WHEN DEVON YAN-BERRONG made his debut as a competitor in Portland Fashion Week's Catapult emerging designer competition last October, he seemed to come out of nowhere. In fact, the designer behind Devonation—which didn't win, but made a strong first impression with its bold, graphic looks for men and women—has returned only recently to an art form he abandoned years ago.
Originally from China, Yan-Berrong is the son of a professional opera singer. His parents, knowing the hardships of pursuing an artistic career, pushed him to be something that would afford what they perceived to be an easier life: a doctor or a businessman. By the time he matriculated into Zhongshan University, they'd settled on a focus on city planning, but all the while Yan-Berrong was pursuing art on his own. Entirely self-taught, along with a design student friend he would sneak a camera into stores, where they would find a dress they admired and furiously photograph it in the dressing room, trying to memorize every detail, and immediately sketching what they recalled upon leaving the store. This mimicry, coupled with a refusal to think solely inside the academic confines of traditional construction methods, led him down a self-disciplined path of identifying and pursuing areas in which he felt he needed to improve, eventually advancing to the point of being able to land a job with a design house.
Back in Hong Kong, burned out on designing for someone else and heartbroken after the breakup of his first serious relationship, Yan-Berrong began an online relationship with a young man living in Portland. Though at first he was skeptical, the relationship advanced to include long, expensive phone calls, and then an invitation to make the leap of moving to the States, without ever having met each other in person. Despite all advice to the contrary, Yan-Berrong took that leap, and six years later the partnership still stands, indicative of the "try it and see" philosophy that also guides him as an artist.
Soon after his arrival, Yan-Berrong renounced apparel design to concentrate on painting, but when a friend persuaded him to help backstage as a dresser for 2009's Portland Fashion Week, he again caught the bug. Though he claims he has no head for the business side of fashion, and maintains that the enjoyment of the design process is his only goal, Yan-Berrong this week debuts his second seasonal collection right on schedule. Deeply influenced by the meshing of cultures, colors, and textures, this Madame Butterfly-influenced collection promises to be part theater, part fashion, and an exciting sophomore effort from one of Portland's most promising new independent design minds. Devonation fall/winter 2011 collection, Lotus, 2215 NW Quimby, Sun April 10, 2:30 pm, $10, $20 VIP
Speaking of fashion shows, tickets go on sale this week for Open Season, the Mercury's seventh annual spring showcase of independent Portland design. We've got an unbeatable lineup this year, including returning favorites like Reif, Isaac Hers, Dawn Sharp, Ruki, and Heather Treadway—also, Alicia Wood of Ms. Wood (who won Portland Fashion Week's most recent emerging designer contest), plus a slew of fresh faces working in menswear, womenswear, jewelry, and lingerie. We're also reclaiming two designers who were making a splash even before they were spirited away onto national TV: Portland Project Runway champions Leanne Marshall and Gretchen Jones are coming home! This is always a big show, but this year is going to be bigger than ever! See pg. 42 for more details, and get your tickets before they sell out!