Charleston Fashion Week ushers in new vision with sold-out opener

Charleston Fashion Week is back, but the catwalk has moved from its usual spot in Marion Square this year.

The fashion event is now split into three one-night events. The first one was on Friday inside the Cedar Room at the Cigar Factory.

After 13 years, executive director Naomi Russell said it was time for a refresh.

“We wanted to give everyone a more intimate and personal feel and really get the chance to be up close with the fashion,” said Russell. “Rather than taking over the entire park and being tent city, we decided to change it up, go indoors, make it fun.”

She said there’s still an appetite for the Charleston fashion scene, adding the Friday event was sold out. She said also consider it a launching pad for designers, models, and make-up artists.

“One of our designers, she went on to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue,” Russell said. “We’ve had models sign with top agencies in New York and go to fashion shows in Asia, Paris, Milan, London, New York.”

It’s a big moment for the featured designers, including local non-profit fashion brand Francis and Benedict.

“This is such a launching platform,” said founder Katie Walters. “The brand that was chosen last year as the emerging designer, they now have a show in July at Paris Fashion Week.”

Even though it was their first time at Charleston Fashion Week, Walters said she and her team already have their sights set on Paris and are even learning French, which is the spoken language in Togo, West Africa, where their skirts are made.

“These skirts are made and inspired by women in Togo, West Africa which is one of the poorest countries in the world, then we bring them back over here and sell them,” said Walters.

She said their designs tell a story and any money generated from sales is a paycheck for the seamstresses who handcrafted each one. They unveiled 20 designs from their new collection at Friday’s show.

“This collection is called Flourish,” she said. “Flourish actually means to growth healthy and vigorous in a favorable atmosphere and we believe that is what’s happening with our brand right now.”

The next two Charleston Fashion Week events are scheduled for June 14 and September 12.