Charleston Fashion Week Finale Gala, Saturday, March 28, 8:00 p.m.
“Either you’re in or you’re out!” Well, I was only inadvertently “in” for about one year in the early ’80s thanks to Lisa Birnbach. I awoke up one morning to discover that what was yesterday’s school uniform was on the cutting-room floor of fashion. This phenomenon resulted in a sort of fashion atavism on my part (my sense of personal style hasn’t changed since then), which causes me to exhibit flashes of reverse snobbery, characterized by sarcastic comments, whenever my wife sweet talks me into watching Project Runway.
So imagine my surprise when I attended the Charleston Fashion Week Finale Gala and discovered fashionistas are made of much tougher stuff than I ever gave them credit for. I have to admit that before arriving at Marion Square I indulged in a smidgeon of perverse delight that the weather called for rain, high wind, and possibly even hail. “This might be fun after all,” I thought, conspiratorially as visions of models melting into puddles danced through my head.
But once my wife, Elisabeth, and I got under the tent (and out of the driving rain) at Marion Square, what I found instead was a defiance toward Mother Nature that would impress even the mailman. These fashionistas weren’t about to let a few raindrops or hailstones stop the show. Full speed ahead! The first sign of this imperviousness to the elements came as I was mesmerized by the night’s entertainment, Capoeira Charleston (capoeira is a half-millennium-old Brazilian art form that combines martial arts and tribal dance imported by West African slaves).
I dodged huge raindrops making my way to the registration area, where I found public relations coordinator Jackie Tyler Thomson in remarkably good spirits. As she gave me our passes and the lowdown on the night’s events, her philosophical approach to the weather seemed to imbue the whole park with a bring-it-on attitude. As I stepped inside the runway area, the techno music pumping out of hidden speakers seemed to keep attendees whipped into a frenzy of anticipation for CFW’s final runway show featuring the line of Emerging Designer Finalist Maria Dobrzanska Reeves—“Marysia,” as she’s known to her friends. While mingling in the Sponsor Lounge, I had just finished a conversation with local designer Mary Porter, who was wearing a dramatic black feathered hat, and one of her models, Anna Davis, when another of her models joined us. “Katie Kern, is that you?” I asked. I hardly recognized my society blog predecessor through her enormous upswept, sculpted hairdo and over-the-top multicolored eye makeup.
At first, I also didn’t recognize Jeffery Rhodes beneath his dapper straw hat while as he talked to Paige Crone (is there something about hats that makes a person incognito?). Speaking of the power of headgear, I was mesmerized by a fellow down in the pit below who had a large foam cupcake perched atop his head. While I failed to get the irony of such a getup, he sure made us all look; besides, it takes a certain degree of panache to carry off such a thing.
We joined a conversation with our old neighbor Libby Ganong—who is using her background in art to design and launch a new line of handbags, Add Libb, which was featured in CFW’s Accessories & Style Lounge. She was chatting with hair designer Paul Chavez, who displayed at least as much energy as his dos which surrounded us. We also had a chance to congratulate Emerging Designer semifinalist Swapnali Ahire, who looked like a million dollars in one of her own designs, before starting to make our way next door to the gala tent.
Before leaving, though, we had a moment to catch up briefly with Ms. Charleston Fashion Week herself, Ayoka Lucas, who, notes in hand, was just beginning to seriously deliberate with celebrity guest judge Mychael Knight. We didn’t envy their task of picking the ultimate Emerging Designer winner, and so left them to their daunting task.
Shortly thereafter, Elisabeth, who is always fashionable, and I dodged a few nasty looks from the patrons lined up in the rain to get into the party tent as we broke to the front and ducked in unimpeded (membership has its privileges, folks). Once inside we ran into Will Cathcart and Maggie Stuart (who were at the front of the bar and kind enough to order us drinks). Then we enjoyed a long and typically entertaining conversation with the always dapper Merrill Benfield, who epitomizes timelessly classic style, whether it’s concerning cars, interior design, or clothing.
After the drama and excitement of the announcement of the winner of the Emerging Designer Competition: Southeast, Marysia Reeves, we were happy to catch up with Charleston mag folks Darcy Shankland, Ellen McGauly, and Melissa Bigner. Then next to the bar we shared drinks with our good friends Caroline and Wilson Baker, and we were sure to toast Caroline’s success as an Emerging Designer semifinalist with her new line Maude Couture (she was also dressed to the nines in an example from her line), which the Beaufort native named for her grandmother.
Well, despite my initial trepidation wading into the world of cutting-edge fashion, I must admit that in the end I had a wonderful time. Hard to beat a good party, and the Charleston Fashion Week Finale sure delivered—so take that, Mother Nature.