SAY WHAT you will about Lady Gaga as a musician/provocateur, but she will not be forgotten in the annals of 21st century fashion. Rare is the bird with the guts and stamina to wear outfits plucked from the furthest reaches of designers' imaginations, much less to do so to the exclusion of normalcy. Her influence is burned into the formative memories of the generation of designers who are beginning to come to the fore, and it is in reference to one of Lady Gaga's grandiose self-descriptions that this week's biggest fashion event takes its name: Cultural Baptism.
As the hyperbole would suggest, organizer Jessica Lukaszenko is swinging for the fences with this event. Earlier this year she founded Sir Lukas, offering personal styling/shopping, fashion show coordination, and PR help for designers struggling to get their names out into the world. Most visibly Sir Lukas has hosted several showcases of local fashion—originally intended to be monthly occasions, Lukaszenko has decided to pull back the frequency and up the intensity instead.
This weekend features designers with diverse backgrounds, both aesthetic and cultural, with strong ties to Russia, China, and punk rock alike. The lineup features apparel collections by Rosabode, Silkwood, Cotton Candy Punk Couture, and Devonation, as well as jewelry by Swag.
Lukaszenko asked each of her designers to present a minimum of 20 looks—much higher than the capsule collections typically seen at group shows. Anticipate a longer than normal show, with an intermission and live music performances from DoublePlusGood, Vanimal, and Serious Business, plus a DJ set by DJ Epor. She also moved the event from the Candy Ultra Lounge to the Hotel Monaco, where the event space is more adaptable to her vision. "We can be more creative, more theatrical," she says of the new venue, noting that eventually she'd like to explore more raw settings like warehouses and rooftops. "I'd like to do more unexpected things."
Two to watch at this event are Cotton Candy Punk Couture, a bright, youthful ruffled riot of rocker cocktail dresses (think an early, rough Betsey Johnson), and Devonation by Devon Yan-Berrong, who is quietly and steadily gaining credibility after his debut in the emerging designer showcase that opened the runway shows at 2010's Portland Fashion Week. Cotton Candy designer and California native Carolina Wheeler says she got her start piecing together doll clothes out of scraps from LA's garment district before moving on to handbag designs. After making the move to Portland she began selling an increasingly diverse line that included "skirts, petticoats, and coin purses" at events like Crafty Wonderland and Bargain Hunting 101, in addition to a clutch of shops (Mag-Big, Salty Teacup). Aiming her designs at "rock stars and scene queens," Wheeler promises "glitter, studs, flowers, and bright colors."
Yan-Berrong, meanwhile, is deeply influenced by the culture of his native China, particularly the cultural fusions that flourished under the British colonization of Hong Kong, as well as the art deco era. His most recent collection bore out a Madame Butterfly theme expressed in rich jewel tones and sumptuous fabrics and prints. Insisting that he is "constantly creating," new work from this rising star is to be highly anticipated.
Whether Saturday feels like a baptism of culture is yet to be determined, but it certainly will be the place to scout some of the next boldfaced names in Portland design. Cultural Baptism, Hotel Monaco, 506 SW Washington, Sat June 18, 7 pm, $25-35