"A fashion show is like a wedding-- it builds up and builds up and then it's over in five seconds."
That is how Jessica Crittenden, owner of Teal in Summerville, describes the months of planning and preparation leading up to that moment when designers and store owners get their chance to showcase clothing during fashion week. Charleston Magazine's Charleston Fashion Week, a five-day event now in its third year, introduced area fashionistas to the designs of nine designers and 18 stores during the week.
For five days, it seems all eyes were focused on one stage under a tent in the middle of Marion Square in downtown Charleston. Close to a hundred photographers, writers and videographers recorded every outfit, audience members couldn't wait to twitter about each designer and the next day blog after blog was written about the event.
Welcome to fashion week!
Crittenden caught the fashion week bug last year and couldn't wait to show again this year. The former clothing buyer from Mississippi loves fashion week and feels like it put her store on the map in Charleston. She relocated with her husband to Summerville a couple of years ago and felt something was missing from the downtown shopping experience. She opened Teal, a swanky women's boutique, soon after.
On this particular day, she and sales associate Tessa Hart arrive at 2:30 p.m. and immediately start unpacking and organizing clothing. Hart labels shoe boxes and Crittenden lays out bags of accessories. Though the models won't arrive until 4 o'clock, they want to have everything prepared to avoid confusion later.
Crittenden said she started planning for the show in December. Long before the start of fashion week, she had been working with Charleston Magazine and picking clothing then choosing models to best fit her look and theme.
The theme for fashion week was 'The future of fashion' and Crittenden chose her inspiration from the past. She explained that history repeats itself and she chose 'Modern Vintage' as her theme. The movie The Notebook and the city of Charleston were her inspiration for the clothing as she designed the theme of the show.
After months of planning, waiting for models to get through hair and makeup and dress was Crittenden's only concern as she calmly applied her makeup outside the main tent. Sales associate Tessa Hart returned calls and texts on her phone as she waited by Crittenden's side.
A voice announces the future of fashion is now and the lights grow dim. After a small video presentation, a screen lifts to reveal a lone model waiting at the beginning of the runway. The music begins to emanate louder and louder, the lights pop on one by one down the runway and the energy grows with every beat of the music.
As a photographer in the media pit, it is a different experience than any other seat in the tent. Every model makes eye contact with the camera almost immediately as they walk down the runway. From the first step it is as if they are looking right at you and coming to see you only. Each time the beat of the bass explodes from the speaker they step. Perfectly in tune with the music, they strut to the end of the runway. Every eye trained on them, they never skip a beat. At the end each strikes a pose, flirting with the camera, and finally spinning around to leave.
Each show is different as the designers and retailers want to evoke a certain emotion as they present their line of clothing. During one show, models would grace the runway in elegant dresses and fancy hats while during another show they stormed down in jeans and leather, eyes painted black, like they were heading to a 70s punk rock show as soon as they left the stage.
Some would stare intimately into the camera while another might glare at the media pit, almost growling at them. Others flashed a smile acting playful as they stood. Every model knew what attitude was needed to complete their ensemble.
To the casual observer, fashion week may have looked like it was taking place outside of the tents as beautiful women lined up to get inside. Obviously fashion was just as important in the seats as it was on the stage. Before the show, it was fun to people watch as some came dressed in simple black dresses while others wore extravagant gowns and hats. Most looked like they had their own hair and makeup team at home preparing them for the show.
The first two rows were reserved for media and judges for the emerging designer competition. From PDAs to digital cameras, everyone was taking pictures and taking notes as each model passed along the front. The rest of the seating was reserved for sponsors or those early enough to snag one of the few remaining chairs.
On most nights, it was a standing room only crowd as everyone watched each show. On the last night of the show, I was along the back wall and some people were passing by. As I moved back, I almost stepped into a deep puddle of water caused by the rain. A lady beside me almost did the same thing and I reached out to catch her as she lost her balance. She turned to me and thanked me for saving her $150 shoes.
They erupted in applause for their favorite designs and some even cheered for their favorite model. After one particular show a special model made his way down the stage. Trixie Kawasaki, winner of the Stiletto Stampede costume contest, was to be introduced and step out to make an appearance and wave at the crowd.
Instead, he marched down the runway not once but twice as everyone jumped up and cheered him on. "I didn't get all dressed up like this for nothing," he said later when we talked.
In between shows, everyone mingled during the intermission getting more drinks or going outside for fresh air and a smoke break. On one particularly crowded night, the line to the women's restroom was very long. After a while, a couple of ladies jumped into the men's restroom line and walked right in with the guys. It was an interesting perspective to see fashionably dressed women standing next to the urinal as men's side of the portables became a unisex bathroom.
At one point I asked another photographer why in such hard economic times, fashion is still so important that everyone braves wet weather and crowded conditions to be at fashion week. She simply put people will always be vain. Pride and vanity will never go away no matter what the economic or social conditions are, she said.
So even after all the crazy bathroom antics, wet weather and after parties, it was still about the designs. The most important spot on the runway was at the end as photographers captured every outfit that every designer was hoping would make it to print. Fashion week is important to many as they look to make a name for themselves or their shops.
Normally a sports and documentary photographer, I got to witness something I have never seen before. From people watching to model gazing, I found the week to be a lot of fun and a small but interesting window into the world of fashion.
Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at firstname.lastname@example.org.