A Grande Finale
The last night of Charleston Fashion Week gave crowds a can’t-miss parade of celebs and doled out not one, but two awards, to the week’s most-adored designer
Caption: Emerging Designer: East and People’s Choice winner Afriyie Poku backstage with his lineup of well-dressed gents
Photograph by Ruta Elvikyte
The chill and the rain on Saturday did nothing to dampen the fifth and final night of CFW 2013. The stars came out in full force, and the celebrity-lined front row included everyone from Ashanti, who will begin starring in the seventh season of Lifetime’s Army Wives, to Christian Siriano, who brought his spring 2013 ready-to-wear collection to the runway as the night’s featured designer.
Also spotted: stylist and fashion personality Robert Verdi in his signature sunglasses and a pair of killer spiked loafers, and designer Brandon Sun, who gossiped and snapped iPhone pictures with Ashanti before the show began. Johnson Hartig, co-founder of Libertine, along with designer Antonio Azzuolo also kept watch from the front row. At 8:30 p.m., the lights went down and Columbia, SC-based Death of Paris rocked the runway with an upbeat electro-pop tune, followed by the last introduction of the week from Ayoka Lucas and Tommy Baker of presenting sponsor Baker Motor Company. “Are you in a fashion coma yet?” Ayoka asked the crowd, who whooped and hollered in response. Evidently not.
First up in the finale of the Emerging Designer Competition: East was Hyemin Cho, who judges had chosen to come back as the competition’s surprise fifth finalist. The NYC-based designer, who “wants to bring Korean culture and Eastern design to the West,” presented her full line of simple, boxy silhouettes covered in a rainbow of hand-painted horizontal brushstrokes. Winner of the first night’s competition, Katherine Barron showed her full fall 2013 collection next. Variations of all-white dresses and separates served as canvases for her Jackson Pollock-esque brushstrokes and beadwork splatters in stark, sparkly black. Neon pink and transparent pumps provided her show’s only pop of color, letting her expert tailoring and simple silhouettes stand out on their own.
Wednesday night’s winner, Serena Da Conceiçao, presented her work next. Showing high-waisted leather pants and skirts with corseted detailing paired with sheer tops, along with Diane Von Furstenberg-esque printed jumpsuits and dresses, Da Conceiçao says her collection of completely wearable designs are for women who want to feel powerful yet sexy at the same time. Siobhan Murphy, Friday night’s winner, showed her avant-garde take on the ultra-feminine silhouettes of the 1950s and ’60s next. Using frothy tulle as the crux of her collection, Murphy paired fluffs of ballerina tutu skirts and tops with sharply contrasting tailored blazers and sumptuously silky maxi skirts. Topping off her designs with jaunty fedoras and even a full-length tulle veil, Murphy’s dreamy and ultra-dramatic collection was well received by the crowd. Finally, it was another crowd favorite who ended the show: Afriyie Poku, winner of Thursday evening’s competition. His modern take on 18th- and 19th-century-inspired menswear felt almost like a cross between Michael Jackson’s wardrobe from the 1980s and a Charles Dickens’ novel. Expertly-tailored, Victorian-era suits complete with tails and intricate, military-inspired details took center stage, along with purple, which appeared everywhere from coat linings to ties and even socks. Buckles and zippers, whether they were down the back of a vest, adorning a leather coat, or across the chest of a white shawl-collared sweater, also added just the right amount of edginess. By the conclusion of the collection, the vast majority of the audience jumped to their feet in a standing ovation for Poku’s last model, who bowed down to the crowd.
Before the announcement of the winner of the Emerging Designer competition, Christian Siriano gave Charleston a peek at his full Spring 2013 Ready-To-Wear collection, a dreamy, pastel wave of all things girly, from frothy tulle ballerina skirts to pearl-encrusted silk gowns. Siriano, a former dancer, cited the ballerina-centric paintings of Edward Degas and the American Ballet Theatre’s The Dream as inspiration. Though his looks vacillated from daytime separates—belted, peplum pantsuits in pink polka dot and rich brocades along with skirts and button downs in pale peach and aqua watercolor prints—to feather- and pearl-encrusted evening gowns, the one constant was the collection’s graceful femininity. Even the shoes were mini delights of girly-ness. His Mary Jane pumps came adorned with bows on the heel in every shade of pastel, from robin’s egg blue to pale rose. Completely wearable and accessible, the collection had the crowd oohing and aahing and planning on signing up for a Barre class or two.
Finally, it was the moment many had been waiting for all week long. After introducing the night’s judges—Ashanti; Peter Davis, editor-in-chief of NYC-based Scene magazine; Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week; Sarah Parrott and Nikki Poulos, both former Fashion Star contestants; and Cator Sparks, editor-in-chief of TheManual.com—host Ayoka Lucas announced the winner of the Emerging Designer Competition: East. This year, the grand prize winner also took the People’s Choice vote: Afriyie Poku, the self-taught menswear designer from West Africa by way of Atlanta, humbly accepted both awards. In all, Poku will receive more than $20,000 worth of prizes, including $5,000, a $10,000 marketing and promotional package from F22 Designs, a Bernina sewing machine, and a featured designer show at next year’s Charleston Fashion Week.
Here’s to the weeklong whirlwind of fashion in Marion Square. We’ll see you under the tents in 2014!