It’s tent and trend season in Marion Square, and irony abounds. One week we’re milling around the Charleston Wine & Food Festival’s Culinary Village, drooling over decadent eats and foodie fads. Then on the high heels of that, we’re oohing and ahhing as noodle-thin models slink down the runway for Charleston Fashion Week. It’s hardly fair.
Trends come and go, but evidently our desire to be on top of them never does. Witness the impressive growth of Charleston Fashion Week, now in its 11th year. In 2016, the multimedia event included 40 runway shows over five nights, including CFW’s signature Emerging Designers and Rock the Runway competitions. More than 8,100 attendees got a taste of au courant hemlines, silhouettes and last year’s hippest hues.
Organizers anticipate even higher numbers for this year’s event, the first to be sponsored by Lexus Charleston.
“People should expect some surprises this year, starting with a new Lexus Runway entrance. There will be special events and interviews with influencers in the new Maris Dehart StyleMakers Lounge as well,” says Jacqueline Lawrence, CFW’s production director.
Also new this year, the CFW Emerging Designers Competition, formerly a regional affair, drew applicants from across the country. Internationally known designers Rachel Roy and Bibhu Mohapatra will serve as celebrity judges in addition to presenting their own runway shows.
“This continues CFW’s goal of bringing nationally known fashion stars to Charleston, to judge and mentor the competing emerging designers, as well as highlight the strong fashion scene here,” says CFW director Naomi Russell.
Nurturing new talent is one of the things California-based Roy is most looking forward to at Charleston Fashion Week.
“I’m a constant student of the world and to be able to get to know someone’s point of view through how they express themselves brings me joy. Helping to shape or direct a young designer’s vision or technique is a great privilege and responsibility. It’s one of the favorite aspects of my job,” says Roy, who will present her RACHEL collection of “versatile, super chic staples” as the featured designer on Saturday’s Finale.
Let’s meet three of the 16 Emerging Designers, all of whom are hoping to get their lucky break at Charleston Fashion Week.
Rafie Khoshbin | Sterling, Virginia | age 25
A native of Iran, Khoshbin’s family fled to the United States in 2003 after his father, an agronomy professor, was expelled from his university post by Islamic Republic militants during the Iranian revolution, and Khoshbin was denied the ability to go school. In Virginia, he attended Virginia Commonwealth University with every intention of following his family’s science bent, maybe be pre-med like his sister.
“But I found myself in the library researching designers, and spent more time learning about designers and fashion than I did science,” he says.
One night he was flipping channels and happened upon Shirley MacLaine playing Coco Chanel, “and something clicked,” says Khoshbin, who switched his major to art.
On Friday of Charleston Fashion Week, Khoshbin will present a collection of women’s evening wear that reflects his belief that “fashion shouldn’t be suffocating,” and his desire to marry comfort with art. “There will be long silhouettes, some darker colors,” he says.
“I watch what’s happening in Syria, and elsewhere, but I believe even in our darkest moments there’s beauty, there’s hope.”
Victoria Cullinan Strayhorn | Charlotte | age 27
As a little girl in dance class, Strayhorn was smitten by the costumes. The Charlotte native would take them apart then refashion them. A consummate creative, she also dabbled in painting, ceramics and theater throughout her childhood.
“I always knew I’d be an artist of some sort,” says the Savannah College of Art and Design graduate. “And when I realized that fashion combined all my different loves, that was it for me.”
After college Strayhorn moved to New York and paid her dues interning, then worked as a freelancer in design for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Taylor, among other established brands. But after a whirlwind three years of “working crazy, ridiculous hours,” she returned to Charlotte and launched her eponymous brand, Victoria Cullinan.
Charleston Fashion Week will be her runway debut of a full line — 12 pieces in a ready-to-wear line inspired by the Japanese concept of Kintsugi, the practice of repairing broken pottery.
“They repair it with solid gold, so it tells a story and adds worth and beauty to something that was damaged and is now made whole again. That really speaks to me,” says Strayhorn, who will take the runway on Thursday.
Joseph McRae | Raleigh, North Carolina | age 26
When Joseph McRae won first place in North Carolina State’s College of Textiles annual Fashion Exposé, his fellow Wolfpack classmates were surprised. Not because he wasn’t talented, but because he was actually an electrical engineering and math major.
“I’d never taken a class in the textile and design school,” he admits. “I thought I’d get my engineering degree and make a ton of money, but that just wasn’t me.”
Buoyed by that win, McRae, who now works as a visual merchandizer with The Gap, continued to dabble in designing pieces and is thrilled to have the opportunity to network with like minds and national design talent at CFW. “I love the creative freedom that I have now by virtue of this not being my full time job, at least not yet,” says McRae, whose menswear designs evoke a mysterious androgyny. “My pieces teeter on the line, but are still very masculine.”
“I hope the CFW audience will feel Joseph McRae in his full regard,” the designer says. “The idea is that my collection has a story but its open for your own interpretation. I want to leave them in a trance and kind of wondering. And who knows, maybe the right person will see it, and my brand will take off.”