Satellites & Monuments 

Portland Fashion Week 2008 Proves that While Some Things Change, Others Stay the Same

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Portland Fashion Week is here again—an annual series of runway shows debuting the spring collections of designers from near and far. Loosely gathered under the common effort to reform one of the most environmentally toxic industries in the world, many of the designers that will show on the runways this week are making a concerted effort to create their products in an environmentally conscious manner.

Of course, no matter how many bolts of organic cotton and silk you order, at the end of the day designers of clothing are still adding more stuff to the universe, and any honest designer will tell you that it is virtually impossible to do so in a completely green way.

On the other hand—and perhaps now more than ever—the choices that we make as consumers do matter. It is especially profound to consider the importance of investing in the local economy as we quake in the threatening shadow of a national apocalypse: One of the greenest ways to address the matter of dressing, after all, is to patronize local designers whose entire operations, from design to manufacture, take place within the city limits.

It's beginning to become even easier for local designers to remain local, too, with the opening of places like the Portland Garment Factory, a brand-new production house dedicated specifically to regional fashion designers to help them meet the demands of larger orders that might otherwise need to be outsourced elsewhere. From shoes to hats and just about everything in between, if you know where to look it's easy to build a wardrobe with clothing that's as native to Portland as anything you'd find on your plate at myriad restaurants whose reputations are grounded in the emphasis on that hottest of buzzwords: local.

A large part of the effort that has gone into the planning of Portland Fashion Week (full disclosure: I am a member of the advisory board, albeit a rather delinquent one) has been to introduce Portland designers to an audience that has long considered us to be the ultimate hicks of the fashion world—and even in comparison to last year's Fashion Week, progress has been made in launching Portland onto the national stage. Perhaps the most obvious and mainstream example is Leanne Marshall, the toast of last year's Portland Fashion Week and currently a finalist on Project Runway. The reality show is a popular if iffy-on-industry-credibility contest that enabled her to debut her spring collection at the recent New York Fashion Week, where she received widespread accolades from industry attendees with no connection to the program, indicating that regardless of the televised outcome of the contest, her virtues as a designer have penetrated the consciousness of the fashion flock.

Still, other things have not changed. As in past years, the events of Portland's Fashion Week are flanked by renegade events and runway shows that are not affiliated with the official proceedings, but without which there can not be a complete picture of Portland fashion. Some of our best and brightest include Emily Ryan and Liza Rietz, who eschewed the major events in favor of the intimacy of a small, self-produced show two weeks ago, but who will be holding a trunk show to spotlight their new collections this week. The highly regarded Adam Arnold chose to forego a fashion show altogether, instead hosting a day-long "drive-by," where the public is invited to drop into his studio to see new pieces on models who will be simply hanging out in the designer's Southeast Portland studio.

A multimedia group show called RunAway was organized by Gretchen Jones of MOTHLOVE "in response to the exclusivity of Fashion Week[s] (expensive tickets for viewers and expensive fees for designers) and fashion in general," and Nathaniel Crissman and Rachel Turk are showing the highly anticipated fall and winter collection for their line church & state in a small show at Frances May, one of the many notable boutiques to have sprung up in Portland in the past year.

As is becoming something of a tradition, the Mercury has chosen to focus on the designers behind these satellite projects, in hopes that those attending Portland Fashion Week will also be encouraged to explore the rest of Portland's evolving design story—especially those of us lucky enough to live in its proximity.

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