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Photos: Charlotte Hess wins Emerging Designer competition

Charleston Fashion Week 2011: Finale

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Last year's Charleston Fashion Week Fashion Finale featured fried mac and cheese balls. This year's did not. And oh, how I missed them. Last year's event was also a much more relaxed affair. There were no chairs; we stood while we watched the Emerging Designer finalists present a last look and while Marysia presented her line. It was over in a hot minute, and then the night basically became a giant dance party. It was a great way to ease attendees out of "fashion camp" mode and into some fun. 
 
This year's, finale, however, was nothing like that. It was formatted just like the week's other nights, and it ended up being deja vu all over again. There wasn't really a way around it; the finalists were allowed to show their full collections, and obviously if you'd been there every or almost every night like we City Paper folks have, there weren't very many surprises for much of the evening. As CFW grows and expands, they're obviously going to be met with kinks along the way, and I think this was one of them, but it shouldn't be too hard to correct.
 
But now onto the fashion. After a performance by Brittany Bosco, who was arguably one of the best dressed people in the tent, the Emerging Designer competition came to a conclusion. It seemed like this year's judges chose the most dramatic presenters from each night to participate in the finale, and each was allowed to show four extra pieces from their line. Charlotte Hess, who seemed like the crowd favorite from the moment her video began, was up first. I wasn't crazy about her collection on Friday night (mostly because I fell madly in love with Isabel Crosby's line), but I was able to appreciate it much more in its second viewing. It looked like the end of the word, its knit pieces being so modern and tribal at the same time. And you can't help but be impressed that the girl can hand-knit a complete pair of high-waisted, wide-legged pants that managed to look damn wearable. 
 
Next up was Stephanie Mejia. "Wait," you say, "she wasn't a finalist." Yeah. I know. But apparently, as Ayoka Lucas explained, the judges insisted that she be added to the lineup. A lot of the people I talked to seemed pretty surprised by this decision, including a couple of Emerging Designers. Frankly, it was an odd choice and needed more justification, especially since it almost seemed to undercut Cody Sai's win. Anyway, Mejia's heroin-chic models wore a couple of strong pieces that we didn't see the first time around, but I still wasn't impressed with her line. 
 
I skipped Thursday night's presentation for fear of being committed for mental and physical exhaustion, so I didn't get to see Michael Wiernicki's first show. But I loved it on Saturday night. Loved loved loved it. It was experimental but wearable, and any of his pieces could easily fit into anyone's wardrobe as a standout to sass things up. I noticed a picture of the robot from Metropolis in his video profile, and I could totally see how the legendary silent film inspired him. His line was so deco and fabulous, he instantly became my favorite.
 
Then there was Cody Sai. I just want to put him in my pocket and keep him forever, he's so adorable. It was the most simplistic of the night's collections, and unfortunately, I didn't like it as much the second time around (though some of the pieces were still just perfect in my mind). 
Veritee Hill was up last. Her collection came off as more costumey than before, though an added look of high-waisted pants and a polka-dot mesh top were stunning. 
 
After the Emerging Designers were done, we were treated to a model walk-off for the Rock the Runway Competition, and then it was on to the break. Afterward, the featured designers had their turn. 
 
Last year's Emerging Designer winner Larika Page blew us all away with her mid-century South Beach collection last year, and her presentation last night proved that it wasn't just a one-off. She showed a line that managed to be equally elegant and edgy. You could wear any of her pieces at a black-tie event and be the most glamorous woman in the room. Even when her last model went out and had to painstakingly make her way down the runway (the full-length gown was very tight and the shoes were very high, a bad combination for mobility), the would-be spectacle was completely overshadowed by the fact that the dress was breathtaking. That girl could have spent all night on the runway for all I cared. Page is undeniably talented, and I think we can be proud that she was launched from our own fashion week. 
 
The night ended with David Yoo, the 2010 Elle/RISD Design Award Winner. He presented a black-and-white line of well-constructed menswear-inspired women's clothing, including shirt dresses, deconstructed jackets, and oversized blazers. It was an impressive, avant-garde way to end the evening.
 
The winners were announced, with Ajang Majok and Caesar Hingleton. Not surprisingly, Charlotte Hess took home both of the designer awards, though I was crossing my fingers for Wiernicki. She collapsed to her knees when she heard her name announced, and when Ayoka asked her for one word to describe what she was feeling. "Holy crap" was all she managed to get out. 
 
And so, CFW came to an end, and it will probably take a solid year for me — and my feet — to recover.

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