"We look at it as a business opportunity to find new customers and form new relationships with retailers," said Siriano, the youngest designer to win "Project Runway" or land on Crain's 40 Under 40 list. "Who wants to alienate a customer who's ready to shop?"
Siriano already showed his ballet-inspired Fall 2013 collection in New York and Paris, but he brought it to Charleston for a show Saturday. On Friday he participated in a trunk show hosted by a family-owned department store, Gwynn's of Mount Pleasant, where he would like to see his clothes sold, he said. He also judged the emerging designer competition, along with Mallis and other industry insiders and entertainers: singer-songwriter Ashanti, designers Brandon Sun and Antonio Azzuolo and Hannah Goff, winner of the 2012 Charleston emerging designer competition.
Cynthia Rowley judged the emerging designer competition in 2009, when swimwear designer Marysia Reeves won. Since then, Reeves' swimwear has been featured in publications including Vogue and WWD, and her collections have been picked up by Barneys New York, Anthropologie and other high-end boutiques around the world.
"Charleston has a sophisticated, fashion-savvy audience, so it's just a matter of making my products more accessible to them," said Rowley, who was in the city this week to visit her King Street store and promote her latest collection for Belk department stores. "It's also a great way for me to learn more about what's happening in fashion in that part of the country."
The emerging designer competition final drew hundreds of people Saturday. The competition was tight, but ultimately the panel chose Poku as the winner, with Mallis describing his collection as "something special." He also won the audience favorite award, another $250 prize.
Dozens of fans swarmed around him, making it hard for his sisters and girlfriend to reach him. As far as he was concerned, the win vindicated his efforts.
"It's shown me I am meant for this," he said of his win. "This is my way in life. Any impact I'll be able to make on the human race will be in this field."