Tailor Made TLO

Fashion is the most useful form of art; it is the medium we use to present ourselves every day. There is something fascinating about fashion and its chameleon attributes; allowing us to alter or relinquish our own identity; even reality, and adopt part or all of another.

The Skin I am In

"True beauty does most certainly come from within, but it is only when one feels beautiful and has confidence in who they are that they can truly begin to exude their inner beauty."

I am so excited to be a part of a NEW family, Rodan and Fields, all while redefining the future of my skin.

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A Letter to my Hero

I had planned to keep this private, but I feel that it is such an important message in the fashion world (and in any world for that matter) to know who you are and to whom you look up.  This past week I wrote a letter to one of my heroes and the person I aspire most to be like.  I thought to just email this to her, but I realized that would be too easy.  In a true “old soul” gesture, I decided to hand-write it on stationary and post it to her. Hopefully it will mean so much more that way.  It already did to me. This is my letter to my hero, Grace Coddington.

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Dear Grace,

I know that you are incredibly busy; I simply wanted to reach out to you in an attempt to connect.   I do not know how to begin other than to say that this is an attempt for my “old soul” to connect with yours.  I, too, know what it feels like to live everyday as if I were left behind from some distant era.  The challenge of charging ahead is often muddled with a desire to continue living in the past as a romantic.  Sometimes I fear that this takes a worsening toll on my being each day when I awake to face this.

To say that I came into fashion by accident is an understatement. I never imagined being a part of this unusual and often misunderstood industry.  Where I grew up, fashion was barely even a concept; instead, it was viewed as a separate, foreign universe to be studied.  People would more readily embrace firearms than fashion.  Possessing an innately distinguished and individual style, I naturally ended up under fire more than once.  While my classmates were playing football, I was left alone to my own imagination.  As an only child, my imagination became my best friend and most powerful weapon.

I know that you are incredibly busy; I simply wanted to reach out to you in an attempt to connect.   I do not know how to begin other than to say that this is an attempt for my “old soul” to connect with yours.  I, too, know what it feels like to live everyday as if I were left behind from some distant era.  The challenge of charging ahead is often muddled with a desire to continue living in the past as a romantic.  Sometimes I fear that this takes a worsening toll on my being each day when I awake to face this.

My first year in the College of Charleston Honors College was also the first year of Charleston Fashion Week.  From the moment that I stepped into the tents that year, I felt the gravitational force towards this fashion world and needed to become involved.  I immediately did everything I could to make that happen, and have spent every moment since trying to stay relevant in the industry.  Despite being constantly taken advantage of and simultaneously overlooked by the very event that sparked such an epiphany in my life, I still managed to secure a position as Backstage Model and Dresser Coordinator, and eventually took my passion to an international level.  As always, I remain vigilant; keeping my eyes open for opportunity and new ideas.

As a result of my love of learning I have grown passionate for so many things.  My diverse interests fuel my creativity.  I know; however, above all else, I am to be involved in the fashion industry, not as a job but as a career and a lifestyle.  You have motivated me to aspire to be an editor or liaison for an international style based brand or publication.  I love fashion and the dialogue that surrounds it.  More importantly, I love being a participant in that dialogue and creating a story with fashion.  I am inspired by and inspire with style.

I am a rare breed.  I love life.  Nothing brings me greater joy than establishing goals and reaching them and seeing my finished work, even amongst the heartache of seeing that work unrecognized or underappreciated and having to move forward nonetheless.  Fashion is my passion.  I know what works, and it is not something that can be learned, it is innate. It is style.

You are one of my heroes, Grace.  I want you to know it.  I would love the opportunity to collaborate with you in the future.

Thank you for your time.

Travis Lee ODell, XIII CHRE

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By Grace

I love Grace Coddington.  That is all.

(Source: Vogue)

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Fashion is in Everything

…and not just because Karl Lagerfeld said so.  I am also not simply talking about wardrobe…I literally mean everything.  If we take a moment to stop and consider the easily overlooked everyday objects that we utilize (from the cars that we drive, the food that we eat, and the labels on the packages we buy), there is fashion and design.  So much time and design planning must be devoted to even the simplest products in order for them to remain competitive.

It goes without saying; this can be an incredible challenge: adapting one’s image to be competitive yet commercial and avant-garde with the ever-changing market, all while maintaining the core values and identity of the brand.  When Chanel releases a new ready-to-wear collection, the looks are fresh each season.  Yet when you see the look on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, however, you know: “That’s Chanel.”                                                               

The same can be said for a label’s individual target market.  For example, the Alexander McQueen label is known for its whimsical, surreal, and often dark and tortured inspirations.  Yet, Alexander McQueen head designer Sarah Burton crafted the wedding dress for the future Queen of England, Catherine Middleton (probably the most contradictory concept from “dark and tortured”).  Still, when the fashion world saw the dress leave the car for Westminster Abbey on the day of the Royal Wedding, they instantly knew: “It’s McQueen!”

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This design adaptability is obviously not limited to fashion designers.  It can readily be found in any cutting edge marketplace.  Most notable among them: fashion is also in technology.  In fact, it is a driving force behind the uninterrupted ever advancing digital industry.  What makes people rush to buy the iPhone 5 when they already own the iPhone 4S?  The same concept that drives consumers to add a new Carolina Herrera dress to their already extensive wardrobe: trust in the product, identifying with the brand, and a thirst for being “fashion forward” and current. 

Benefitfocus President and CEO Sean Jenkins has also echoed this sentiment.  Fashion and design are in the software.  Sean and Benefitfocus clearly recognize and understand this connection, as Benefitfocus was the primary sponsor for Charleston Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer Competition for the second year in a row.  Much like a designer of fashion house hosts a fashion show to release a new collection; every market has a unique way of debuting their new products.

This week is Benefitfocus’ “Fashion Week.”  Better known as “One Place,” the event features the cutting edge couture of software for the online healthcare industry.  Leaders of the industry have flocked to Charleston to see what is next, much like when editors from around the globe fill the seats along the runway.

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Even though the concept of software design (or more specifically benefits software design) may seem otherworldly; it affects everyone.  One does not have to understand it; one simply must be able to appreciate it.  When explaining fashion in a literal sense to someone not involved in the fashion industry, I am often met with sheer confusion.  Granted, trying to explain Alexander McQueen Couture is not exactly possible. 

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The key is to having more people understand the fashion industry is in the concept “Fashion is in everything.”  Although one may not understand the inspiration or the makeup behind a collection, one can appreciate the incredible amount of work that drives its existence.  We can empathize and appreciate through the portability of this binding tie: fashion is more than clothes; it is behind so much of what we love. 

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Defining a Fashion Moment: For Better or for Worse?

One last walk down Royal Wedding memory lane…

Let’s talk about Kate Middleton’s dress.  YES, I know that the world has been talking about it for more than 72 hours, but with things this important, I need to sleep on it before I speak on in. 

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The new Duchess of Cambridge looked lovely; embodying elegance and class.  Ivory and white satin gazar was a perfectly light choice, and it showed off her body with a perfectly fitted look. 

The lace clearly imitated Grace Kelly’s iconic wedding dress, adding a timeless element to the dress.  When it came down to it, England and the world wanted to see Kate step out of the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, an iconic English car; wearing an iconic English designer for the iconic English wedding.  By choosing Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, Catherine helped to re-solidify the already lauded immortal position of an iconic artist and lend a nod to a fashion icon of our era.  Burton has had to firmly grasp the shears of the McQueen label since the designers’ tragic death and has already helmed the label beautifully; and this was no exception.  This commission is Burton’s largest in her career and is a fantastic display of her design genius.  Burton managed to create a fabulous dress for an incredibly beautiful girl with a difficult style to design for; and did so while maintaining style elements of the McQueen namesake, which is known for its exuberance and fanciful looks (quite the contrary to Kate).

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Having said that; even though her dress was an excellent choice and executed beautifully, it was demure and safe. The dress was very realistic, which is one thing that I admire about both William and Catherine; but for the wedding dress, there should have been a bit more; a wow factor. I agree with Valentino’s sentiment that “Kate’s one is a very pretty, modern dress that will be copied everywhere but lacks that fairytale element.”

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I more than anyone would have loved to have seen a show-stopping, head-turning, McQueen creation, but I realize that this is not Kate’s style. That, however, is part of the problem: we still do not have a complete feeling for Kate’s style.  It would have been lovely to have seen a little more Kate Middleton and a little less Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco in the dress. I loved elements of the dress: the fit at the waist, the veil and tiara, the length of the train; but there are some things I felt she could have made a bit more personal.  Whilst I appreciate that Catherine avoided being too ostentatious, a little bit more flare with a defining touch would have been nice.  Nonetheless, I do appreciate that Kate did not try to force something that does not work for her.  I never demoralize people for their particular personal style, but I do demand that they have one.  

Now let’s get to the real issue: what in God’s green creation was up with those little bridesmaids?…

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The Windsor Not and Fashion Hot: A Royal Review

It has been two years since that fateful final Friday in April when I sat on the lawn at Green Park in London, and then subsequently sprinted to the Mall and the gates of Buckingham Palace for the Royal Wedding of William and Kate.  This was one of the defining moments of my life and I shall never forget it.  The event also spawned one of my favourite works.  I thought it only appropriate to revisit it today.  Enjoy…

I know it has been a few days, but after such an affair, time to process is necessary.  Now that the images of the Royal Wedding are seared into our heads, we can mull over the eye candy and desperately try to eliminate the images that will haunt us until the next royal affair.

Let’s start at the top: I thought Queen Elizabeth II looked radiant wearing butter coloured Angela Kelly and a matching hat.  She is 85, runs the country marvellously and still looks pretty fabulous.   Camilla Duchess of Cornwall looked fantastic in the Anne Valentine dress and a really brilliant and beautifully styled Philip Treacy hat.  Kate’s mother Carole Middleton also looked chic, regal, and classic in her beautifully coloured Catherine Walker coat and dress with Jane Corbett hat.

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Some of the royals, however, were a royal nightmare.  Princess Anne may be tenth in line to the throne, be she is FAR further down on the list of best dressed at the wedding, falling somewhere near her daughter-in-law Autumn Kelly.  They may never see the throne, so they took this opportunity to remind us by looking like fancy upholstered chairs instead. 

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Anne’s daughter, Zara Phillips, was another story.  I thought that she was stunning in her Paul Costelloe dress and Philip Treacy hat.  Newly appointed Royal family member Sophie Winkleman also looked fabulous wearing Giorgio Armani Prive and, of course, a beautiful Philip Treacy hat.  She had one of my favourite outfits of the day.  The Queen’s daughter in law, Sophie Countess of Wessex also looked incredible in Bruce Oldfield.  He may not have designed THE dress, but he did a fantastic job on Sophie.

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Confusing still were Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice’s ensembles.  Eugenie’s Vivienne Westwood (although it did not even fit) looked like it was wearing her, and her chest scrunched between those two bows made her look like a Bavarian beer wench crossed with the Tudors.  Beatrice was not quite as bad except for her serious case of “matchy-matchy” and that her makeup made her look like a raccoon that had been punched in both of her eyes.  It is a shame too, because all of the distraction took away from that lovely Philip Treacy fascinator hat.   I LOVED it: the closest thing to avant-garde haute couture I saw all day.

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Thankfully, Prince Albert II of Monaco’s fiancée Charlene Wittstock looked very beautiful and elegant in Akris.  And the pearl earrings were jubilant.  Being engaged to Grace Kelly’s son requires a certain does of inherent style. 

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Prince William’s cousins (Princess Diana’s nieces) Eliza, Amelia, and Kitty Spencer were incredibly stylish and elegantly dressed, along with foreign royalty Princess Letizia of Spain in Felipe Varela and (surprisingly) Princess Victoria of Sweden beaming in Elie Saab.

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Prince Harry’s stop-and-go girlfriend Chelsy Davy has style as ambiguous as the relationship. Her Alberta Ferretti dress was a beautiful colour, but the boxed in cut of the chest and the just-off-the-shoulder sleeves failed miserably.  To top it off (literally), the Victoria Grant lace hat was so understated, it might has well have not been there…

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…and on Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha: IT WASN’T.  To a wedding where a hat is basically required, she could have saved it with the dress, but she even managed to destroy the beautiful Burberry with her blasé casualness.  The Prime Minister was equally casual and boring…I felt like I had been pumped with Ambien.  

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There were some “commoners” who exemplified that you do not have to be royal to look like royalty.  David and Victoria Beckham look good in almost everything.  Victoria wore a maternity dress form her own collection, custom Christian Louboutin shoes and a Philip Treacy black satin bejewelled hat; a beautiful mom-to-be and wedding guest.

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Although she was very much in debate, I actually thought that Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s “I’m not quite royal”-blue Deborah Milner ensemble was fun.  I especially enjoyed how her hair was styled to complement her Philip Treacy hat.  There was something about it, however, that was just not quite right; too complicated like her three-name-hyphenate.  Maybe it was too much colour-coordinated cerulean that almost made her look like the cross between and Avatar and a Smurf, or maybe it was the fact that the hat was pointing directly at her new nose like a bright blue arrow; I cannot adequately say.  I think adding SOMETHING to break up that blue might have done the trick.

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There were also plenty of shoulder shruggers, like Miriam González Durántez (we couldn’t tell if she was about to do the Tango or start belting out lines from “Evita”), Joss Stone who kind of looked like Strawberry Shortcake in her Hobbs suit and cream hat (She also kept making the DUMBEST faces), and poor Sally Bercow who wore dubious with a side of cleavage.

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The girl of the day who stopped my heart was Pippa Middleton.  Always the maid of honour and never the bride: NOT FOR LONG.  We may have seen the Alexander McQueen dress before (Cameron Diaz wore it in red to the 2010 Golden Globes), but the bride’s sister was the knockout in it.  I wonder if I get an honorary royal title if I marry her…

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Spring me into a New World

Yesterday was a gloomy day in Charleston….and that is putting it mildly.  I generally enjoy an occasional overcast and rainy day to juxtapose the constant bright and imposing happiness; but yesterday I just was not having it.  Perhaps it was simply that my lunch-time run was grounded to a halt; or maybe it was Charleston’s general vernal foreplay this year, providing days of intermittent “sweater-weather” in otherwise toasty April.  Regardless, today I was ready to get OUT.

Of course, that little thing called “life” gets in the way.  Therefore, I had to resort to my imagination and, of course: fashion. 

As I begin to imagine all of the other places I would like to be, I did not immediately imagine the places, but the people there…or, more specifically, their garb.

Obviously stating that fashion has the “ability to take one into a different world” is a tune that has been overplayed, but there is still such truth to it.  Even beyond that, fashion is so intermixed with place and culture.  In fact fashion and clothing readily invoke images and thoughts of a different time, or even a foreign location that may be a world away. 

That is the true beauty of fashion: you can be anyone living in anytime.   I am in no way suggesting that one should try to be anyone other than oneself, but I am suggesting that one person has many different “selves” that can be modified and enhanced by an outfit.  Fashion has the power to tell a story of heritage and culture even before words are necessary.  It is the brilliance of designers to re-tell those stories each season.

I immediately escaped to present day Paris with Christian Dior.  Electric translucent fabrics and delicately framed faces truly evoked a spring-time stroll along the Champs-Élysées.  Then Ralph Lauren took me back to Paris-past, the days of berets, neck scarves, and cigarette pants; and further onto the streets of Spain where Toreadors with embroidered jackets and colorful ponchos challenged more than raging bulls. 

 

True to their Italian heritage, Dolce and Gabbana abounded me with the culture of Sicily that is almost inseparable from its colorful looks.  Concerted headbands, chandelier earrings, and vibrant embroidered and patterned dresses and skirts wafted the breeze from Italy’s autonomous island.

It was difficult to avoid the Altuzarra’s siren call to the Mediterranean.  Knee-high gladiator sandals and glistening gilded finishes served as an ode to Odysseus’s conquests.  Far from home, then, was the sun and sand of the Sahara: an Arabian bazaar with tasseled and fringed wraps that left only minimal skin exposed to the elements.

Finally, my thoughts returned to Charleston with Alexander McQueen, but not of modern times.  I imagined an antebellum spring day at Middleton Plantation: large hoop skirts and everything in bloom, clichéd though it may be.  Therewith I was reminded and reassured of the beautiful spring days to come.

Photos courtesy of style.com Spring 2013 Ready-to-Wear collections.

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Driving Miss Serena

I do not care much for celebrities.  Well, at least not the ones who do not have to work for it.  I hate those “15 minutes of fame” shows that feature bogus celebrities like the Kardashians, real House Wives, and those god awful kids from New Jersey.  I only care about celebrities who I can admire and aspire to emulate; those who actually have a God-given talent. 

When the rare chance should arise that I get to meet a celebrity like this, I do admit to being slightly star-struck, especially when I admire them.  On the top of that list is Serena Williams.  Growing up in the 90’s I remember her name being indiscernibly tied to pop culture and sport.  Having been not only ranked as the world’s number one women’s single tennis player twice, but also being the oldest woman to hold the title; I can only say; “Damn girl.”  Not to mention, she is also the only female tennis star in history to have accumulated more than $40 MILLION in prize money.

Serena is also involved in the fashion Industry.  She and her sister Venus have sat front row with Anna Wintour at Zac Posen, and Serena is also notorious for some of her on and off-court ensembles (most notable among them are her Cat-suit at the US Open).   She has also launched her own line of apparel, handbags, and jewelry for HSN. 

Working on Daniel Island in Charleston, South Carolina, tennis, money, and fashion are part of the culture.  I only have one out of three in my life, but when the opportunity to volunteer (AKA: be a poser) arose this year I jumped at the chance.  After all, I love large-scale event planning and in some way I enjoy making that a part of my life even if I do not get paid for it.  Quite the opposite in fact: I had to pay ($60) to volunteer, but in the end this would more than pay for itself.  So I applied and my James Bond/German Autobahn driving skills awarded me the position of players and officials transportation.  A prestigious division, in my opinion, as their lives were literally in my hands.  When I filled out my schedule I jokingly included a footnote which read, “…and I want to drive Serena at least once!”

The ten days of the event were amazing.  Granted, I did have to rush to the Family Circle Cup Stadium every evening after work to continue working for another four to eight hours, but it was worth.  For my services (which awarded me unheard of one-on-one time with some of the most notable in the Tennis world), I received a uniform, free and almost unconditional entrance to the grounds during the matches and otherwise, an extra ticket to each match and a set of four tickets to the night matches.  Not to mention that I was allowed catered lunch and dinner every shift that I work (regrettably I ate far too much).  I started to feel like a bona-fide Daniel Island yuppie (in a good way).

This all culminated with the Family Circle Cup Dove Final on Sunday.  I did not have to report for my last volunteer shift until 4PM, so I was able to watch Serena Williams win her third Family Circle Cup title (not to mention another check for $125K!), this time in a three set match against Jelena Janković.  It was an incredibly fun match to watch.  Afterwards, I joined the cheering throng to catch a glimpse of Serena leaving the stadium and hopefully snag an autograph.  After two attempts, I gave up and went to change and then report to the transportation office.  Upon walking in, the coordinator looked at me and said: “Do you know how to get to the private airport?  Behind the Charleston airport?”  I immediately gasped and said, “YES.  Am I taking Serena?”  She nodded and I immediately proceeded to jump up and down and say “YEEES!” 

It was a two person job: I would drove the black 2013 Cadillac Escalade with Serena and her coach/boyfriend Patrick Mouratoglou, my colleague would drive a white van with the posse (including hitting partner Sasha Bajin and trainer Ester Lee) and the bags.  This would all go down in a mere 30 minutes…just enough time to potty, wash my hands, cool down the car, and prepare myself mentally.  I was informed that while the van would be going directly to Charleston Place Hotel, I would be driving Serena and her coach to Adgers Wharf for a quick photo shoot with the new trophy on a typical Charleston cobblestone street. 

After Serena, Patrick, and a communications contractor who works with the USTA (who was kind of a pompous ass) got in the car, we were off.  Of course the ride downtown was scattered with some small talk about good Charleston restaurants and the week’s events, but Serena did not say much.  When the topic of Mexican food came up, Santi’s on Meeting Street was mentioned.  Serena mentioned that she would definitely have to try it next time, especially since (according to her) there is no good, authentic Mexican in Florida. 

She was clearly tired.  I didn’t even get a chance to speak with her.  I only spoke to the USTA contractor whose name was not important enough for me to remember.  We parked at the dog park off of Adgers Wharf where some FCC official photographers were waiting.  They took some photos for five minutes tops, but that was long enough for the pedestrians to realize who she was.  Thankfully, though, no one disturbed her.  The contractor left us here (THANK GOD), so I took Serena and Patrick to Charleston Place to freshen up for the plane ride home.  They only took about 30 minutes, which is what we expected. 

The whole posse started to trickle down one at a time: bag by bag.  Again, everyone loaded into the van except for Serena and Patrick who I escorted to the Escalade.  An older couple was checking their car with valet when Serena came out.  I walked her to the car and was escorting her in.  The older woman was cheering for Serena and telling her what a great job she did.  Serena responded politely but then the woman went a step too far and grabbed Serena by the arm.  We all ignored it, but in grasping on, she got in the way of me and closing the door.  I made it a point to stand my ground just to let the woman know that I was there and not going anywhere until the door was closed.

This time, the mood had lightened and the pressure was clearly off.  Serena became much more talkative and was clearly refreshed.  After I sat in the driver’s seat, Serena started discussing being hungry.  She decided on Moe’s.  We were going separately while the others proceeded to the private airport.  Before the others departed, Serena’s personal assistant Val Vogt came up to the window and provided me with the tail number of the plane.  I noted it, and we parted ways.  As we drove down Meeting Street, I asked Serena if she would like for me to go in to Moe’s for her and obtain her food.  She said, “Thank you!  That is so sweet, but the problem is I never know what I want until I get there.”  I said ok, and then asked if she wanted me to park the car in the lot off of Burn’s Lane and walk her in to implement a sort of crowd control.  She mentioned that she had her hair blown out and probably no one would recognize her.  I told her that she was recognizable no matter what, but we decided to park in the emergency lane directly in front of Moe’s.

I walked her and Patrick in.  As soon as we exited the car, a man recognized Serena.  We walked right past him and into Moe’s.  I walked beside her, placing her between the counter and me as she ordered.  When we got to the cash register, she elbow nudged me and said “Thank you!  You are a strong presence and an intimidating face!  I would not want to mess with you.”  I said, “Well I am happy to do it.”  And I truly was.  We went back to the car and I shut the door for her.  As we were about to pull away, a girl came jogging by on the street.  Serena said, “Wow she is really fit.”  We all agreed.  I mentioned that I had run in the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K the day before and saw loads of fit people that made me jealous.  She immediately started in asking about the bridge run, saying “Wow I want to do the Bridge Run.”  I told her that next year she should do it when she returns to the Family Circle Cup.  She mentioned having run a 10K several years ago as downtime between tennis.

We were listening to and XM Radio throwback station while driving up Interstate 26 on low volume and Pharrell Williams and Jay Z’s “Frontin’” came on.  Serena looked up from her Blackberry and said “Can we turn this up?”  I said “We most certainly can” and I cranked the volume.  “A little more” she said.  So I blasted it out.  She started singing along without missing a beat and intermittently talking to Patrick about how she loved the song.  She said “I karaoke this song!  I LOVE this song!  Do you know this song?”  As the song was ending, I faded it out, and Serena said “I HAVE to karaoke that song!”  This took us onto the airport boulevard.  I told Serena all of the great things I had heard about her previous visits to Charleston from my colleague John, who was the schedule coordinator for transportation this year.  She told me she remembered him and to give him a hug for her.  I confessed that this might be a bit awkward, but I told her I would preface it with, “This is from Serena.”  She told me to relay to him that she insisted.  I also told her that my best friend Kyla, who is also a fan, said hello.  Serena reciprocated the sentiment. 

When we arrived at the private airport, it took me a moment to find the proper hangar, but then I saw the tail number that we were searching for.  We had actually beaten the van with the others, although I have no idea how.  The plane looked small but nice.  After entering the gate, I was able to literally drive the car up beside the door of the plane.  I was instantly reminded of how my own personal life goal is to own a private jet so that I will never have to deal with the wretched TSA again.  I started to help them unload a few of the bags, and Serena let one of the runway assistants know that she wanted her small red bag on the plane with her.  I took the bag from him, and followed her onto the plane.  I placed it down beside where she was sitting and she said “Thank you!”  I said, “No, thank you” and then I extended my hand and said “It was an absolute pleasure.  I look forward to seeing you next year.”  She shook my hand and looked directly back at me and said, “No, the pleasure was all mine.”  My heart melted.   

I departed watching the sun set behind the plane.  I wished that I was going with them on the flight.  Even though I wasn’t, I was sitting on Cloud Nine.

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A Moving Impression

Charleston is a city of resilience.  We are, after all, the most besieged city in the Western Hemisphere.  Yet Charlestonians (and South Carolinians alike) always seem to overcome, a reputation that we have earned over many centuries.

Saturday night’s Charleston Fashion Week Finale was a testament to that resilience.  It was not one of those jubilant sunny spring days for which Charleston is so renowned; it was chilly, grey, and rather saturated.  Yes even we have them, but instead of allowing the weather to dictate our mood or (more importantly) our fashion decisions, Charlestonians and out-of-town fashionistas and fashionistos met the dark and dreary with a display of decadence.  Beauty, color, and power inflated the Fashion Week tents.

Of the evening’s events, two stand above the rest in an almost dueling sense of battle of the sexes: extremely delicate femininity versus with regal chivalrous masculinity.  Emerging designer Afriyie Poku is the first menswear designer to win the Emerging Designer Competition, and there is no disputing his victory.  Poku presented an iconic collection of gentlemanly looks.  No doubt the choice of runway song Adele’s Skyfall echoed reminiscent flashbacks to well-tailored adventures of James Bond, or maybe even exploits of the more dapper Bond villains.  The Ghana native; however, was not living in the past.  He borrowed elements of an age (or rather, many different ages) gone by and brought them to a modern world where chivalry (while rare) is certainly not dead.

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His use of facets and closures were decadent in addition to practical and complemented the impeccable tailoring.  Most notably: the black leather tails meets trench-coat inlayed with a vampire-esque red satin lining was a new take on formality. Wool, fur, leather, and tweed served to emasculate the looks while also suggesting a clean-cut and eccentric presence. 

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Poku also paid homage to color, or rather the gentleman who is not afraid to add a splash of color to his wardrobe.  Byzantium purple buttons and tie donned a formal business suit.  Plum colored leather trim were the perfect finishing touch to a wool blazer and a cherry leather leg-looping holster provide a stylish upgrade to a pair of blue jeans without the unnecessary “cargo pant” gaudiness.

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It is rare for me to see a menswear collection where at the finale I think “I would wear every one of those looks,” yet Poku connected with my old soul…in a modern way.

The evening’s coup de grâce, feature designer Christian Siriano, painted his own pastel canvas on the runway inspired by French impressionist painter Edgar Degas and the ballerina.  The result: one of the most beautifully light, feminine collections I have seen in quite some time.

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True to impressionistic motifs, Siriano embraced movement expressed by the human body as more than just a function, but as an experience, and what better way to do so than with the graceful fluid motion of a ballet?  This was not, however a clichéd collection of tulle clad tutus; Siriano dissected the various facets of bodily motion by utilizing and combining many overlapping techniques to create his palate.  Beautiful sweetheart-cut neckline mini-dresses paired with glossy opaque jackets elongated the line (particularly that of the neck) so valued in ballet.

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The collection also featured ankle cut opaque pants which glorified the extension of the leg, a beautiful display of light feathers that pinpointed lateral movement and an almost translucent ethereal water-brush print so fluid, one felt as if the brush strokes were being re-canvased with each movement. 

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My personal favorite however, was Siriano’s glistening pastel metallic summer short-suit.  Nothing compliments the beautiful complex movements of the human body quite like the natural qualities of light and shadow.  The metallic pieces, while beautiful in cut and appearance alone, took on a separate life quality when illuminated.

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Siriano has certainly given his contemporaries a run for their money, introducing fashion as the new impressionism.  What a lasting impression it has made. 

 

Afriyie Poku Photos taken by TLO.

Christian Siriano Fall 2013 Photos courtesy of CharlestonFashoinWeek.com.

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Board-om, Child’s Play, Pajama Parties, and Bits of Leather and Lace at Charleston Fashion Week

Wednesday night at Charleston Fashion Week was all about texture and transition.  A fitting sentiment, to say the least since it was also the Vernal Equinox where a winter chill gave Charleston one last bite before spring.  

The night began with local Charleston favorite and former CFW Emerging Designer finalist JLINSNIDER.  Snider established the textured tone of the evening showing a series of reinvented “little black dresses” incorporating intimate black lace trimmings, glistening embroidery, and (in one of my favorite pieces) black lace leggings.  The collection culminated with some Japanese Geisha and Baroque Botticelli-esque pieces that featured beautifully embroidered fabric and floral patterns.  I enjoyed the intermittent mix of vibrant colors and earth toned nudes (except for the unnecessary addition of the literal nude of beautiful model Christie Trainer walking bare-breasted down the runway).  In fact, one of my favorite pieces of the evening was the fluorescent Persian green lace and tulle dress that divided the show.

Also dividing the show was a very “board” knot-on-a-log…well, six to be exact.  For a collection that featured only twenty looks, Snider’s biggest faux pas was to include six consecutive looks that were made of the exact same wood cutaway pattern material and could have easily been whittled down to one look.  The fabric may have created a humored literal play on texture, but this was the timber that should have been cut from the collection.

Then we moved on to Ike Behar.  While I thoroughly appreciate menswear designers (both because I am a man and because menswear is few and far between), this collection left far more to be desired.  In fact, the word “collection” does not even apply.  It could best be described as a hodgepodge of rigid ill-fitting and untailored suits and a smorgasbord of “walk of shame” attire.  Then, when it looked as if the clouds were preparing to lift, came the downpour.  Instead of closing with statement pieces, Behar put the collection to bed…literally, with pajamas and bath robes; a nightmare.

The Emerging Designers of the evening “emerged” from all over the place.  Lulu Long reminded us that while fashion may indeed also apply to kids, it does not belong on a runway (featured designer label Neve/Hawk re-affirmed this through introducing a kids’ Derelicte collection, transforming their toddlers into little hobos).  

Emerging Designer Lulu Long

Neve/Hawk transformed toddlers into hobos.

Although emerging designer Hyemin Cho’s collection featured some beautiful colors and some incredible tailoring on some clearly difficult fabrics, the styling was off from head to fingertip, drawing its cohesion into question.  One could not escape the troubling undertones of an OJ Simpson trial reprise due to the heavy leather gloves paired with each of the otherwise light looks.  Not to mention the slicked back hair and lack-luster make-up on each model made one truly feel the imminent threat of homicide.

The aged-old paradigm that two heads are better than one is generally accepted without question, however Clarissa Arcene and Bryan Datinguinoo (the ONLY emerging designer duo participating in this year’s competition) proved us wrong.  Although the couple’s collection featured one of my favorite pieces, it also showcased some of the worst: ill fitting looks that all appear to have slithered out of completely different closets.  My parting thought was “There are TWO of you, and THAT is what you came up with?”

Clarissa Arcene and Bryan Datinguinoo: The Good

Clarissa Arcene and Bryan Datinguinoo: The Ill Fitting

Thankfully, the winner for the evening (who will be moving on to Saturday’s Emerging Designer Competition sponsored by Benefit Focus), Serena da Conceicao actually understood the meaning of the word “collection.”  Keeping with the evening theme of texture, da Conceicao crafted a cohesive mix of leather, lace, and pattern.  While da Conceicao’s idea of a “sensual businesswoman” seems a bit more “high school boy fantasy” than “high fashion,” the pieces were clearly beautifully made.  My personal favorites were the high waist black leather and flowing white pants.  It was refreshing to see something actually wearable.

I must be honest, the second night of the seventh annual event did not come dressed to impress.  In fact, I was more impressed by the people in the audience than the runway…and the people’s voice was strong.  They chose emerging designer Cassidy Elizabeth-Mae Brown as the night’s people’s choice winner, and rightly so.  From the first piece’s rising from the runway, it was an experience.  Brown started strong and finished stronger.  Although the collection mixed patterns and solids, bright colors and earth tones, smooth and texture; the collection was more than cohesive.  Instead of providing some diatribe about culture and background, Brown showed her roots, her inspiration, and a bit of her soul; all while telling a story of many women who could very easily all be the same woman.  Brown’s collection was the most impressive and original collection of the evening, not to mention the most editorial.  In just eight looks, I wanted to know more about these women (or woman), and therein lies the key to a successful fashion collection.  

Photos courtesy of CharlestonFashoinWeek.com.

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