Charleston Fashion Week a launching pad for 3 locals
In 2011, K Cooper Ray partnered with American luxury clothing designer Billy Reid to host a much-anticipated pop-up shop during Charleston Fashion Week.
In 2012, Stacy Smallwood hosted contemporary New York-based womenswear designer Chris Benz during Charleston Fashion Week for a presentation in her King Street boutique, Hampden Clothing.
And in 2007, Ayoka Lucas made it all possible by starting Charleston Fashion Week.
“There is a new style culture in Charleston, and I truly believe that (Charleston Fashion Week) is a direct influence on this evolution,” says Lucas, the founding creative director. “There is an increase of fashion and beauty professionals. It’s our time as a fashion community, and we are holding stake in the industry at large.”
For Lucas, Smallwood and Ray, 2013 seemed to be the year to take a more possessive hold on that stake in their own individual scenes: Ray of the well-mannered gentleman, Smallwood of the well-dressed woman and Lucas of the fashion legions.
“I’ve seen more retail, and I’ve seen a stronger influx of emerging designers,” Ray says of the changes since CFW began.
Since its founding, the event has sent 100-plus designers down the runway.
“I think the first time I really embraced our rise as a city to a national fashion radar was when Vogue named us one of the most glamorous cities in the world,” says Lucas.
Ayoka Lucas has been a stylist working for herself, a nightlife columnist for Charleston City Paper, style editor for Charleston Magazine and, now, she is going back out on her own.
“Everyone wants to step outside the box at some point in their career,” said Lucas in August, when she announced her plans. “The ability to take on new projects is an incredible feeling for a creatively driven thinker like me. Growth is essential, and I have so much more to give.”
After contributing to Charleston Magazine for 10 years, Lucas struck out under her own name, expanding her reach and signing the magazine as her leading client.
“I’ve been able to work with clients in Charleston, Asheville and Charlotte, and at the same time, I contin- ue to enjoy my style director position at Charleston Magazine and Charleston Weddings Magazine, which allows me to contribute to their fashion pages,” Lucas says.
Soon though, Lucas will be managing her own set of contributors from along the East Coast and even London.
“I will be launching my blog site, stylePublic: a culture club, close to mid-March, which will cover style exclusives in Atlanta, NYC, Charlotte, Asheville, Charleston and London,” Lucas says of the new venture.
The site will cover art and music in addition to fashion.
To celebrate the five-year anniversary of her high-end boutique Hampden in April 2012, Stacy Smallwood threw a good, old-fashioned Lowcountry boil, replete with a restaging of New York label Rag & Bone’s Spring 2012 New York Fashion Week show.
A year later, the event still is being talked about. One of those conversations happened at a runway show in Paris, Smallwood says.
“I introduced myself to another buyer and fashion editor as I was making my way to my seat, and they said, ‘All we have heard about lately is how wonderful your runway show with Rag & Bone designers David Neville and Marcus Wainwright was in Charleston.’ Both of the designers themselves could not stop raving about it and what a wonderful event it was.”
But with the anniversary over, Smallwood plunged ahead, opening her second store, James, in December.
“The emerging designers that I so loved six years ago when I opened Hampden have evolved and expanded their brands into accessories; therefore, it felt like a natural evolution to continue my own brand,” said Smallwood.
To initiate that continuation, she had luxury shoe designer Jerome Rousseau host the store opening.
The new store stands apart from its older sister, focusing on the smaller components of a look: accessories.
Bags, bracelets and shoes from the likes of Alexander Wang, Alexis Bittar and Dannijo receive the utmost attention in the new space located just beside Hampden.
After five seasons with Brooks Brothers via his Social Primer for Brooks Brothers label, K Cooper Ray struck out on his own.
“It was time,” he says. “It was the next evolution. I have more to say.”
And what better way to say it than at New York Fashion Week? To debut his newly independent label, Ray held a fashion presentation in September hosted by Fern Mallis in the University Club in Manhattan — coat and tie required.
The debut came after years of living in Charleston and sitting on the Charleston Fashion Week fashion panel.
The position for Ray provided attention.
“I find that I am recognized more in Charleston,” Ray says.
So it was back to Charleston that Ray, an Alabama native, decided to return after his debut. “I have lived in New York, Milan and Los Angeles. I have chosen to return here, to the place from which I get my strength.”
It’s not only strength that the designer gleans from Charleston.
“I am grateful to call the Holy City my home and proud to say we are inspired by and designed in Charleston.”
Ray will launch an eveningwear collection for men based on the idea of the Charleston tuxedo at a private show apart from the CFW tents. It is a move that came as a surprise to some people.
“I was offered an amazing opportunity to show my collection in a place that is dear to me, the Charleston Library Society,” Ray explains. “A cornerstone of intellectual and cultural life in Charleston, the space is the perfect backdrop for the SP Smoking premiere.”