As we tiptoe into spring, local fashion designers are beginning to mount exhibitions of their work for the new season, taking fragile comfort in the changing economy. For some, business is surprisingly booming on Etsy.com, the massive online craft network that is quickly becoming the bread-and-butter income source for many Portland designers, apparently benefiting from the renewed consciousness of progressive consumers.
Meanwhile, diversity is alive and productive on local runways, where fashion is regularly called upon as entertainment for a variety of causes. This week, designers provide a boost for an event benefiting Alec Martinez, a two-year-old faced with cancer. A worthy cause, no doubt, and one that has attracted the participation of several noteworthy design contributors.
Emily Sunnell's Emilia Kaye line was last seen at a December show, where a tribute to Marie Antoinette resulted in giddily frothy reconstructions of tulle and lace that took satisfying tactile pleasure in the sheer decadence of their materials. The hairstyles nearly stole the show, with exaggerated volume, curls, and braids that threatened to overshadow the clothes, and the salon lobby that served as a venue was frankly too small to contain the effort put forth. The opportunity to see Sunnell's energy on a bigger stage will be a delicious treat in a town where too often punches are pulled at the expense of drama.
Art Institute graduate (and Mercury fashion show alum) Janeane Marie is another hot name on the ticket. A former intern for green-fashion icon Anna Cohen, and more recently of Project Runway hometown winner Leanne Marshall, Marie's combination of influences is downright titillating for local design connoisseurs. Glimpses of the spring line reveal muted, ladylike pieces with a European sensibility (a white suit's ankle offers a crisp whiff of thoughtful placement, a creamy shell top with a fringed collar recalls Marshall's signature balance of embellishment and restraint). Although one has the sense that Marie might eventually benefit from exploring some of her more outrageous tastes, hers is a design voice that is a pleasure to watch coming into its own.
Also on the bill is a second Mercury show veteran, Rio Wrenn's R.A.W. Lingerie. Fundamentally a textile artist more accustomed to gallery settings, her one-of-a-kind pieces take a page from Victorian boudoir and are painstakingly dyed and rusted through a litany of techniques using everything from scrap metal to insect corpses. The result is striking and unusually pretty, adding a modern, earthy element to traditional shapes for an almost shabby-chic luxury. Also on the docket: Lux Jewelry, Beauty and the Bead, Sarah Seven, Stephanie D. Couture, and Dimitri, plus a presentation from Haberdashers men's boutique (428 NW 11th). (Benson Hotel, 309 SW Broadway, Sat Feb 28, 9 pm, $15, all ages)