THE BIG, STRANGE thing that is Portland's FashioNXT descended on the industrial shipyards of Swan Island last week. A fashion week of sorts that also focuses on lifestyle technology, FashioNXT evolved out of Portland Fashion Week. It couldn't be considered a local fashion event, given the number of designs coming from points international, and it's impossible to overlook its peculiar popularity among Project Runway stars. Strange things happen at FashioNXT. The von Trapps performed the national anthem of the Philippines. There were awkward demonstrations of computerized eyewear. There was also some excellent fashion.
Executive Producer Tito Chowdhury's events are slick and professional, and have been consistently so for years—it's taken longer for the content on the runway to rise to the occasion. I've been attending them as long as he's been hosting them, and my experiences have at times been frustrated by amateurish or tacky designs that were simply not developed enough for a high-profile runway show. And while there were relative lowlights this year, there was nothing truly embarrassing—progress! The event's tie-ins with technology still feel a little forced, making its identity somewhat elusive, but the increasingly international to-do is clearly doing one thing: getting better.
The opening night's Filipino-American design showcase was unexpected but welcome, and made for some of the most dramatic moments, best represented by the at times over-the-top looks from Francis Libiran. The emerging designer contest returned—I helped judge this year, which is increasingly a near-impossible task. Amy Sim came out the winner, but major props to all the participants, who also made that night's show the most Portland-centric of the schedule. Joining them were a handful of other designers, including fellow local Becky Ross and a new collaborative collection from Michael Costello and his cousin Stephanie Costello, called MTCostello. Though prepped to expect ready to wear, the clothes were almost as formal and high drama as Costello's signature line, which is fantastic. It would be nice to see something you could wear every day from him, but it doesn't look like that's happening this year.
Other highlights were a first-ever spring collection from Pendleton's the Portland Collection, and a unique and stunning new turn from Michelle Lesniak. The final night of shows was by far the most formal, with the best looks coming from Joshua Christensen, whose menswear in particular really shone, an Los Angeles-based Walter Collection, an almost performance-art mini-collection by Seth Aaron, and an absolutely jaw-breaking finale collection by—of course—Michael Costello.
What FashioNXT is doing and where it's going may present some mystery, but it's clearly on the upswing. It's well attended, increasingly taken seriously, and attracting designers from, literally, around the world. Even if it is... a little weird.