EVERY YEAR, particularly around the fall season, the number of fashion events descending upon this city becomes more and more head-spinning. Between slick, high-budget operations and more low-key, casual affairs, it's become nearly impossible to keep track of all the shows happening—much less attend them all. While the quality varies greatly from show to show, and many prove to lack staying power, the ones that gain the most popularity tend to tap into Portland's desire for unconventionality and unfettered creative expression. This explains why Content—which has designers take over rooms at the Ace Hotel for one night to create personalized installations that reflect their brands—has become one of the most well-attended and highly regarded events of the year.
Since it was first launched in 2009, Content has evolved considerably, and designers have increasingly tapped into the possibilities that the unique format presents. As jewelry designer and perfumer Julia Barbee explains: "Last year's Content included multiple rooms that involved more than one sensory experience. Installations that have scented, edible, and auditory elements help to expand the idea of what fashion, or wearable work, really is." Designer Lindsey Reif, who's known for her line Reif (and super-popular turban headbands), adds that, "The first year none of us really knew what to expect. Over the past few years I've seen some amazingly creative installations that make me really proud to be a part of the event."
Part of what makes Content so compelling for designers and viewers alike is that it takes the presentation of design beyond the realm of commerce, and explores the creative process and vision that goes into any collection. As Reif puts it, "Content showcases that being a designer is not just about the product—it's about the concept, the inspiration, etc. For those of us who are designing apparel and accessories, it's a rare opportunity to show that we are artists in the same way as painters, sculptors, and other visual artists." Barbee shares the sentiment, adding that "Portland designers have always treated fashion as art, and I see that continuing here as the commercial and fine art worlds collide for one night."
Creatively, Content poses an interesting challenge for designers, as they are given total freedom with their installations, but must work within the template of a hotel room. This gives them limited space and an unusual layout to create something both visually appealing and memorable. But as anyone who has worked in a creative field knows, sometimes this kind of limitation can inspire the most unique and innovative work. As Barbee puts it, "I really enjoy the challenge of working on site-specific projects. Obstacles make the creative process more vital to me than working from a blank slate." An advantage of this format is that it allows each designer to create a dramatically different experience, more so than is often the case with traditional runway shows. Veteran Portland designer Liza Rietz explains, "It's an opportunity for a variety of talent, and a variety of business models, to curate their own vision in their own space, but under one roof."
Designers also appreciate the sense of community that Content fosters both within the industry and between creators and customers. As Reif explains, "It's an opportunity to mingle, make connections, and talk with people about my brand. I think people like being able to put a face to a name, and when I'm doing fashion shows I'm stuck behind the scenes, so there's not really much interaction with the people watching the show." She adds, "It's about creative play, and the buzz, inspiration, and synergy that comes from a community of artists.
Naturally, designers involved in this year's production are staying pretty tight-lipped about what to expect. A big part of the impact, after all, does come from the element of surprise. But with a diverse and hugely talented roster that includes all those mentioned above, along with Bridge & Burn, Tanner Goods, Brady Lange, Michelle Lesniak, and Seaecho, among many others, this is sure to be a night not to be missed!