NOT COUNTING his collaborative effort with Elizabeth Dye for last May's Mercury Open Season fashion show series, it's been a minute since Adam Arnold's had a runway show.
Widely considered among the most talented and original apparel designers in the city, Arnold last hosted one of his typically well-attended studio shows in October 2011. In the interim, he's been busy with less obvious pursuits, like designing costumes for an Oregon Ballet Theatre performance and creating a micro-collection in response to a piece of sculpture at the Portland Art Museum. He's been designing and making clothes for clients in the meantime too, of course—passing by the white-shrouded windows of his SE MLK studio frequently yields views of new work on display—but it hasn't been formally presented.
That changes this week with a spring show of work that's been months in the making. And while Arnold's known for rocking the boat in traditional runway settings (not much seems to wind up being entirely straightforward when he's involved—in a good way), this much can be expected: new designs for men and women, loosely appropriate for spring in the Portland sense, when "on any given day you might wear a sweater, a tee, and a coat" in rotating combination. "It's less about season and more about playing with ideas of form and silhouette," he explains. "I've always seen my collections as family—the conservative one, the black sheep, the tennis champion, the republican, the liberal.... There might be something there that wouldn't make sense on a spreadsheet, but makes the line as a family more interesting."
Family manifests in more direct ways with the inspiration here, too. Arnold's grandmother passed away in December, and he is, in part, approaching the show as a tribute—attendees of past shows may remember her loyal presence in the audience. "My grandmother taught me to sew," explains Arnold, "and kind of gave me the gift of allowing, and actually celebrating, self-expression and doing things that aren't necessarily popular—and then developing an idea so that it resonates with people."
In the winter months following her death, Arnold found himself in a slow period, business-wise, and used the time to grieve ("It's a wild ride," he admits of the emotional process), as well as to find elements of his designs he felt were still unexplored. There's also a certain air of restlessness in the designer's mood. As someone whose nature so often positions him as an instigator, he sees a certain conservativeness settling in, as Portland grows less insecure about its own legitimacy. "There's just something boiling under the surface and it's going to crack," he predicts. "And it's your responsibility as a creative person to respond to the undertones in society or your life. Certain aspects are being pulled out and commercialized in this way that needs to be blown up or flipped over. Someone needs to push the button on it. I'm using that impetus for change as an inspiration.
"It's a spring theme also," he continues, "because the amount of energy it takes for the dead, leafless tree to spout buds is explosive. There's a certain tension in the air, but whether or not you would literally see that in the clothing is up for interpretation... I'm not going to have breakaway pants or anything (well, maybe I will between now and then)." Adam Arnold Spring Fashion Show, Adam Arnold Studio, 338 SE MLK, Fri March 21, 7:30 pm, free