We're all familiar with the opening lines: "Who'd have thought 'Portland' and 'fashion' would ever go together?!" Or, "Portland's known more for its rainy days, craft beers, and lefty politics than its cutting-edge style." And so ad infinitum go the apologetic preludes to any discussion of fashion in Portland. It's been an uphill battle, but as Portland creeps its way into an international consciousness that has historically rarely given much thought to our corner of the world, the media credentials—however hedged with skepticism—have begun to accumulate.
The New York Times currently harbors a blushing crush on Portland, most dramatically with a recent ode to local design in its T style magazine describing (and inaccurately singling out) the Pearl District as an "epicenter of all things cool—a vibrant music scene, locally grown food, and a bicycle-friendly eco-culture," and recent times have regularly seen Portland fashion designers and boutiques on the lofty pages of WWD, amid a whole host of other fashion communiqués.
With the time feeling nigh for something to strike, the organizers behind Portland Fashion Week (Tito Chowdhury, Chris Cone, and Tod Foulk—and while I'm at it, I'll disclose my participation on the advisory board) have drawn together an international collection of designers under the shared ideal of green fashion. With Portland's ratings sky high in studies of cities successfully adopting sustainable practices, it's the right time and right place for such a gathering.
The ins and outs of what constitutes "green" remain subject to interpretation, but buying local is a wise bet. So while excitement is high for the coming nights featuring guest designers, it's the familiar names that will matter the most, and in the end it's their clothes we as Portlanders will be buying.
On the one hand, Portland is using the industry focus on ecologically minded design to make a well-timed leap onto the legitimate fashion calendar, but on the other hand, such a thing betrays the complete story of contemporary fashion design in Portland. This last urban frontier of the West Coast is home to scores of creatively active people who choose to live and work in Portland—there's little to have stopped any of them from instead settling in New York or any other first-tier capital that already boasts a fashion week. And the fact is that there are as many bright design stars absent from the Portland Fashion Week schedule as there are on it.
On these pages you'll see fall looks from some of Portland's best designers. Some of them are showing on this week's runways, but you'll also see work produced by local designers who aren't participating in Portland Fashion Week, but without whom this town's design personality is sorely incomplete. The clothes are modeled by four such individuals: Adam Arnold, the most unanimously admired Portland apparel designer; Rachel Turk and Nathaniel Crissman, whose church + state label is the ultimate badge of insider Portland cool; and Gretchen Jones, representing the many recent transplants who chose Portland as a place to pursue her fledgling design career.
In addition to the schedule of Portland Fashion Week shows and discussion forums below, we've included a directory of some of Portland's best boutiques stocking local designs. Although we may become a coliseum for the celebration of all things green, the long-independent pioneering heart of Portland is never fully found at the main event, and anyone looking for the "Portland" in Portland fashion is going to have to leave the beaten path—that's just how things work in our town.