Saturday night’s Baker Motor Company Charleston Fashion Week Finale was, in a word, fierce.
The term, frequently used by Featured Designer Christian Siriano during his appearance on Season 4 of reality show “Project Runway,” is all that can describe the collections shown by the finalists in the Emerging Designer Competition: East, and the whimsical collection shown by Siriano himself.
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Throughout the week, people expressed their excitement at seeing the 27-year-old’s designs.
When asked on Opening Night what she was most looking forward to, V2V store manager Heidi Johnson said, “Christian Siriano. His stuff just looks so amazing!”
It was no different Saturday.
“Christian Siriano, of course,” exclaimed Summer Landrith.
“Everybody’s excited to see him, but I’m also excited to see who wins the Emerging Designer Competition,” added Lindsay Powers. “And people watching. I think people go all out since it’s the finale, so that will be fun to see.”
As attendees filed into the runway tent, the excitement was palpable as a number of special guests were in attendance.
Seated in the front row on the judges panel were Siriano, Grammy-winner Ashanti; Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week; lifestyle expert Robert Verdi; Johnson Hartig, co-founder of Libertine, which showed Thursday; designer Antonio Azzuolo, who showed his collection Friday; designer Brandon Sun; Peter Davis, editor-in-chief of SCENE magazine; Sarah Parrott, a 2011 Emerging Designer Competition: East semifinalist; Nikki Poulos, a competitor on Season 1 of “Fashion Star”; and Cator Sparks, a recent Charleston transplant and editor-in-chief of TheManual.com.
Once things got started — fashionably late, of course — the show moved into the Emerging Designer Competition: East, where a pool of 20 had been narrowed to four over the course of the week. The designers selected as finalists were Katherine Barron of Savannah, Serena da Conceicao of Brooklyn, N.Y., Afriyie Poku of Atlanta and Siobhan Murphy of Charleston.
A last minute “save” was given to Hyemin Cho of New York, who’s eponymous label is inspired by Korean culture and architecture, specifically lattice and roof tiles. She used laser-cut leather, quilted will and hand-painted silk in her designs.
Barron found inspiration in the magnolia blossom, creating all-white pieces that mimic the texture and shape of the flower. She finished each piece of her k.barron line with hand-painted black swirls and beading.
Da Conceicao described herself as being more comfortable with her sensuality than the average woman because of her Brazilian heritage, and it shows through in her designs. Her mix of soft, flowy fabrics, a lot of which were shear, were finished off with leather details and paired with fitted pieces to complete her “unapologetic” eponymous line.
Murphy’s pieces from her ReTulled by Siobhan line were stylized on the childhood fantasy of dress-up. Featuring a number of dresses with classic ’50s and ’60s silhouettes, rich velvet pieces, jackets with tailoring suited to the English countryside and sharp lines, her work was given volume and contrast with the liberal use of tulle and lace.
But it came as no surprise that it was Poku who swept the competition, being named People’s Choice and Emerging Designer: East. His Oberima Afriyie line, the only menswear collection in the competition, featured fitted slacks, tailored jackets and slim-fit vests in classic colors with a modernized twist shown through color and details like elbow and knee patches, buckles, zippers and military medals. His 18th- and 19th-century-inspired designs garnered multiple standing ovations.
Along with the title, Poku won $5,000 cash, a $10,000 online marketing and promotional package, mentoring opportunities with industry leaders, professional look-book images, a spot in the 2014 Charleston Fashion Week and more.
After the Emerging Designer Competition: East showing, it was time for the much-anticipated Siriano show.
First gaining attention after being named the youngest winner of “Project Runway” in Season 4, Siriano debuted his eponymous line at New York Fashion Week in 2008 and has collaborated on retail projects with Puma, Payless ShoeSource, Spiegel and Victoria’s Secret, among others. He has interned with industry icons Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, who Siriano has stated is his favorite designer, and has dressed the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga and Rihanna. With his collection sold in Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, Siriano was the youngest person to ever appear on Chain’s 40 Under 40 list.
“Each of my collections celebrates women with feminine fantasy, drama, tailoring, and couture techniques,” said Siriano, whose creative process always begins with a dream or fantasy.
Showing a series of pieces in whites and pastels, his work looked fit for the stage. Using brocades, a favorite of the designer, with watercolor silks, pearls, polka-dotted cottons and metallic linens, Siriano didn’t disappoint his legion of fans, who gave him a standing ovation.