Baker Motor Company Charleston Fashion Week®
March 17 – 21, 2015
Q: What does it take to pave the 764 miles from Marion Square to New York in cobblestone?
A: Nine years, a lot of inspiration, and one Naomi Russell.
Baker Motor Company Charleston Fashion Week® will set up camp once again this year from March 17-21—a highly anticipated event bursting at the seams with emerging talent and premier names across the fashion industry.
According to Naomi Russell, Executive Director and unsung hero of CFW, this world-class event, like the color black, never goes out of style. Now in her eighth year as “the lucky event girl who won the Charleston lottery,” it’s about time someone featured this designer’s story.
Russell began her tenure with CFW in 2008, following the inaugural year of the event—an avant-garde, committee-propelled idea that was built in three and a half months and included exactly one canopy. With a background as a production coordinator for The Jim Henson Company at Sesame Street, she joined the CFW team as Production Director and handled everything from ticketing launches to facility management.
“One of my most memorable moments was during my second year. We were moving everything into the park first thing in the morning and I was loaned a few dresses to wear for the week. I needed to try them on but the dressing rooms hadn’t been put into place yet. So, I had an intern hold a curtain while I made sure everything fit. About that time, Snyder showed up to install the dressing rooms. In my hasty attempt to put everything back on, my shirt ended up inside out and backwards. When I came out, one of the guys joked, ‘Naomi, I didn’t realize you were a priest.’ I took the time to rotate it so it wasn’t backwards but never got around to flipping it so it was right side out. It stayed that way until 2 am at the after-party.”
Now, with tents in every quadrant of the park and Russell at the helm, the event has stayed true to an industry hallmark—organic growth of both concept and creator.
“Every year we attract a better roster of talent and stronger media interest. If I gave you an actual number of media impressions it would be insane. The real measurement comes when you’re at New York Fashion Week and you tell them you’re with CFW and they know who we are. Or even better, you overhear someone talking about it. That’s when you know we are beyond just the local reach,” says Russell.
It’s true; the multimedia event attracts the annual participation and support of fashion elitists to include Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week, and Karen Lee Grybowski, founder of the Karen Lee Group, an international model scout and consultant.
This year, Russell’s “can’t-miss” event, the Spring Bridal Show, will feature one such famed A-lister with a story cut from the same cloth as CFW’s beginning. Amsale Aberra is co-founder, co-CEO, and creative director of the Amsale Design Group. Growing up in Ethiopia, Amsale came to America to study commercial art in New England. While putting herself through school and earning a degree in Political Science at UMASS-Boston, Amsale’s passion and combined frugality led her to design and sew her own clothes. After graduating later from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, a futile search for her own wedding dress led Amsale to make her own. Now a celebrated fashion designer, she joins the 2015 CFW lineup as an example to the power of hard work, dedication, and creating your own niche.
In addition to national recognition, a record 2014 attendance and an impressive economic impact study serve as a reminder of the transformational effect of an event of this magnitude in Charleston. (Art Mag Insider: The 2015 festivities will include a tribute to countless successes through the years with an interactive tent featuring fashion designers and models who got their start at CFW.)
“We are a forward-thinking city. It translates in the arts with Spoleto, in the culinary realm with the number of chefs who have won a James Beard Award and in being a Condé Nast top destination. It’s a characteristic that spills over into all aspects of our community,” Russell says of the inherent nature of the event’s continued growth.
It certainly translates with the CFW family. The current-day team is built of founding members and unsung heroes who envisioned it from the beginning. From Heather Barrie and her team at Gathering Floral + Event Design, to Todd St. Onge at Technical Event Company, it is no wonder each year is more successful than the last.
“It’s a team of energizer bunnies. Every single person is someone who goes above and beyond, always going the extra mile. You spend so much time together making this event happen. We all have a really intense bond and respect for each other. When everyone is striving to make it perfect, it makes not only CFW look good, it makes the city look good, and ultimately, it’s the perfect tribute to the amazing talent that is here.”
If you’re looking for a taste of that talent, Russell suggests buying tickets to Wednesday night, or “locals’ night” this year. The evening is historically a “wow moment” of the week and includes a special show put on by the students at The Art Institute of Charleston. If last year’s standing ovation isn’t enough to sway you, we think its safe to say, when it comes to Charleston Fashion Week, we have a reliable source.
words: Lauren Park
NAOMI RUSSELL’S SURVIVAL KIT #CFW2015
- Breakfast. Always.
- Airborne and Emergen-C.
- 2+ Starbucks a day. (she’s not a Red Bull girl)
- 20 minutes to get ready a day. (i.e. turn off headset, cell phone, and sit—take a minute to recharge)
- Pre-planned outfits to avoid fashion emergencies. This way everything is tried on and ready to go.
- Pictures of husband and pups to remember there is a proud family waiting when it’s all over.
CFW’s growth, year by year
2007 Inaugural Year
2008 Launch of the Bridal Show and the Emerging Designer Competition
2009 Style Lounge unveiling (as an off-shoot tent off-runway) and Emerging Designer Competition expands to include SC, NC and GA
2010 Separate Style Lounge tent for the first time
2011 Expansion of the Emerging Designer Competition to include the entire East Coast; 5 nights of runway shows PLUS fashion
icon Fern Mallis joins Fashion Panel
2012 Pop-Up Shop and Emerging Designer Competition expands to include a winning bridal designer
2013 The Belk Tent and Grit Confessional Booth inclusion
2014 Gwynn’s of Mount Pleasant VIP tent inclusion, Media Center moves to the park, and Art Institute hosts first runway show
2015 New CFW success tent, live streaming of Saturday night show, and week-long of bridal activities