Before there was ever such a thing as a "West End" of downtown Portland, the area currently anchored by the Ace Hotel was a cultural dead zone everywhere south of Vaseline Alley 'til you hit the library. There are a few fun remaining queer clubs in the area they once dominated, but that nostalgia is possibly the only regrettable thing about the renovation of the area, which has recently bloomed with shops and restaurants and a buzz in the air.
Frances May was among the new boutiques that solidified the now-christened West End's identity as a shopping destination. Offering new-to-Portland young independent lines with a smattering of vintage, and an active, selective showing of local goods, the shop's intellectual style complemented the existing scene of personality-driven businesses in the area. This week marks its second year in business, with 20 percent off storewide through the weekend, and a party presenting new work from Church + State, John Blasioli, and Smith & Bybee. Founder Pamela Baker-Miller answers our questions:
MERCURY: How has your approach changed since you opened?
PAMELA BAKER-MILLER: As the shop grows, I hope to create a Frances May signature aesthetic. I believe style is inherent and hope that the store helps people find their own personal look.
What have you learned about Portland's tastes?
What I love most about Portland shoppers is that they are knowledgeable about fashion without being trendy. Silly fads don't cut it when it means you won't be able to ride your bike or wear it in the rain.
What are some of your in-store favorites?
I cherish all of our local designers, such as MothLove and Jason Kinney. I love introducing visitors from far-away cities to our local talent. There is a list of people in New York that we call when we receive Church + State or John Blasioli. As for other designers, I always love Rachel Comey. From the new lines, I'm loving Apiece Apart from Texas, Therese Rawsthorne from Melbourne, and Hidden Spectrum from British Columbia, Canada. For fall, I look forward to introducing a few new French designers I think will fit well in the mix.
What is the third year going to be like?
My newest goal is to work on a new line with my friend Molly Pringle to hit Frances May racks this fall. It's still in the beginning stages but I'm so excited to create something with my own hands. (Frances May, 1013 SW Washington, sale Fri-Sun, party Fri May 21, 6-9 pm)
Speaking of second annuals, Content is officially putting out its call to artists. The first iteration was the surprise hit of last fall, converting the Ace into a theatrical exhibit hall of art, music, and design. There are some new developments to the drill, though, so check out mod.portlandmercury.com for the details.