The strange, stilettoed beast that is Portland Fashion Week (PFW) is in full swing. Although it is Portland Fashion Week, the production has increasingly shifted its scope to encompass much more than a showcase of regional talent—though its opening night was dedicated to a diverse group of locals [see "Still Life," Feature, Sept 30], and a healthy number of Portland brands make up the five-night schedule.
However, PFW has also extended itself as an international venue for designers from all over the world who regard themselves as sustainable. Last year, for instance, the Swedish equestrian apparel company Gersemi showed up, as well as Paris' Ethos (returning this year), and Pakistan's Mehdi, plus participants from Seattle and Vancouver, BC, as well as Chicago and Pittsburgh. The blend tends to make the event a soup-to-nuts mix overall, though it helps that the designers are generally grouped together thematically each night.
Speaking of themes, this year is the first in which there will be what can only be described as a Project Runway night, with four former contestants from the reality show debuting spring collections. While it's hard not to be skeptical of the image of PFW becoming a kind of post-graduate program for network television vets, I'm going to see how this plays out. The show's producers have been sucking up talent from the area with alarming regularity, and Vancouver, WA's Seth Aaron Henderson, who won the show last season, is the first to bring that media attention back home by debuting his post-show collection on this turf. In a city where there aren't a lot of press and wholesale buyers built into the environment, it's hard to argue that any increase in visibility is a bad thing, and it's exciting to see what these designers are capable of without the show's ridiculous harassments inflicted on them.
If you're already going whole hog and signing up to attend every night of the shows, I'll see you there. For the rest of the fashion-curious, here's a rundown of the shows happening this week:
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 7
This night is split up in two parts. The first features PFW regular Lizzie Parker out of Issaquah, Washington, and Jesica Milton of Seattle. Owner of her own eponymous boutique and creative director of Seattle's annual Fashion First show (the seventh of which just went down on September 16), Parker mostly works with bamboo jerseys to create soft everyday-wearable pieces like wraps and leggings, but will kick out flouncier pieces for the runway. Milton has a more angular, tougher approach to womenswear, and my money's on her for bringing out a funky but wearable collection that will appeal to youthful creative professionals.
WyattOrr closes the night's first chapter. The design team, comprised of Liise Wyatt and Karly Orr, is known primarily for their outerwear, so it will be interesting to see what they add to the runway in companion pieces, and their designs for men will provide a much-needed dash of menswear to the week's lineup.
The second half of the show is a reprise of last year's Emerging Designer Competition. Four applicants were selected by the panel this year (I'm on it, but my input is minimal compared to that of my co-panelists, including Henderson and Sue Bonde, the academic director of the Art Institute's apparel department): Devonation, Anar Couture, Ms. Wood, and Nelli Millard. This is a very diverse group, and you may have seen several of them in different guises, but it's a competition, so I'll leave the details to surprise.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 8
Tonight is dominated by ladylike formal wear: Amai Unmei has a shop off of NW 23rd, and avid shoppers are most likely familiar with designer/owner Allison Covington's charming, dressy coats and classic feminine party dresses that let the woman wearing them do most of the talking. The same could be said of many of last year's dresses from the La Vie by Michelle DeCourcy line, a longtime Portland designer who reemerged after a hiatus during which she last year was recovering from a rare form of leukemia. The casual separates, particularly satin shorts and skirts in a bold turquoise, were a highlight last year, and seemed to translate the feeling of renewed energy and zest for life that must have gone into them better than the pretty but subdued, more formal pieces. Hopefully this year's work will tip further in that direction.
The Stephanie D. Couture line is by far the most formal among those showing tonight, with to-the-ground gowns, wedding and otherwise. Suzabelle, another Seattle contributor who's shown in Portland Fashion Week previously, is another standout coat designer, although it should be just as interesting to see the rest of her increasingly dynamic and rich-looking dresses.
One of the highlights of the Week is Barbara Seipp's Isaac Hers line of womenswear graduating to a runway show. A favorite among Portland shoppers (find her designs at her boutique Phlox, on N Mississippi), it will no doubt be a triumph for her to tell a story with her increasingly sharp designs.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 9
The aforementioned Project Runway night: In addition to Henderson (in collaboration with PFW sponsor SolarWorld), who relied on a graphic pop-punk aesthetic over the course of the television show, but whose taste (to use a favorite term of the show's judges) and abilities are much more diverse than that, he's brought along three other former contestants. Two are also from Season Seven, Jay Sario and Jonathan Joseph Peters, both of whom were serious contenders for the win that Henderson ultimately went home with. Also added to the roster is Goga by Gordana, Gordana Gehlhausen of Season Six fame.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10
Tonight's finale features Amelia Toro, an exciting, well-respected addition from Colombia whose recent Alice in Wonderland-themed presentation is an excellent harbinger of the excitement her designs and presentation could bring to PFW this year. Paired with Ethos Paris, Portland's own Souchi line of luxury cashmere, the venerable and newly hip (in large part through collaboration with Opening Ceremony) Pendleton, and Lenzanita, a high-end South Dakota line, this promises to be the week's most solid, world-class lineup.