ONE COULD BE FORGIVEN for not immediately linking fashion with charity—as an industry, fashion's gotten a bad rap for everything from elitism to outright cruelty. But the biggest fashion event in town this week is anything but guilty of perpetrating such social ills. On the contrary, Modified Style Portland is an increasingly high-profile and successful fundraising event benefiting a trio of nonprofits close to its founders' hearts.
Originally inspired by an event that took place in Seattle, Modified invites all levels of design talent—from utter novice to card-carrying professional—to create an outfit for the runway. The more fanciful and colorful, the better. All participants are given a bag of donated material (much of which are castoffs from Nike, Craigslist, and the participants' own pooled stashes—but no animal products, please) from which to fashion their looks, and they must refrain from using anything else. The result is an upbeat, wildly creative, and diverse runway show capped with prizes determined by a panel of local industry judges—this year's includes 2010's first-place winner, Alicia Wood of Ms. Wood, who then went on to win Portland Fashion Week's emerging designer competition, and who will also be presenting work in the Mercury's upcoming Open Season showcase.
Wood has become something of a poster child for the event, according to Andrea Fretwell, who co-founded the Portland version of Modified with Janessa Philemon-Kerp in 2009. At the time, Fretwell had just designed her very first garment, which was modeled by Philemon-Kerp at the original, and much smaller, Modified event that took place in a Seattle living room. They didn't win any prizes, but were inspired to bring the concept to Portland's wide, strong community of DIY pioneers. Unlike professional garment designers like Wood, Fretwell's first-time design experience was something she wanted to preserve, so rather than an increasingly juried show, they've simply split the show into separate categories, with different prizes awarded within the pools of amateur and pro. And while at first glance Modified might seem more about fun than serious fashion, it's worth noting that Wood once confessed to Fretwell that she never would have had the courage to compete at Portland Fashion Week had it not been for her success at Modified.
Making it a fundraiser just came natur-ally. Fretwell is a lifelong volunteer with a lot of experience working with the homeless community. Her background in giving out free food at soup kitchens informed her interest in Sisters of the Road, where food is bought and sold at nominal prices or through bartered labor. The idea of a place where the homeless could meet with their friends, buy each other a meal, and gain work experience appealed to her, and she now acts as president of the organization's board. One of the other beneficiaries, the Out to Pasture Sanctuary for rescued farm animals, was chosen by Philemon-Kerp after becoming vegan (she is also cofounder of the Vida Vegan Con, an upcoming international vegan conference debuting August 26-28 in Portland), and the Children's Healing Art Project was selected by their new partner in the project, Laura Boley. Every year their event has doubled in both attendance and money raised, and they are currently working on attaining nonprofit status themselves.
This year's judge panel includes design and retail names from Elizabeth Gross of iconic Xtabay vintage boutique to Jillian Rabe. The party will have a new development as well: Bollywood DJ Prashant will emcee and soundtrack the show. Expect a performance and—because why not—a Bollywood dance lesson.