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Walking backstage for the final night of Charleston Fashion Week reminded me of the end of summer camp. The excitement buzzing through the air was tinged with the bittersweet reality that this would be the last night of fashion camp and a slight sense of relief that the normalcy of everyday life would soon return.

By day five, the CFW hair, makeup, and production teams had it down to a science, creating a sense of calm before the storm—models lounged, ate (they really do eat! Rock the Runway winner Nikki Jansen had requested pizza but made do with a sandwich delivered by her mom), and mingled with their newly made friends.

This serenity started to dissolve into an adrenaline-fueled race to the finish line as the time for the Emerging Designers’ final runway shows neared. Walking around backstage, we were transported from the intergalactic world of Hannah Goff to the champagne tea party of Vartika Vikram and ended up on the Fashion Panel’s “saved” designer Adrienne Antonson’s very stylish farm. Each designer smoothed out their collections, nipping and tucking every detail to perfection. Ashley Brook Perryman acted as the beauty ringleader, her fingers nimbly and swiftly working their magic on Angela Sum’s hair pieces to ensure they sat just right. Even with the call for an emergency Tide To Go stain remover and hair dryer, the models received pep talks from their designers: “be natural,” “have fun with it,” walk like “you live in these clothes.” The nerves that had tinged the air subsided to pure excitement as the first model for Vikram powered down the runway.

While fellow designers and models watched on and offered praise and cheers as the shows ended, the hair and makeup team prepared the magical conveyor belt of beauty for the final two shows. As models came tearing in for their quick changes, organized chaos developed as the braided up-dos for Tsvetelina Gerasimova McAuliffe’s collection were unraveled to become the textured creations of Charlotte Hess’ vision.

As the models began to line up for the final two shows, a visual juxtaposition emerged. The sleek and elegant bridal designs of Faith Thornhill stood counterpoint to the texture-infused line of Charlotte Hess. “Who wants to get dirty?” yelled Perryman as Hess’ models were sprayed with self-tanner and airbrush foundations to create the earthy, Dustbowl-era look. Thornhill’s models and white creations were shielded from any errant sprays and soon were moved—train handlers and all—to the holding area just behind the runway. 

As Thornhill’s models posed with the designer and practiced the end of the runway turns, Hess gathered hers in a last-minute team huddle. Cheers escaped from the powwow and the room was energized in a whole new way. The music started, and Thornhill’s models glided onto the runway, paying careful attention to the trains in front of them.

A last call for the 2012 Emerging Designers: East finalists went round the room as they took their seats backstage, awaiting news of the competition winner. Thornhill’s models had just finished the show and Hess was up as cheers erupted again backstage from her energetic models, who took to the runway and danced the week out—literally hoe-downing their way off the runway, musical instruments in hand.

The night was almost over but not before the Emerging Designers were ushered onstage to hear their fate. One last set of quick changes occurred as Hannah Goff was named the winner and her models prepared for the photo shoot. As her models stood in line, other models hugged goodbye. Many coos of sadness and farewells circled through the room, and just like summer camp the bunks were cleared out and campers returned home leaving little trace of the magical week that had just passed. 

Written by Melissa Tunstall