IT'S COMMONLY held true among fashion types that fall is the fairest of seasons. The reasons should be obvious—colder weather equals more clothes—but this fall, in particular, serves as a welcome benchmark for the region. It's the one in which the Imperial Stock Ranch, located in the Oregon high desert, makes its first foray into ready-to-wear clothing, as designed by Anna Cohen. Called the Imperial Collection, items are made from wool grown on the ranch, and are a start-to-finish product of the USA.
The launch comes in a year that has already been marked with promise for Imperial, which was originally founded in 1871 and was once the largest individually owned land and stock holding in the state. Though Imperial also produces commodities like beef, wheat, and hay, the demand for its wool—like most other elements of American apparel production—experienced a steep decline at the end of the 20th century. It was just one of many victims of an industry that was increasingly looking internationally for cheaper options, a sea change that's come close to snuffing out the long tradition of American garment manufacturing altogether.
More recently, Imperial can be seen as a victor in a renewed effort, sputtering to life all over the country, to re-home that industry. Though somewhat lost in the din of outrage surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics early this year, the ranch's Imperial Yarn division was tapped for a large order of wool yarn that was used to make the Ralph Lauren-designed USA team sweaters for the opening ceremony. The ensuing media attention helped stoke a long-simmering interest in reclaiming our national textile resources, and by the time the games had begun, Imperial's Jeanne Carver reported a surge of interest, once again, from prospective clients.
Imperial was just one of many small US companies whose hands went into making those uniforms, and the overall symbolic effect of a major fashion house prioritizing domestic production of every aspect of those garments was historic.
Of course, if you remember those sweaters, you probably also recall the fact that they were widely ridiculed—one should note that Imperial had no hand in the design itself—but that's hardly a worry faced by the Imperial Collection. Officially debuting this week, the collection has been available for preview all summer, as part of the Museum of Contemporary Craft's major Fashioning Cascadia exhibition. Cohen has had a long relationship with Imperial, designing Imperial Yarn's knitwear patterns (a finished collection of which was featured on the runway during 2009's Portland Fashion Week).
Prior to her association with the ranch, Cohen was an early success at reconciling a commitment to sustainable practices with the fashion industry's high standards of taste. With international design and fashion business experience, including stints working in Italy and New York, Cohen and her designs are widely respected, inside and outside eco-conscious circles. In the Imperial Collection, they take the form of luxurious sweaters and dresses and heirloom-worthy coats, as well as a small selection of blankets.
If you're lucky enough to acquire a piece from the collection, it'll be like owning a small piece of Oregon's and America's history. Even if not, it's certainly worth raising a glass to. Imperial Collection launch w/paintings by Boo Johnson, Mercantile, 729 SW Alder, Fri Sept 19, 2-7 pm
• Indie Ella is closing out summer with an end-of-the-season sale, featuring discounted summer goods as well as new fall pieces. They'll also have drinks and snacks! Indie Ella, 333 NE Hancock, Thurs Sept 18, 5-9 pm
• Adorn is just about to open a second location on SE Division, but first they've got something else to celebrate: The original Northeast location is turning six, which calls for Prairie Underground exclusives, cocktails, raffles, and gifts. Adorn, 4120 NE Fremont, Thurs Sept 18, 6-9 pm
• It's a time of seasonal transition, which means it's also time for a PDX Collective Sale! Eleven of the city's favorite boutiques—Parallel, Mabel & Zora, EcoVibe, Radish Underground, and more, plus regional outliers like Hood River's Parts + Labour and Lake Oswego's EG Page—team up to drop merchandise from past seasons at incredible prices. The Cleaners at Ace Hotel, 403 SW 10th, Sat Sept 20, 10 am-5 pm, Sun Sept 21, 11 am-5 pm
• Mag-Big's cleaning out their workshop, which calls for a massive fabric sale—vintage, knits, and wovens. There'll also be sample clothes, sewing supplies, and other items priced at "dirt cheap." Mag-Big, 3279 SE Hawthorne, Sat Sept 20 & Sun Sept 21, noon-5 pm