by Erin Perkins
Pretty and lithe enough to be a model herself, McKenzie Eddy started Friday night at Charleston Fashion Week with a tambourine-shaking musical performance. With the band set up on the runway, she treated the audience to a few songs before the shows began. Eddy is not only a musician, but is also part of the media collective DD172, headed by Damon Dash, who is also in town for the events.
Mary Mojo was first for the retailers and unfortunately gave us a standard showing of staples that were pretty enough, but failed to elicit much excitement from the audience. Gwynn’s of Mt. Pleasant, however, was a different story. Retailers must pull together looks from their store in new and thrilling ways if they want the CFW audience to pay attention, and Gwynn’s was styled to perfection. The presentation showcased so many of the trends for spring (color-blocking, maxi dresses, colored jeans, and sheer) that it felt like we were flipping through an Elle editorial. But, that could also be because Anne Slowey, Elle’s fashion news director, was across from us on the runway.
After the intermission, the audience watched a short Pistil Films production, one, featuring local designer Rachel Gordon’s clothing and gorgeous real-life model couple Caroline Rice and Kyle Peeler. For the duration of CFW, these short films at intermission are a great showcase for all the artistic talent that Charleston has to offer. After the film, the audience watched the models walk off in the Rock the Runway competition. While all the models were beyond beautiful and we each had our favorites for the week, Samuel Roberts (who learned to runway walk from YouTube) won for the men and 14-year-old Nikki Jansen won for the women.
Keely Lauren Cansler, the first emerging designer to show for the evening, stated she found her inspiration in chandeliers and found objects. Her collection was full of sumptuous fabrics, metallics, pussy bows (yes, that’s the technical term), and accessories dripping with chandelier prisms. The standout piece was a long, deep red velvet gown with a high neckline and slim gold belt. The tiny chandelier crystal hanging off the belt reminded us a bit of Gone with the Wind, but instead of curtains, the light fixtures were sacrificed for fashion.
Emily Pollard wants us to dress for the end of the world, but in a good way. Slim leggings, leather, and pieces from what appeared to be black hair (human?) were Pollard’s picks for a post-apocalyptic civilization. Black lips and leather gloves lent to the dark vibe of the collection, however a few pops of bright pink and cobalt blue saved the presentation from becoming too bleak. Pollard was the People’s Choice winner for the evening.
Ashley Newsome Long imagined a collection where “Oscar Wilde meets the Maharaja.” The result was a fantastical, romantic overabundance of whimsy and fun. We couldn’t help but think of Wes Anderson’s highly-stylized film The Darjeeling Limited as the models sauntered down the runway, luggage in tow, for a trip to the Indies. Overcoats, capes, top hats, furs, and velvet led to a fanciful world where we still travel by train and Indian elephants are alternative modes of transportation. The standout piece was a tight-fitting, studded velvet gown; the cutouts were perfectly paired with the model’s tattoos and added an extra level of fantasy.
Because she is a local, we’ve watched the progression of Shelly Lucille Smith’s work and were excited to see what she was bringing to CFW. Smith’s designs harken to modern haute couture shows, where the pieces are pure art, with a suggestion of ready-to-wear. Color-blocking, texture, copper fabric, mesh, and metal plates led to a conceptual collection of sleek lines and layering. The first two peplum dresses shown could easily be integrated into any creative professional’s work attire, whereas the last look — amazingly completed with a metal-plate face mask — may need a more daring fashionista.
Hannah Goff is all about prints. The designer showed a dizzying array of print pairings, all with impeccable construction. Goff’s prints and surface detail felt like collections we have seen from Mary Katrantzou or Christopher Kane. Classic tailoring kept the pieces from becoming overwhelming. Goff went on to win the judges’ choice for the evening.
Featured designer Chris Benz brought his Spring 2012 collection to Charleston to show CFW audiences. Though shown in New York last September, many audience members were not familiar with the line and delighted in seeing the colorful menagerie up-close. Mondrian-type prints paired with sixties-vibe circular prints to create eccentric but wearable looks. We enjoyed the loose-fitting sequined pieces — perfect for upcoming twilight garden parties in the Holy City. Trying to imagine what he was thinking as we watched pink-haired Benz peer upon his own collection was one of the highlights of the evening.