It was a good year for returning to the Phoenix Fashion Week emerging designer of the year competition. In 2015, three brands — Charmosa Swimwear, Medium Apparel Co., and Hues of Ego — that had competed previously and lost were re-admitted to the program, which involves a rigorous bootcamp-style educational program that helps brands build their businesses and culminates with a runway showing at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale.
Both Charmosa Swimwear and Hues of Ego won prize packages valued at $10,000 to launch and further establish their brands.
In the past, Phoenix Fashion Week hadn't allowed emerging designers to return to the competition. Fashion Week also admitted a variety of designers into the program, from T-shirt companies and casual brands to intricate dress designers and eveningwear purveyors. And they'd be in direct competition with one another. This year marked a major change, breaking up emerging designers into three distinct categories: lifestyle (which Charmosa won); eveningwear (which Chicago label ARAE won); and couture (which Scottsdale's Hues of Ego won).
Hues of Ego designer Nataha Duran-Lynch was pegged as a favorite to win the 2014 emerging designer contest, but lost to Misha Mendicino, who deals in elephant-print vacation dresses.
That marked a turning point in the competition, but we're not sure the changes implemented since then have been entirely thought through. Obviously designers who have gone through the program have a distinct advantage over those who have not. And based on this year's results, that advantage is one that can't be overlooked.
On Saturday, October 3, Los Angeles' Azmara Asefa opened the emerging designer portion of the presentation with a line she described in her intro video as "apocalypse ready." Asefa chose a gorgeous palette of aqua, brown, and white for her clothing in neoprene and silk. However, unnecessary cutouts — on sleeves, tops, seats of pants — and bizarro styling were detrimental to the collection. Why models walked the runway with what looked like cloth monocles tied around their heads like eyepatches is truly a mystery.
Leola Sky followed with a line that, in its video intro, was pitched as clothing for 20-something women who work in offices and then go out to unwind after. Which, okay. But the collection itself consisted of sailor-inspired clothing in navy and white with a Studio 54 sensibility. Think hyper-flared pants, a white caped jumpsuit, and mullet blazers. What are mullet blazers? Let us enlighten you: They are jackets whose front panels are cropped high at the waist and whose back panels are elongated, creating blocky coattails.
Then came Hues of Ego. Duran-Lynch showed growth from last year, beginning with crisp, clean white and descending into delicate pinks, then soft mauve, burgundy, and mustard. The clothes were beautifully presented, focused, and looked impeccably made.
Los Angeles designer Michelle Hebert was the final emerging designer to present on Saturday, and her collection of airy, detailed dresses created an aura of summery gothic romance and put her neck-and-neck with Hues of Ego.
Duran-Lynch won — and humbly took a bouquet of roses after hugging her fellow designers.
Her winning felt right. Still, we want more transparency in Phoenix Fashion Week's scoring system for its emerging designers. Do returning designers get some kind of golf-style handicap? Do those new to the competition get bonus points unavailable to vets? We'd like to see a complete reality-show style graphic on the screens as winners are announced, showing how many points were awarded for what, who shined where, and then a final score that makes sense of it all.
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LA’s Glenn Plaid opened the established designer section of the night, with beautifully cut men’s suits and super-slim pants. Fashion Week just wouldn’t be Fashion Week without a menswear presentation that devolves into the ow-ow giddiness of a ladies’ strip club. There it was.
Philippines-based designer Albert Andrada followed with a collection revolving around “neptunian opulence.” That meant grande dame gowns, dip-dyed deep pink skirts, a prevalent feel of classic Hollywood romance, an abundance of illusion netting, and a lengthy section of bridal wear.
Rocky Gathercole, also from the Phillippines, returned to close out Phoenix Fashion Week for the third consecutive year. His work, which we are reminded Katy Perry likes, is intense, sculptural, and exciting to see come down a runway. But we must say, after three years of the same designer closing out an event, we can’t help but wonder what he’s getting out of it — and why it’s become a tradition at an event so young and full of possibility. There has to be someone else deserving of this spotlight. Regardless, the all black-and-white collection was fun enough for the novelty of it all. Kind of like Phoenix Fashion Week.