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Two 'Fashion Weeks' aim to freshen Charlotte's style

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"Look at him, Kim," a friend tells me, her eyes glued to the guy who has just walked into the restaurant where we were eating breakfast. "I just want to go and shake his hand and be like, 'Dude, where did you come from?'"

Donning an earthy brown sports coat with dark elbow patches, bow tie and jeans, the guy could have been any run-of-the-mill liberal arts professor or owner of a Web-based business, stopping by to grab a quick pastry before heading in to work. But then there were his shoes: bright yellow sneakers.

Wearing those took guts.

"I just have to look at him," she continues. "He's so awesome. You don't usually see interesting ... no offense to the Charlotteans. They're not wearing crazy stuff."

Folks like the neon-sneakered guy are still rare treats on the streets of Charlotte. But fashion has increasingly been in the spotlight more — this year alone has seen Charlotte Style Week come and go, a large vitaminwater fashion event that brought hundreds of people out, not to mention the numerous events happening around town for Fashion's Night Out on Sept. 8.

Coming at the end of the month, though, are two affairs that will have you second-guessing your outfits each night you step out of the house.

Anthony Simons, organizer of Charlotte NC Fashion Week, says people have stepped up their stylish game since he first moved to the area. But there's room for improvement.

"Charlotte's style is pretty conservative. No one's totally out of the box with the style that I see here," he says. "It could use a little edginess."

Hoping to inspire the city with what Simons calls "real fashion," the fourth go-round of Charlotte NC Fashion Week is set to happen Sept. 21-24 at the Pavilion at EpiCentre. Mayor Anthony Foxx has recognized this week in a proclamation to be the official Charlotte NC Fashion Week.

"We're letting the clothes, the excitement of the venue, really take on a life of its own," Simons says. "While the creative aspect of it is fun to see — to see someone do something that might not be wearable — we like to do a little bit of both. Our goal is to show designers that want to be in stores, that want to develop custom clothing for clients, and who really want to have that opportunity to be recognized by the public and the media."

Taking this year's festivities to the next level, the kickoff party happens at Hotel Sierra with a charity fundraiser/mixer for the American Cancer Society on Wednesday; a children's fashion show on Thursday, courtesy of GapKids; live commentary from the red carpet as well as a live social media lounge each night; and the promise of celebrity guests in the audience and on the runway.

More than 21 emerging designers will showcase their works, including a number of locals. As for featured designers, Simons says he's especially excited about Cory Couture from New York, who will show extravagant couture gowns (worn by R&B singer Kelly Rowland and America's Next Top Model Krista White), and Janie G Couture, from Florida, which features timeless cocktail dresses, gowns and more.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.charlottencfashionweek.com.

Rita Miles, whose company Charlotte Seen is spearheading another fashion week, the first Charlotte Seen Fashion Week (they also hosted Passport For Fashion back in April), puts emphasis on the word "melting pot" when she talks about Charlotte's sense of style.

"You have a lot of people moving in from California, from New York, from overseas," she says. "The fashion [here] is very versatile. It brings new vibes and new looks. Each little boutique has its own niche, too. Boris & Natasha has a very artsy, New York feel. And then you have Bevello, more in essence of European with a Southern flair. Then Vineyard Vines goes very Hamptons. With everybody moving in, it becomes a melting pot of the fashion industry.

"Charlotte doesn't get the credit right now of being a fashion city," she continues. "And that's what we're pushing for."

Charlotte Seen Fashion Week kicks off Sept. 19-24, with the first three days offering complimentary admission to mixers around town. The actual runway shows begin on Sept. 22 at Gateway Village. Thursday night features the People Choice Awards, where four emerging designers will vie to be the audience's favorite. Friday night is the Re-Model Show, with pieces by 25 local artists, made with recyclable material. Saturday night will feature the works of Charlotte designers like Luis Machicao, Tara Davis and more.

"We would really like to focus on the talent of the designers here locally in Charlotte," she says. "They need an avenue and venue here to sell their attire, and this gives them a stepping stone to New York, Paris and Milan. Our main point of interest is making sure we have buyers in the audience, and that we have an audience that enjoys a very elite production and a show on the runway."

For more information on Charlotte Seen Fashion Week, visit www.charlotteseenfashionweek.com.

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