ELIZABETH MOLLO is expanding her empire. The fashion show producer, backstage managing gun-for-hire, and writer (full disclosure, she's a Mercury contributor) is behind many of the fashion shows in town, from the recent Alley 33 to the big, polished FASHIONxt coming up in October. But Fade to Light—which has run, under a variety of monikers, since 2004, making it one of the longest-standing annual fashion shows in the city—is truly her baby. As the sole producer, Mollo has nurtured the event from its rough 'n' tumble roots, when it combined rocker fashion and live music, to what it is today, and this week she takes it a step further by making it a semiannual happening.
Historically limited to the dark days of February, the addition of an August Fade to Light rounds out an increasingly vibrant summer calendar of design shows. Characterized by bestowing ultimate freedom to the designers—the only requirements are that they present previously unseen work, and each segment of the show must open with a video segment presenting their brand. Mollo says the designers—especially ones who've participated before—are having an increasing amount of fun with the videos (she also admits, "frankly it also gives us a little more time to change over the models").
"We draw a lot of inspiration from film," says Devon Burrus of Bad Wolf Clothier, which he produces with his partner Seth Noles. Their film takes its inspiration from the Monkees' movie Head. "In second grade, Seth answered the 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' question, 'A Monkee!' Both of us connect to the retro time and aesthetic of the film, though we're especially drawn to the subtle wit, societal commentary, and absurd-as-normal flavor the film has. Our approach to our brand is to remind ourselves, and our customer, that lifestyle is the important thing. We're dedicated to our vision, yet don't believe it is the final answer to everything."
Other designers describe their approach to this year's videos as "personal, hands on" (Lisa Silveira of Wandering Muse) involving "grand thought" (ElizaBeth Rohloff). If past years are any indication, they will be as diverse as the collections they complement. Like many shows in Portland, Fade to Light doesn't impose seasonal requirements on its designers' collections (a sign of independence or disorganization, depending on your point of view).
Designers tend to be cagey about what they plan to reveal, but some of Fade to Light's participants dropped hints about their inspirations that indicate a mash-up of very distinct personalities. "The early films of Audrey Hepburn," confesses Sharon Blair of Studio SKB, who will also have her hair cut onstage to benefit Locks of Love, which provides wigs to children who've suffered illness-related hair loss. "The Ligurian coastline, a region of Northwestern Italy," says Silveira. "[It's] known for its blue waters, rocky coastline, and colorful buildings." To progress further into idiosyncratic obscurity, Caitlin McCall of Quick Study offers an "image I'd seen in a coffee table book about Japan years ago wouldn't stop pestering me. A photo of a mother sending her child off to school with its backpack and lunch. The kid is maybe five, but she looks like she's sending that thing off to war by the proud, pained expression on her face."
Whatever that looks like when translated to clothing? It won't be boring. Fade to Light, Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside, Wed Aug 28, 8 pm, $12-25, all ages