My Top 10 Fave Things from Chas Fash Week 10

I had a blast this past week at the 10th anniversary of Charleston Fashion Week 2016’s Emerging Designer Competition: East — from the adorable winning models of the Rock the Runway contest to the amazing creativity from the competing designers to the fun accessories and clothing vendors selling each evening in the Style Village. Congrats to everyone who participated, especially the Emerging Designer Finalist winner, Destani Hoffman, and the People’s Choice Finalist winner, Kelsey Kawamoto.

A countdown of my Top 10 favorite things of CHFW10:


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Charleston Wine + Food Festival 2015:
My Way, Way Upper King Foodie Fantasy

I may have missed the tasty, trendy Charleston Wine and Food Festival that ended this past Sunday amid great fanfare marking the five-day foodie affair, but I didn’t miss savoring the secrets eats loved by Lowcountry locals when I was in the Holy City this past fall.

Charleston fresh

Blue crabs, the Charleston fresh way

Personal Chef/Caterer Benjamin “BJ” Dennis (#GeecheeEats), one of those participating in this past long weekend’s CHSWFF, was kind enough to lead the hubs and me to a little-known local hide-away, The Fabulous Ellen Bright Hall, situated way, way, way up on Upper King early one October Saturday afternoon. Sprawl may be happening to downtown Charleston, but the reno of Upper King has only made it so far as of yet. Thank goodness, this is not one of those places.

Where the Fabulous happens

Where the Fabulous happens

This is a purely local hang, known to us, frankly, only because of Chef BJ, whom I met at last year’s Indigo Retreat. Because BJ’s intense concerns regarding sharing and educating everyone about the local part of the indigenous foods of Charleston means he really cares…and shares.

"BJ" Dennis crackin' into some crab

“BJ” Dennis crackin’ into some crab

The fresh-out-of-the water seafood is point of pride for owner/chef Aaron Short. This Lowcountry seafood scrumptiousness is Saturday-only because the rest of the week, Short’s on the case as an electrician for his entrepreneurial, self-run business. I think he told me it was a 6 days a week/20 plus years situation. I could be wrong; it could be more. Anyway, Short let me visit in his tiny kitchen (it got the job done, let me tell you!) and graciously posed for a pic in between orders.

Aaron Short

Chef/owner electrician Aaron Short

Meanwhile, back at our table, BJ dug right in and showed us the ropes, helping us crack the mess o’ blue crabs were were served in a cardboard box with a lay down of Iocal newsprint. In the mix somewhere in between was Frogmore Stew, a couple of steamed seafood platters and fried mako shark. Possibly a hushpuppy or two. Lord-oh-lordy, I can’t wait to go back!

Charleston, Upper King

Charleston, Upper King

Done and done

Done and done

Charleston, Upper King

Charleston, Upper King


Indigo Pals Go ‘Round the Outside:
Loup Charmant & Charleston’s Sea Island Indigo Retreat

Indigo, where have you been all my life?!

The incomparable Indigo plant at sunset

The incomparable Indigo plant at sunset

Repeated delays to our ticketed sunrise flight to Charleston this past Saturday for the wrap of the two-day, first-ever Sea Island Indigo retreat meant we went well into an afternoon arrival. But it was perfect timing, as friend and travel companion Kee (of Loup Charmant, one of the retreat sponsors) and I finally turned onto the gravelly dirt road of Ravenel, South Carolina’s Rebellion Farm on the outskirts of the Holy City around 4 p.m.

Indigo Retreat Charleston

The threatening skies of forecasted thunder showers began to clear and the smoky smell of roasting Ossabow Island hog wafted across the blue, blue, blue of clothes, fabrics and yarn drying everywhere as we drove up to the make-shift dye shed. The incomparable hue decorated nearly every corner of the outdoors, dripping off lines, draped across chairs, topping trunks of cars and farm equipment.

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

We were more than ready to meet the makers, hungry for the heritage food farm dinner marking the finale of the retreat, which had been organized by Sea Island Indigo‘s Donna Hardy and Seattle-based Botanical Colors‘ Kathy Hattori, and eager to walk the fields of specially-grown indigo crucial to this workshop. As indigo grower and master dyer, Donna had been tending this retreat’s crop for over three months; she is almost single-handedly revitalizing indigo as an indigenous commercial crop of the Carolinas, having re-discovered the same strain from that agricultural staple dating 250 years ago, back when Eliza Lucas Pinckney first brought the seed to the Lowcountry. While this crop wasn’t from that seed, it’s an amazing thing she’s doing.

Donna Hardy

Indigo grower and dye master Donna Hardy, relaxing after the workshop finale

Retreat organizer and indigo farmer Donna Hardy with sponsor Kee Edwards of Loup Charmant

Retreat organizer and indigo farmer Donna Hardy with Kee Edwards of Loup Charmant, a retreat sponsor

Indigo leaves

Indigo leaves

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Master dyer Kathy Hattori and Kee

Twenty Indigo workshop participants had picked leaves from Donna’s crop earlier, then crushed them into fresh leaf dye vats, which were then used on fabrics from their swag bags, including organic cotton donated by Loup Charmant, as well as clothes they brought, bought or were wearing. Seattle-based dye-master Kathy instructed workshop goers in the intricate methods of Shibori dyeing techniques the second day, while rag quilting techniques were taught by The Gullah Lady aka Sharon Cooper-Murray on the first.

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

The farm dinner meal boasted a heritage-based menu created and cooked by renowned Gullah Chef BJ Dennis. His sweet corn bread, stewed okra, pickled cukes, sweet corn and butter beans, chicken bog and pork hash rounded out the Ossabow hog offering donated by Holy City Hogs and roasted all day by foodie Jeff Allen, founder of Rebellion Farm, who not only rents out to Donna for small crop yields of cotton, okra and Carolina Golden Rice, as well as the indigo, but also raises hogs with care and compassion on another part of the grounds.

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Gullah Chef BJ Dennis

Gullah Chef BJ Dennis in a reflective moment before the meal, a sprig of indigo at his chef coat tails

The meal paired respected southern food intellectuals — like University of South Carolina professor, author and historian David Shields, Charleston-based food writer Allston McCrady and former food critic turned farmer Jeff  — with the film-maker Laura Kissel and her documentary Cotton Road, enthusiastic fiber fans (many of whom had traveled from as far away as Colombia and California), and Carolina-born, New York-based designer and indigo-afficionado Kee. As for myself, my interest stemmed from a desire to learn more about indigo and meet the amazing ladies involved, but I’d jump at any chance to return to my Lowcountry roots. During the communal meal we touched upon dyeing, while dining on and dishing Southern foodie lore, surrounded by an evening that was blue and beautiful, bearing all the traditions of southern hospitality at its best. We learned of David’s recent involvement in a sorghum syrup boil (and got to taste some of his newly created sweet stuff), the state of sugar cane growth itself, the financial needs of the Sapelo Island inhabitants, and, of course, the blue star of the night — indigo.

Kathy getting her sweet tooth satiated with sorghum syrup

Kathy satiating a sweet tooth with sorghum syrup on corn bread

A twilight tour of the fields yielded a kind of call-and-response between the guys and gals regarding the source of the discovery of indigo’s blue (uric acid releases the blue tint from the leafs, so “who-peed-where-first” was just one highlight of our highly intellectual discussion). As if that wasn’t enough, there was a ridiculous rainbow before an equally ridiculously gorgeous mango/indigo sunset, South Carolina weather forecasters be damned.

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Male folk on the right

Keep the men folk on the rightCotton growingDonna’s cotton crop


Cotton boll


Cotton flower

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Kee inspecting a cotton plant.

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Indigo sprig at the end of the evening

Indigo sprig at the end of the evening

After a spirited response to the issues of cotton production and clothing manufacturing raised in Cotton Road and with the evening’s l’heure blue receding into a dark, streetlight-less murky night, Kee and I gave our grateful thanks and gracious goodbyes, then wound toward the marshes of Folly Creek, full of southern food and sustainable stories, plus an enviable education of the little green leaf that dyes things a blue shade sumptuous enough to rival any coastal Carolina sea or sky. Lucky for us, it was only as we pulled into the drive of our final destination that evening that big splats of Southern rain started. You know how you always hear “Y’all come back now!” in the south? Well, we definitely did and definitely will.

Indigo Retreat Charleston

Kee-Rav and I at the end of our long day’s journey into blue

Get Your Dye On during Charleston’s
Sea Island Indigo Retreat, Sept 18-20

For those of you following NYFW, you may be thinking of giving your own Spring/Summer 2015 style more of a DIY spin. Then hie thee down South to Charleston for the three-day Sea Island Indigo Retreat weekend September 18-20th, being held at the organic Rebellion Farm in Ravenel, SC! There you’ll learn the fine and historically-based art of indigo dyeing, using indigo from a field raised solely for this workshop. But hurry and sign up while there are still spots available. You won’t be sorry. Charleston will be gorgeous at this time of year and what an exquisite opportunity to explore ancient dyeing methods right at the source.

sea island indigo

Friend and colleague Kee Edwards, designer of the beautiful organic cotton-based collection Loup Charmant, is one of the sponsors, and has donated some of her exquisite organic cotton so that you can create your own pareo, scarf or wrap out of LC fabrics, learning to dye them Sea Island blues, an experience close to her southern heart.

Sea Island 1The indigo plant has a long and storied background in South Carolina and Charleston long ago served as home of American indigo farming. Sea Island Indigo’s Donna Hardy, a master dyer,  has been crucial in revitalizing commercial indigo production in South Carolina. And the dyes you will use during the retreat will be from the same strain of indigo plants grown in the region over 250 years ago! Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors will be on hand to help you with the dyeing process, as well.

Among a slew of southern-style events, there will also be a hands-on quilting workshop at the Charleston Museum with Sharon Cooper-Murray, spokesperson for Gullah textiles and culture (Gullah, descendants of the original West African slaves, often retain much of their traditional Geechee language stemming from the mid-1700s, something I experienced first-hand after moving to Charleston in high school; in fact, I nearly flunked US History that first year because I had a hard time adapting to my teacher’s patois!).

A Gullah descendant dressed in period costume, demonstrating rag quilting
A Gullah descendant dressed in period costume,
demonstrating rag quilting, courtesy of Sea Island Indigo.

Be prepared for an old school South Carolina barbecue and bluegrass throw-down that Saturday night, thanks to locals like Holy City Hogs, who will be donating a heritage bred Ossabaw hog, and Anson Mills, who is contributing heirloom grains. There will also be a screening that night of the  Cotton Road documentary (partially filmed in Charleston) with director/producer Laura Kissel. 

Please find out more about the retreat and Donna’s research here. Hope to see you there!

donna hardy patchwork

King Street – The Charleston Retail Scene

When the mood for shopping strikes you in Charleston, be sure to meander your way down King Street toward the Battery, the shopping destination for Lowcountry fashionistas and style mavens.




Accented with Gucci, Bob Ellis, Apple, RTW, Billy Reid and the original Lowcountry style-maker, Berlin’s, King Street dusted itself off several years ago and made the locals proud. But don’t forget to take in the newest downtown shopping area – Upper King Street – where the burgeoning development district is garnering local news as the hipster retail and foodie spot.

The Ordinary Restaurant King Street

The Ordinary Restaurant on Upper King Street

Stores like JLinSnider and Charleston Stitch, plus restaurants like The Ordinary and Two Boroughs Larder are bringing a coolness factor to Upper King, much as North Six Street is ratcheting up the attitude of Williamsburg off of New York City.

JLinSnider Charleston Stitch

RTW, long a forerunner of high fashion on the main vein of downtown Charleston, has always held forth with fashion with a capital “F” and Charleston Fashion Week last month was no exception. The retailer hosted a trunk show with New York up-and-coming talent, Brandon Sun.

RTW King Street

Worthwhile, meanwhile, has been thrilling Lowcountry style-philes and traveling fashionistas for over 20 years, and is a must-see on the style scene. Its wares are avant garde and sophisticated, with a smattering of home design accoutrements and objets.

Worthwhile King Street

Recent retail newcomer Ike Behar, featured as one of the local retailers presenting a runway show during CFW, proffers both a tailored and snazzy casual southern charm. It’s a perfect fit for the genteel Charleston-style mentality.

Ike Behar King Street

Everyone from the fashion world whom I spoke with during CFW raved about Hampden Clothing. The boutique is a mecca for more fashion-forward clothing, from designers like Rag & Bone to Theory to Alexander Wang and Rebecca Taylor. Over nearly decade, the shop has been educating Charleston consumers and pushing them ever closer to the fashion edge.

Spoleto is just right around the corner. What better time to book that ticket to warmer climes south of the Mason Dixon and get your southern charm on?

Hampden Clothing King Street

Billy Reid King Street Ben Silver Clock King Street

Getting Styly at CFW

Nice. SO Nice. The people, the designers, the fashions, the jewelry. SO NICE. Not surprising, since I’d found myself smack in a southern style love fest at the Charleston Fashion Week. CFW’s Style Lounge, one of the tents in the middle of Marion Square Park in the center of downtown Charleston, was a fever pitch of fashion before, during and after Tuesday night’s Emerging Designer Competition: East runway shows.


I mean, beautiful downtown Charleston, fashion, style and JEWELRY. Be still my beating heart. So, can we talk here? Combined with the fact that you can BUY while you’re covering the event? This is right up my alley.

One of my fave new girl crushes whom I met last night is Carley Ochs, designer and creator of Bourbon and Boweties bangles, Carley’s background is in bow ties, so she embraced the olde English Southern spelling and, as it’s a Tampa-based, southern company with goods completely made by hand the old-school way, it fits. Arm party on with stacks of her beautiful wire-wrapped semi-precious stone bracelets – at least one of which I will be wearing home after tonight’s shows. (You too can find her at Can we say charge?! Thank you, American Express!

Bourbon and Boweties bangles20140319-074448.jpg
Carley Ochs with moi20140319-074517.jpg

Another new love of my fashion life: Ash Hoffman, who is a jeweler’s jeweler. She started out repurposing heirloom delectables for commissioned projects and has never looked back, segueing into life as a Certified Master Jeweler in 2010. She works in fine metals and natural stones from her private atelier in Myrtle Beach, SC. Check out her delicate and spiritually-influenced work,

Ash Hoffman’s delicate 18k gold cuffs20140319-074555.jpg
Designer Ash Hoffman20140319-074623.jpg

My ❤️ Belongs to Charleston, SC – Voted #1 Tourist Spot in the World

Cooper River Bridge Sunset. Photo by Kimberly Cihlar.

Cooper River Bridge Sunset. Photos by Kimberly Cihlar.

Gotta love that Chucktown has been voted #1 Top Tourist destination for the third consecutive year.

St. Michael's Church

St. Michael’s

Read more about where to go and what to do from an insider’s point of view in my latest post on Nick Graham’s Everywhere blog.View from The Market Rooftop \