Summer may be picking up speed, but in fashion you're way behind if you don't have a plan for fall. In Portland, autumn brings Portland Fashion Week (PFW), along with outlying events that in a ragtag, disparate way comprise a cobbled together snapshot of local design, half-assedly arranged around the traditional fashion calendar.
This year's week of events, scheduled for October 7-11, marks the ninth year for PFW, which the organization (led by founders Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury, Christopher Cone, and Tod Foulk) likes to point out makes it the second longest running fashion week on the West Coast, behind (albeit way behind) LA's. As a sometimes-active member of PFW's advisory board, and one of a shrinking handful of writers who have covered local fashion (formerly dedicated ultrapdx.com dropped the "fashion" from its "arts + culture" tagline, and longtime Oregonian fashion reporter Vivian McInerny penned her last piece as a staff writer in May)—I've been to enough meetings and had enough conversations with insiders to safely say that it's been an uphill struggle to pull off a comprehensive event that represents Portland's fashion community.
The explanations for this difficulty are all over the map. Portland wouldn't be Portland if it weren't home to independent contrarians who simply prefer doing things their own way, and virtually any designer in Portland whose ambitions resemble a traditional career path won't stay here long. There have also been complaints about the relatively high cost to designers who do participate in PFW, coupled with a lack of attention paid by serious buyers. Then there's the debatable tenability of using "green" as a theme, organizational quibbles, and so forth. The result is that PFW isn't as strong as it might be, but no viable alternative with any sticking power has emerged. Each year sees a new variety of smaller, independently organized alternatives clustered around PFW's dates—which is fine, if a bit sprawling for such a small community.
One thing that has become clear is the lack of candor between PFW and the design community—even attempts to collaborate between PFW and the newly emerged Portland Fashion Synergy (PFS) devolved into miscommunications that ended with PFS resolving to table any plans to work with PFW indefinitely. In an attempt to stimulate some much needed discussion, and ideally begin to answer the unruly question of where Portland's fashion scene is headed, the Art Institute is hosting a forum this Sunday on the subject: "How can Portland Fashion Week be more beneficial for enhancing your fashion business?" Geared toward those working in the local industry (designers, boutique and wholesale buyers), I'm hoping it will be a step toward clarifying the sense of direction Portland fashion seems to need. (Art Institute of Portland, 1122 NW Davis, Rm 263, Sunday July 12, 7 pm, RSVP recommended to firstname.lastname@example.org)