ONE DOWN, one to go. Last week was the first Portland Fashion Week since it came under new management. Previous producer Tito Chowdhury is no longer involved, though he continues to produce his own four-day fashion series, FashioNXT, debuting this year on October 9. The inside baseball involved is a bit confusing, but no matter: The new/old Portland Fashion Week, while flawed, appears to be viable (although the final ticket-sales accounting will probably be the real judge of that).
Part of the focus of the event was to return to something more locally focused, but it wound up regional, with a healthy representation of designers from Seattle and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. First, though, Thursday night kicked things off with a showcase from the Art Institute, which is planning on this partnership as a replacement to their epic, annual graduate show in early summer (pour some out, because this year's was the last). It was a mix of current students and graduates, designated "emerging designers," a couple boutiques... and nearly two hours long. People were sneaking out for bathroom trips (no intermission) and drink orders (rude). There certainly were plenty of interesting ideas on hand, but the true gems of opening night were in the final avant-garde act of the evening, with designers turning out single looks that were dynamic and exciting enough to perk up an audience whose energy had long since started to flag. (Yes, there were acts—five of them!)
Some of Portland Fashion Week's best moments were introductions to designers who rarely or have never shown in Portland: Bridal designer Sunjin Lee's dresses are devastating, and while having boutiques show their current merchandise on the runway is a little unorthodox, Indian wedding wear from Hillsboro importer Amrapali was inarguably gorgeous. Seattle's Kate S. Mensah also had some beautiful leather and outerwear pieces, and ex-Portland/current Seattle designer Devon Yan-Berrong was by far the most impressive among the final night's "dream luxe" collections.
There were, of course, lowlights as well. Bend's Nelli Millard is enthusiastic but scattershot, with a series of outrageous, fantasy ball gowns that verge on the ridiculous, but it was nothing compared to the plus-sized fashions of Youtheary Khmer, which were astonishingly unflattering to the models (who very gracefully carried it off nonetheless), with oodles of clingy jersey fabric that revealed every dimple and panty line. There were also some strange moments (three male models performing a Bollywood dance routine, a model in a gothic dress with fake blood running out of her mouth), but production-wise at least—despite some rumors of drama backstage—it was smooth. The photos, however, came in late, so I'll be breaking the shows down in greater detail this week on mod.portlandmercury.com. Join me (and get your claws out).