biggest challenge is finding an outlet that works. Second challenge is trying not to burn myself.
6:30 p.m. Check on models to make sure all of their hair and makeup is done and report to David on their progress.
7:30 p.m. David goes missing and everyone is asking where he is. After a long search, I find him in the Style Lounge. Whew!
8:25 p.m. Show begins. David asks me to go get the skinny black tape and lay out pieces on cardboard. I don't know where he is going with this.
9:00 p.m. He starts taking the tape and placing it on the models' faces and around their arms and legs. I take the models back to hair and makeup to get spray-painted. This is starting to look really cool.
9:30 p.m. Start dressing the models. Have to help them with everything because the spray paint is still wet. Help one model put tape around her shoes because they're too big. Run around getting steamer, iron and scissors for David as he makes last-minute styling changes.
10:00 p.m. Line up models and head to stage area. Watch audio clip of David and wait for production assistant to cue first model. Take a breath, smile and watch David's models rock the runway from backstage. They look amazing, and all of the hard work paid off!
11:15 p.m. Finale show ends. Begin cleanup, and enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne with backstage crew.
12:30 a.m. Arrive back at hotel to change and reapply makeup.
1:00 a.m. Head to King Street to celebrate the end of the week at the official Charleston Fashion Week after party.