Charleston Fashion Week is here. How do we know? Locals are bum rushing King Street for the most vogue ensemble. The Twitter world is name-dropping like Liz Smith. And eight Emerging Designers are licking their wounds from sewing until their hands bled.
The highlight of the fashion marathon week is the Emerging Designer Competition. Eight semi-finalists will present their lines on Tuesday night. The same night, the Fashion Panel — including Cynthia Rowley, Mychael Knight, and Ashley Reid — will choose three finalists to advance to Saturday evening. They will be presented with a design challenge and given just four days to create a mini line of clothing.
CFW Creative Director Ayoka Lucas says, “What CFW was looking for when selecting the emerging eight was cohesiveness and innovation.” Julia Faye Davison, Anna Lassiter, Hannalei Taylor, Chelsie Ravenel, Barbara Beach, Larika Page, Jamie Lin Snider, and Uriel Zamora were selected from a 50-plus pool of applicants. Though there’s some tough competition, Lucas says the ultimate goal is to “celebrate and be celebrated” at this year’s event.
“This has been three months of extreme hard work,” says Anna Lassiter, owner of Eden Boheme and one of the lucky eight. “You wouldn’t believe my week. Interviews, sittings at my store, I’m showing my house.” Though exhausted, Lassiter has to admit she’s eating it all up. “This is such an amazing opportunity. One more week is the least I can give it.”
The designer grew up in Charleston and cut her teeth working at Sucker Jeans. “I learned a lot about the production side there and started wanting to do my own designs,” she says. This fall Lassiter and her business partner Lucinda Race both applied for the Emerging Designer Competition.
“It was hysterical, it took so many hours,” Lassiter says of the application process. “I was working on it until 10 at night. I actually had to submit my application four times before it went through.” Once the application was in, it was hurry up and wait. Applicants were supposed to learn if they had been chosen by November. In December, she found out she had been selected.
“I’ve always been more of a designer,” says Lassiter, who, hard to believe, only began sewing a few months ago. The novice seamstress has been on a crash course in sewing 101 since December. “I have a lot of really talented seamstresses in my family,” she says. Taking notes from her relatives, she’s picked up the stitching trade quickly. Like a basketball player visualizing his perfect jump shot, Lassiter says, “Sometimes I lay awake at night and think through the process of how a garment will fit together.” Her style, according to her CFW bio, is “bohemian glam,” and attendees can expect to see 10 looks, including her signature flowing layered gowns along with vests, skirts, and shirts.
While Lassiter is humble enough to be thrilled just to be included as an emerging designer, if she wins, she’s most looking forward to a booth at the Atlanta Mart. “I’ll still be selling my things in my store, and I hope to pick up boutiques in other cities,” she says.
For others, like emerging designer Hannalei Taylor, the excitement is in the opportunity to introduce herself at CFW. The 29-year-old Radford University fashion design major has been producing clothes for years, most recently working with a bridal boutique in Myrtle Beach. However, she says, “I married a Marine, so we haven’t really been able to set down roots.” The Taylors have lived throughout the Southeast and recently were stationed in North Carolina. There Taylor’s been working as a photographer for an auction house, however the family has recently been notified that they have to move again in May.
All that travel, luckily, has not depleted her creativity. Taylor’s design motif is inspired by being a mother. “We became parents two and a half years ago and I find I’m doing more feminine designs. I love pleats for military or school girl skirts, I do a lot of ruffling. I’m not big on colors. I like monochromatic schemes, and a pop of color,” she says.
Taylor sounds remarkably calm when discussing her runway show and even looks forward to the design challenge should she make it to the top three. “I love the improvisation of it. It’s exciting to not even know what you’re getting into.”
Julia Faye Davison, another emerging designer, looks forward to the design challenge as well. She agrees that the sometimes-criticized last-minute challenge is a bit reality showish, but says, “Project Runway is ridiculously popular right now, so it makes sense to do something like this.” Moreover, she hopes the final challenge will cut the thread from the seam, so to speak. “You have to do it all by yourself,” she says, “so we’ll really find out who can sew.”
Though only 25, Davison’s fashion expertise goes way back. “I’m very tiny so I started making clothes for myself when I was young since I couldn’t fit anything,” she says. Her schooling at the American Intercontinental University and studies in London helped hone her skills. Her recent return to Summerville from abroad encouraged her to apply to CFW.
“I use environmentally friendly fabrics,” she says. “I make all my own dyes too.” The designer has culled leather fabrics from thrift stores and is using her grandfather’s vintage hat collection to accessorize her models. Her looks have a story line as well. “A Native American man falls in love with a Regent British woman,” she says. Think Last of the Mohicans meets Jane Austen.
Lucas says 2010 is really CFW’s big year. On the heels of launching two Project Runway competitors — Carol Hannah Whitfield and Gordana Gehlhausen — and with the inclusion of another Project Runway alum, Mychael Knight, CFW is poised to make some waves in the U.S. style scene.
“We have some really big name players coming this year like Cynthia Rowley, Ed Kavishe from Fashion Wire Press, Anne Slowey from Elle Magazine — their presence is a right of passage,” says Lucas. Just one more reason for the emerging eight to go big or go home. They’ve worked tirelessly for three months cutting, hemming, dying, and sewing into the night. What’s one more week of hard work?