This year, I took on a project. I contacted Charlotte Seen back in February or March, inquiring about a press pass to the 5th Annual Charlotte Fashion Week. Rita Miles, the producer of Fashion Week, got back to me and asked me to write a few pieces for their book. The verbal agreement at that moment was 10 profile pieces. Since I wasn’t doing much else this summer for lack of online grad classes, I decided to take it on for the opportunity of being published.
I spent the majority of my summer either traveling to the cities of Asheville, Charlotte, and Raleigh, or holed up in my tiny coffee shop here in Cherokee, conducting interviews, taking notes, and spinning tales.
On Tuesday, August 25, I packed my waist-high Oakley suitcase in Silvermist (my trusty Fusion), and headed to the NoDa district of Charlotte. I stopped in Hickory for gas, and my air conditioning would not come back on when I left the gas station. I drove with the windows down to the rented loft on Air BNB for the week.
I checked in, unpacked, showered, changed, and set my GPS to the first event location, Blue Restaurant of Hearst Tower. I get to uptown Charlotte, surrounded by tall buildings, and my GPS says “arrived at destination.” And I’m sitting in traffic looking around me thinking “where?!”
I turned off the street, drove two blocks, turned off another street, and parked. I paid for street parking in the mobile app Parkmobile. The app has this handy feature called “Find my Car.” I again set my GPS for blue, following a zig zag 6-block trail to Hearst Tower. I walked all the way through Hearst Tower and found the restaurant….two hours early.
I proceeded to the “Model Room” where HMUs from Sigma prepared models for designer Angela Kim of Asheville. This was a sampling of the same collection she debuted just two weeks prior at Asheville Fashion Week.
As the evening wore on, I met some of the people I had interviewed by phone, Heather Dignan and Lesley Ann Thiel and Howard Spikes. People I had captured on paper in 200 or 400 words and never even seen a photo of. It was thrilling moment as a journalist.
At 9 PM, I decided to call it a night and return to the loft. I stepped out of the restaurant and pulled up Parkmobile, and clicked “Find My Car.” The map pulled up and showed my car was in the vicinity of College St. I start walking, looking at street signs and my phone. I found a police officer at an intersection, and he pointed me in the correct directions. About ten minutes later, I’m still hopelessly looking for Silvermist near Time Warner Cable Arena.
It was here that I met Ellis. Ellis was an older man, dark skinned, and looking for a different kind of help. As he helped me search, we strike up a conversation in which I learned he is homeless, can’t afford to eat or bus fare to get to and from his new job. As a rule, I never carry cash on me, so I stop at an ATM to help him out: to find my account nearly empty from my travels. I tell him the truth, and he continues to help me look.
We get to Church St, and a police officer in an unmarked car asked me what we were looking for. I show him the app and explain that I can’t find my car. He asks if Ellis is with me, if I actually know him. I say no. I tell Ellis that the officer is going to help me look and to have a good night. I get in the car, and the officer drives me all over uptown, (as we search, he asks where I’m from, what brings me to town. His daughter is actually a student at my alma mater, Western Carolina University) until I find Silvermist…on Poplar St. A good 4 streets away from where the app said. At 10 PM.
It took an hour, a stranger, and two police officers to find my car. Thanks, Parkmobile. Thanks a lot.
The next morning, I take Silvermist to Capital Ford because her air conditioning still isn’t working properly. They work me in as fast as they can. Three hours and $175 later, they tell me that my car needed a software upgrade and that should be the end of it. Arielle Bailey had come to my rescue at the exact moment they said I could go.
So I followed Arielle to the other side of Charlotte where we had coffee and lunch. Arielle had worked with Charlotte Seen projects before, and we met during this particular project. She is a talented art director, and I believe we may have formed a lifetime partnership here.
Afterward, I head to “a private club in Charlotte” which is the venue for the rest of Charlotte Fashion Week. (Thank the Creator I did not ever have to return to Uptown Charlotte!) Everything in the hall is white. White curtains, white chairs, even a white ironwork interior balcony. I check in with the Seen Team and gather my press pass (the entire reason I went to Charlotte).
I settled into my second row seat, and watched as models from little children to a dancing elder took the runway in ensembles reflective of who they are. While it was an interesting show, and I gathered the theme, it didn’t entirely make sense to me from an industry perspective.
Runway Shows are designed to sell fashions to the public, from a selection of designers, lines, or collections. This particular show represented hundreds of different merchants. I couldn’t have gone out and bought one of those outfits if I wanted to, because there were too many to keep track.
Back to the loft.
Thursday, I went to Smelly Cat Coffee, as recommended to me by the host of my loft. Organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee roasted in-house, just like home. I went to the Southpark Mall to finally do some shopping, asking myself how I’d been in the city for 3 days without shopping yet.
I was excited to explore the Hermes. Lovely customer service and assistance, even for a lost and astonished mountain girl like me. The Neiman Marcus was like a dream come true for my inner fashionista. I was happily surprised to find a Lush Cosmetics, and purchased a lip scrub and mascara. (Seriously, their mascara is the only one that makes my lashes soft and not brittle.)
I went to Dillard’s and found my dress for the Charlotte Seen Ball for Saturday. While I had brought formal separates in the form of corsets and bustle skirts (in true Steampunk Style), I realized rather late that I had no assistant available to properly lace me up in said corsets. The dress has a corset lace in the back, but easily slips over my head with the ease and luxury of a silk nightgown. Perfect.
I found an Earth Fare, tried to buy just enough groceries to last the remainder of the trip, and returned to the loft. Put groceries away, changed my clothes, and back to the club.
At this point, I’m a familiar face to the professionals in the photography pit at the end of the white runway. I met some truly gifted people here, whom I look forward to working with in future.
As I resume my seat in the second row, I’m rather excited for this show. Tonight is the competition of designers in the categories of Emerging and Recyclable. Asheville’s own Charles Josef won the Emerging Category, and I look forward to interviewing with him soon.
The collections presented here that truly caught my attention were by Aiperi Yusupova, Michael Concha, and Bell et Corge by Jolina Roberson.
Bell et Corge is a luxurious line designed for real women in mind, with modern simple silhouettes in velvet and silk fabrications.
Michael Concha’s collection, aptly named “The Dark Phoenix,” began with the innocence of Irish stepdancing children in white and green, followed by harrowing characters in blacks and chains. This was the edgiest collection of the entire fashion week.
Aiperi Yusupova’s collection was the epitome of simple elegance. Her partner, Yves, is from Rwanda. Aiperi herself is from Kyrgyzstan. They met in college in Charlotte, and I look forward to interviewing them soon.
The Recyclable competition was the most creative of the week. Often, designers only showed one piece, but these were crafted from the stuff of dreams and imagination. The winning design was a rendition of Maleficent, made of tissue paper.
Friday was a personal battle with my demons in the forms of anxiety and depression. I returned to The Smelly Cat. I had a meltdown. I called my mother and my boyfriend. I went to the loft, ate a sandwich, and binge-watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the millionth time. I changed clothes, and returned to the club.
Because I arrived at 7 and not my usual 5, I wound up parking nearly a mile away on the street and taking a tram to the doorway. It was here that I met Andre of The Face Magazine, which I may be contributing to in future. The theme of the night was Emerging Designers and Boutiques.
My favorite collections of the night were Moniquea Renee Couture, The Tuxedo Lady of DW Designs, and Seelah Boutique.
Moniquea Renee Couture showed a collection entirely in white. White ruffles, white lace, white rhinestones. From work to cocktail hour to just because, this collection proves that the modern woman can live her life in white without appearing the least bit bridal.
The Tuxedo Lady of DW Designs is a work and formal wear couturier for men. She opened the collection with a Sherlock Holmes ensemble, and I was sold. Everything was impeccably crafted, from the rugged leather accessories to the massive fur robe.
Seelah Boutique is an inspirational collection from an inspired soul. Seelah comes from the biblical book of Psalms, which meant “pause” or “rest” from a musical perspective. Her objective was to create beautiful clothes for everyone, and she succeeded with this black and gold collection.
Back to the loft.
Saturday. The day of the ball. I meet with my college friend Olivia Bellamy for brunch. It was good to catch up with her, and we’ve decided to catch up more often. (3 years is a bit long.) As I cranked Silvermist to head out, the air conditioning failed again. So I drove to the loft with the windows down again, and changed for the ball, arriving at the club at 5 PM.
The photographer’s pit is missing. The risers have been replaced by a single red velvet rope. The hall is redesigned, from 4 rows of seats on either side of the runway, to a single row with a table. In the middle, where the runway had been, is a third table with dessert spreads laid out, minus the sweets themselves. Four ballerinas are rehearsing to Phantom of the Opera, models are practicing the U-shaped runway, and I finally found my way to the balcony. (I’d been dying to get a view from up there all week!)
Here is where I met the opera singer Xela Pinkerton and the runway dj Benita Kerr. Only six collections showed that night: Angela Kim couture collection, Alice Andrews at Canvas, A Boutique, Estbythelna children’s couture, Darpan, a reprise of Tuxedo Lady, and Pixton.
The ball itself commenced after the runway shows were over, with seasonal summer hors d’oeuvres and scrumptious pastries with sweet creams on the dessert table. DJ BK got the party started with The Cupid Shuffle and The Electric Slide back to back. Later in the evening, dance extraordinaire Berhan Nebioglu and photographer Laurence Logan took the floor in contrasting styles of ballroom and Michael Jackson footwork.
Charlotte Fashion Week No. 5 The Story was the experience of a lifetime, that I wouldn’t trade for anything.