Emerging Designers Off to Rocky Start at Phoenix Fashion Week 2014 at Talking Stick Resort

It was a slow and rocky start for Phoenix Fashion Week 2014's opening night on Thursday, October 2, at Talking Stick Resort. But, somewhat surprisingly, the annual style event turned it around by the end of the evening with designs from Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising graduates.

Emerging designers Charmosa, Misha Mendicino, State Forty Eight, and Woman's Touch Apparel kicked off the runway show. And it was a tedious first half.

See also: Phoenix Fashion Week 2014 Designer Lineup Revealed

Charmosa Swimwear's presentation began with a group of Brazilian-style carnivale dancers, whose moves and outfits didn't exactly gel with the designer's overall presentation. From the front row, the dancers' costumes looked cheap and ill-fitting. And choreography-wise, there seemed to be little consensus as to what the dancers were supposed to be doing -- and where.

Entertainment aside, the line by San Francisco's Neide Hall was fun in concept, but Charmosa's skimpy swimsuit styles made for unflattering runway pieces. And when the designs don't look good on models, that makes for a seriously tough sell. Odd color choices and styling didn't help matters. The line transitioned from a Creamsicle-orange sunset motif into a deep blue- and red-heavy fabrics (including a particularly unappealing tie-dye print). Looks were styled with a lot of feathered embellishments that were more of a distraction than an enhancement.

Misha Mendicino Designs melded elephant rights with vacation wear. (What a sentence.) While her airy dresses looked comfortable enough, a lack of focus pervaded the collection. Too many differing prints and colors (and sometimes one print reused in varying colors like black, purple, and taupe) made the series look more like a rack of dresses grouped in a hotel gift shop than a cohesive line. However, Mendicino presented what was easily the most together of Thursday's emerging designer bunch.

Requisite T-shirt brand State Forty Eight presented logo-heavy T-shirts and such accessories as backpacks and water bottles inspired by Arizona. We've said it before, but we'll say it again: While the T-shirt business might be a lucrative one, it doesn't make sense to have a company like State Forty Eight compete with designers creating genuine collections -- let alone entire outfits.

Until Phoenix Fashion Week moves the emerging designer contest beyond T-shirts, it's hard to consider the competition a legitimate one.

Woman's Touch Apparel closed out the emerging designer portion of the evening. And what the brand lacked in quality, it made up for with personality and production.

A troupe of dancers opened the high-energy presentation, which featured leotards and minidresses bedecked with phrases including "I'm a Fucking Feminist" and "High Heels Only." Despite the simple shape of most of the dresses, the clothes didn't quite fall right, thanks to stiff, cheap-looking fabric.

While the Jenesis Laforcarde's brand did have a knack for both literal and figurative cheeky, but the fun didn't always translate. "CEO" emblazoned across the chest of floral crop top that looked like a bargain-bin item at Forever 21 made us more sad than amused. And having waifs walk the runway wearing garments screaming "whole lotta woman" and "it's okay to be bootylicious" just made us hope they would get to eat dinner later.

Scottsdale denim designer Diego Milano opened the established designer portion of the evening, showing an array of pants, some tinged with hippie style and others looking more like outer space astronaut-wear, with techy zips and pockets galore.

While all the legwear looked well made and high end, a few details were a bit befuddling. For example, the back pockets have an additional panel along the bottom seam that makes them three dimensional, as opposed to traditional pockets that align entirely with the pant material. Adding depth there of all places is a curious choice, given that it creates the illusion of a bigger butt. And we know Vogue has officially dubbed big butts a "trend," but committing to this style of pocket for nearly every pair of women's jeans is shortsighted.

From there, a pair of recent FIDM graduates originally from Arizona upped the night style ante -- big time.

Carol Wong, who's from Chandler but now based in Los Angeles, showed a line inspired by medieval times that looked like futuristic armor. Sophisticated color choices of avocado, ivory, and rich coral grounded the line's high concept and made it the true turning point of the evening.

Kingman native Tylor Leigh also recently graduated from FIDM and presented a bold collection of menswear and womenswear in stark black, white, and yellow.

Both Wong and Leigh wowed the audience with their impressive lines, and we couldn't help but wonder: Why aren't Wong and Leigh (or more designers like them) competing in the emerging designer competition? They'd bring major credibility to the competition, and it doesn't seem quite right to present them under the banner of "established designers."

Dubai's Albert Andrada presented the finale of highly detailed gowns embellished with Asian touches and fluffy, furry Muppet coats. It was a fun ending to a spotty night, and we were happy to see Phoenix Fashion Week spreading more high-fashion designers throughout the three-day event, as opposed to saving them all for Saturday's show.

Phoenix Fashion Week continues through Saturday, October 4. Check-in is at 6 p.m. nightly. Runway shows are schedule to start at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, which range from $40 to $175 per person per night, visit

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski