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Portland Fashion Week in Review

Photo by Minh Tran

Adam Arnold

Photo by Minh Tran

AND, WE MADE IT. Cue bubble baths. The crowds came out last week for five days of runway shenanigans at this year's Portland Fashion Week, which had the fashion faithful falling asleep every night with high-heel-induced toe cramps and afterparty champagne on the brain. In a new twist, opening night featured an installation program of Portland designers (I helped curate), transforming the runway space into a fascinating gallery of clothing and accessories modeled by live models and furniture alike—Emily Christensen's display for her line Filly even featured a sleepy chocolate Labrador.

Day two kicked off the runway walk-offs, with an opener of Kymaro's Cardi Wrap, a single piece of slouchy lightweight cashmere that was demonstrated in an array of styling options—certainly not your traditional collection, but who ever said Portland Fashion Week would be traditional? The highlight of Thursday's show was the Art Institute showcase, which, as always, offered some of the freshest design ideas of the week. The two standouts in my book were Melissa Gaynor and Johanna Lindström. Gaynor, who is featured in the November/December issue of Fiberarts magazine, sent out a pair of dramatically dropped printed pants that demanded attention, but her real triumph is in the felted pieces cut into simple dresses and wraps. Lindström's work was the most avant garde of all the show, with metallic jumpsuits and space-age slinky dresses culminating in a finale bridal look fashioned out of a sail.

Thursday closed with Catapult, the emerging designer contest determined by a panel (including myself, Project Runway winner Seth Aaron Henderson, the Art Institute's Sue Bonde and audience voting). After a few awkward moments during Bonde's introduction, thanks to a finicky microphone and a Henderson disappearing act, the four competitors debuted very diverse collections. Anar Couture is a line of dress coats inspired by Iranian culture; Nelli Millard put out a heavily Russian-influenced line; and Devonation's graphic black-and-white looks took a page from both zebras and military uniforms. In the end Alicia Wood's Ms. Wood took the prize with a kimono-sleeved collection that was brilliantly styled with towering wooden platform shoes and earrings and the occasional wide-brimmed hat.

Day three had a solid lineup of womenswear from trusted names: Amai Unmei, Suzabelle, La Vie by Michelle DeCourcy, Stephanie D. Couture, and (newcomer to Fashion Week) Isaac Hers. Mercury intern Marissa Sullivan was especially taken with Seattle's Suzabelle, declaring on Mercury style blog MOD (mod.portlandmercury.com) that it was her "favorite designer of the night."

Meanwhile, I was across town at the Adam Arnold fall/winter 2010 show, which, while not part of Portland Fashion Week, remains one of the most important events of the season. Walking up and down the long worktable above the crowd, male and female models showed off his latest inspirations, including witty plaid blazers, a gorgeous overcoat, and long johns printed with scenes of the French countryside for men. Women, meanwhile, were treated to a sharp pantsuit, a rich nubby coat, and soft, rabbity mittens in snowball white. Sadly, Arnold himself wasn't in attendance—before the show began his assistant announced that the designer had gone to the emergency room the previous Wednesday evening with stomach pains and wound up having his gall bladder removed. Anyone else would have rescheduled, but Arnold simply dictated instructions from his hospital bed.

Saturday was "Project Runway night" back at Fashion Week, with Henderson flanked by fellow season seven contestants Jay Nicolas Sario and Jonathan Joseph Peters, plus Goga by Gordana, from season six's Gordana Gehlhausen. She opened the show with crocheted dresses and lucite heels color-coordinated with cut-up children's socks, setting the tone for a collection that would've benefited from a half-step backward away from flash, like the rhinestone panels splashed against otherwise awesome patchwork leathers. Sario sent out a denim-heavy collection with an experimental bent that ended in a full-skirted black gown that drew audible gasps from the front row. Peters' work featured lots of strategic laser cutting, a recurring theme of the evening. I was most struck, however, by the resort-print pants, which had a whiff of Dries Van Noten to them, and everyone was charmed by a glittery, clubby onesie. Henderson closed the show with his line inspired by show sponsor SolarWorld's solar panels (one of which held up, miraculously, after four nights of marching models as the runway). I was expecting to see him stretch out of the shiny, angular, graphic black/white/yellow/red aesthetic he became known for on the show, but that's exactly what came down the runway. Nonetheless, there were still some architecturally admirable feats and a couple intimidating takes on the Mexican wrestling mask.

Sunday's finale opened with the brilliant Amelia Toro, whose colorful dresses, bags, and coats influenced by Latin American craft tradition were my favorite thing on the runway out of the entire week. Lenzanita was more conservative, turning out linen trousers for men and women, but the standout pieces were the body-conscious day-to-night dresses. Ethos Paris, meanwhile, focused on casual beachwear, and Pendleton's similarly easygoing collection was perfectly wearable, though neither of these lines were particularly memorable. Portland luxury staple Souchi closed the show. Having seen them on the runway many times, I knew I would want everything I saw, including sorbet-green, blue, and black striped minis and a cashmere take on the obi belt that I nearly snatched off the waist of the model passing by.

With Fashion Week over, I'm left with the following memos on what we'll see this spring: tie dye, bright ethnic patterns, leather and denim forever and ever, and obi belts. Ready, go!

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