Ayoka Lucas

Style Director of Charleston Magazine, Charleston Weddings Magazine, and Creator of Charleston Fashion Week

photo by Jonathan Balliet

As Charleston Magazine gears up for another Charleston Fashion Week March 20-24th under the tents at historical Marion Square, I had the opportunity to talk with Ayoka Lucas, it’s creator.  She shares with me it’s inception and where it will be 5 years from now.  The five night whirlwind of fashion shows and after parties always has the city buzzing with excitement.  In 2010 Travel & Leisure Magazine named Charleston, SC the #1 city for the most attractive people. I have a feeling that Ayoka helped put us on the map.  Ayoka Lucas has been a force of fashion in this charming southern city, making it a relevant destination for style.  

I 1st met Ayoka when I had my boutique B’zar on King Street 7 years ago.  I instantly clicked with her because she has this incredible unique personal style and is truly a genuine person.  She’s always been a strong supporter of the local cultural scene; attending every fashion, art, and music event nightly.  Being the Style Director of Charleston Magazine and Charleston Weddings Magazine was only the beginning of her fashion takeover. Her vision to create Charleston Fashion Week has proven that our homegrown talent can gain national attention.

Juggling her duties as the style director of 2 magazines, creative director of Charleston Fashion Week, freelance stylist, blogger, fashion mentor, radio voice, socialite, and mother; I wonder – When does she sleep?  I got the chance to interview Charleston’s Ambassador of Style on her journey into fashion, rise to the top, and what inspired her to be the compelling woman she is today.

photo by Jonathan Balliet

Where are you from?  Originally from NYC but raised in Charleston!

How did you end up back in Charleston?  After graduating from college in Atlanta, being a single parent, I decided to move closer to my family which has really been an amazing support system for my career. I was able to be both a mother and mover and shaker. 

When did you know you were destined for a career in fashion?  When I was pre-teen age I was very attracted to style, fashion mags, MTV, the whole pop culture of it all.  At that time, it was the age of the supermodel and I had dreams to be one of them. However when I only managed to hit 5’4 that dream clearly died. It wasn’t until college (and scouring thrift stores on a college budget) where I was force to be more creative with my style that I discovered that I had a natural gift to pull a look together. People would stop me and ask me about my wardrobe and I began to offer my time to them playing in their closets. It then dawned on me that this was where my heart was and I had an organic ability to do it! A God given gift which I consider all of my accomplishments blessings from divine intervention in my life!

The Age of the Supermodels in the 1990’s.

The music videos of the 80’s and 90’s turned pop icons into style icons.

Tell me about your path to becoming the Style Director of Charleston, Charleston Home, and Charleston Wedding Magazines?  I really started with the Charleston Magazine brand as a freelance stylist. I met the editor-in-chief, Darcy Shankland, at a party that I was covering for my then weekly nightlife column called the City Scene for Charleston’s City Paper. We set up a meeting a few months later where I pitched my ideas for a fashion presence in the Magazine and she brought me on freelance. As the Magazine grew and expanded they felt they wanted to utilize me as a style editor in a more full time roll for all three publications. Fast forward to the inception of Charleston Fashion Week where shortly after my title changed to style director. 

How do you juggle 2 magazines?  It really is about time management and a great team. When you add Charleston Fashion Week to the mix it really then becomes a marathon. My days and weeks are meticulously planned right down to my social calendar and school functions! Sometimes I even have to schedule a time to remind myself to go to the powder room or even eat lunch.  But when you are passionate about something the workload becomes so bearable even when you should say enough, your thinking about more and what’s next.  

Tell me how the conception of Charleston Fashion Week came about?  I had been working for Charleston Magazine for about 4 years and really was feeling a desire to see a greater representation of this fashion community that I loved. At the time, back in 2006,  my thoughts were heavily on New York Fashion Week and the magic they created in Bryant Park so much so that one night I literally had a dream about NYFW in Charleston. This really sparked the desire to want to bottle up the experience of a fashion week and bring it to my own back yard. I ended up nervously sharing this idea with my publisher and he loved it and gave it his blessing to become what is now one of the most successful Charleston Magazine events.

How did you pick the month of March for fashion week here?  We instinctively wanted to do it at a time of year that was pleasant climate wise since it was being held in tents. Nothing beats spring in Charleston! We then tried to carefully plan for it not to fall on the same dates as those of the top Fashion Weeks around the world. 

2011 Emerging designer winner Charlotte Hess

2011 Emerging designer Thea Canlas

2011 emerging designer Michael Wiernicki

How has NY Fashion Week influenced you?  NYC is the anchor for my vision when thinking creatively about fashion and producing CFW. It’s the fashion capital! I try to get inspired and take the elements of what is great about NYFW and tailor it to Charleston which is a very different place. However I never have the goal in mind to turn Charleston into NYC. I love the influences but with the Charleston charm. NYFW is like an alternate universe. You step into the tents or the shows and the adrenaline rush is incredible, the styles are endless and it’s just like going away to ‘fashion camp’. I love getting that same feeling right here in Charleston and being able to share it with my community, see people come in from 33+ states and hit a mark on the national fashion radar. 

Ayoka at NYFW

Did you ever expect Charleston Fashion Week to be such a hit?  NO! Honestly, I was unsure. I kept reminding myself that no great thing happens unless someone takes a risk. The ride has been truly amazing. The stage that Charleston Magazine sets for fashion careers, aspiring models, increasing the stimulation of the economy, celebrating the city as a shopping destination all feels so surreal but ideal. The fact that Charleston embraced it is without a doubt the ultimate success of CFW. A few years ago we learned that CFW brought in around 1.7 million into the city!  Even to this day I get weak in the knees thinking about how big it gets year after year. My favorite time of the year is March because it has now grown to be Fashion Month!

Ayoka with Mychael Knight, Project Runway alum, colleague, and confidant

Fashion heavy hitters guest judge at 2011 Charleston Fashion Week: Janie Bryant – costume designer of Mad Men, Fern Mallis – creator of NY Fashion Week, Derek Blasberg – fashion writer

How do you envision Charleston Fashion Week will be like 5 years from now?  I think CFW has the potential to be one of the leading events for discovering the next big stars of the fashion world. I believe it will be an even greater gathering of Industry leaders and continue to spotlight the city. 

Getting the crowd hyped at Charleston Fashion Week.

Is your son Khari into fashion?  Have you influenced his style/interests?  He has his own very relaxed take on style which can sometimes be very different from mine but I love that he trusts me not solely  as a mother but as a stylist! He will come to me to ask for help pulling a look together or get my advice on style. I just recently sent him a mini look book of different men’s styles so we can revamp his closet with images of style star celebs like Mos Def, skater style, prepster and several other aesthetics. His response was ‘Mos Def and prepster are both good. Maybe elements from both!’ Now that’s a kid who has fashion and style in his DNA!

What are your favorite blogs/magazines?  Oh boy! I am a magazine HOARDER. I always rescue them from people who throw them away after reading, thus adding to my already insane collection. I subscribe to so many and NEVER throw them out. One day someone’s going to have to lift me out of my house with a crane because I will be buried in fashion mags. I do love, Surface, PaperMag Trace, Nylon (probably my favorite), W,  and of course Vogue. I love an edgier publication (especially international) with creative looks on style and pop culture like Purple Mag. Thank heavens for google reader! I store all of my blogs in there. Along with general blogs about fashion, I follow probably over 3 dozen street style blogs from around the world. This is my favorite genre of fashion. I also love the quick informative up-to-date blogs with great wit like The Cut, Refinery 29, Kingdom of Style. I don’t know it’s so hard to pick a favorite! I subscribe and follow so many. I try to make it point to read blogs and keep up with fashion happening for at least an hour each day. So I guess I will be self-promoting and say that I do love my personal tumblrs- stylePublic (stylepublic.tumblr.com/) where I share some insight on my fashion life and what inspires me as well as my street style blogs, Brown Boy (brownboystyle.tumblr.com/) and Brown Girl (http://browngirlstyle.tumblr.com/).

Who are your style icons (past or present)?  Since my style is completely and totally eclectic, so is my choice of style icons. So here it goes: Victoria Beckham, Erykah Badu, Solange Knowles, Frida Kahlo, Kate Lanphear, Leigh Lezark and Diana Ross in Mahogany. Her role in this movie lit my fashion fire. 

What movies have inspired you fashion wise?  I love stylistically beautiful movies as well as fashion docs. They should always be a point of reference for a stylist so I would say: Under The Cherry Moon, The September Issue, The Devil Wears Prada,  The Dutchess, Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton Documentary, Curse Of A Golden Flower, Aeon Flux, Sex and the City, Carmen Jones, Marie Antoinette and all of the ’80s Molly Ringwald movies. (and of course Mahogany.)  I hate that I feel I am leaving a few valuable one’s off this list but you get the picture!

Diana Ross in Mahogany

Curse of a Golden Flower

Aeon Flux

Marie Antoinette

Any advice to people who are looking into a career in fashion?  If you are not totally IN LOVE with fashion to the point where your life revolves around it, you take a licking from this industry and keep on ticking, wake up and go to sleep trend tracking and reading every style blog, mag, TV show, skip lunch and bathroom breaks to make it happen, work 18 hour days, know the history and EVERYTHING relevant to style, hoard fashion mags, dream about, stay up at night over it, eat, sleep, breathe it… then don’t do it! 

You must know everything you possibly can about this industry, your taste levels must be up to par, and you must love it even through the many not so glamorous moments and processes it takes to capture glamour. If you even understood this sentence… You are on your way!

If you weren’t in the fashion industry, what else would you be doing?  Non-profit work! I really care so much about people! (I also think I would be a break dancing, rapper, singer, filmmaker, author, civil rights fighter who toured part-time as a comedian.) 

For more information about Ayoka Lucas – http://ayokalucas.com/

For more information about Charleston Fashion Week – http://www.charlestonmag.com/fashionweek/main

For more information about Charleston Magazine – http://www.charlestonmag.com/

photo by Jonathan Balliet


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