LAURA ALLCORN'S always got something different up her sleeve. One of the first graduates of the Pacific Northwest College of Art's joint master of fine arts program with the Oregon College of Art and Craft, Allcorn's public work has proven to be conceptually rich outside of aesthetic consideration. She often uses her projects to address a larger problem in the world. An exhibit she put together for 2010's opening night of Portland Fashion Week had her passing out necklaces, the pendants of which were made from bee pollen. As her statement regarding the installation read, it was "designed to bring awareness to colony collapse disorder—the global disappearance of honeybees." This week Allcorn is beginning the trial run for her latest concept, titled Flux: A Fashion Library.
Flux began as Allcorn's final project before graduating in May from the applied craft and design program—a bit like a thesis, but referred to here as a "practicum." Beginning loosely with her own interest in fashion and an examination in her own careful spending habits, Allcorn began to take stock of her perception of the changing economy. Noting the local up-ticking prevalence in vintage clothing, the phenomena of "naked lady party" clothing swaps, as well as both personal and public forms of self-inflicted "clothing diets" she began to put together a picture of fashion's future. (A good example is Sheena Matheikin's well-documented Uniform Project, in which she wore the same dress, styled differently, every day for an entire year to raise awareness of environmental issues, although women routinely attempt to streamline their wardrobes to less extremes.)
"Within the next 15 years the fashion industry will face challenges like: material shortages, population growth, and climate change," reads the Flux website. Noting fashion's fast response time to consumer demands and technology, Allcorn wanted to test whether women would respond to a more sustainable approach to their wardrobes, in which their desires for novelty and selection could be joined with the need to live more cheaply and communally. This led her to conduct a series of interviews with women regarding their shopping habits and attitudes toward fashion. Drawing on those results, she decided to test out a system of clothing lending, and Flux: A Fashion Library was born.
Taking into account common complaints (size matching at swaps is often difficult, and thrifting requires long hours to be fruitful) and guiding principles culled from her interview research, Allcorn sourced 25 articles of clothing, avoiding everyday staples like jeans in favor of tops, dresses, and skirts that one might want to wear for a night out or important meeting. These items make up the library's offerings in its initial trial run.
Ten women (including myself—I plan to follow up with Allcorn's conclusions following the trial) will be allowed to borrow one item at a time, for up to one week. It's possible to exchange this item as frequently as you like, and much of what Allcorn hopes to observe are these preferences: Do the participants prefer a quicker turnaround or do they tend to form attachments to certain items?
Periodic interviews throughout the trial's six weeks will reveal the formation of opinions on how participants would best be served. Should garments be borrowed for only a couple days or an entire season? Do the test subjects enjoy coming to a location for the exchanges, or will they express a desire to receive garments more conveniently by mail? Allcorn will also be tracking which types of items are borrowed more or less frequently.
Allcorn is somewhat hesitant to name a specific end goal for the project, steeped as she is in the information-gathering process. Perhaps she is onto something that will become common; Rent the Runway is one online program in which designer clothes can be rented, and seems to be an effective precedent for customers' willingness to share. And while the initial trial, which begins this weekend, is set, interested parties can drop by the Flux headquarters in the downtown Galleria (just look for the words "Ownership is dead but fashion never dies" emblazoned on the wall) for literature on the project and opportunities to participate in subsequent trials. Flux: A Clothing Library will reside in the Galleria, 921 SW Morrison for the next six weeks, lauraallcorn.com for more info
Switching gears from borrowing to buying: Jewelry designer Betsy Cross of Betsey & Iya debuts her lifestyle store of the same name this week. In addition to jewelry, look for clothing from She-She and People Like Art, leather accessories, paper products and candles, and origami sculptures. Betsy & Iya grand opening, 2403 NW Thurman, Fri Aug 19, 4-9 pm
As previously mentioned ["Tanner Goods," Sold Out, Aug 11], Portland leather-goods manufacturers Tanner Goods have collaborated with Danner boots on a new style, which makes its official debut this week along with a dozen or so pairs that make up Danner's "Stumptown" collection. Tanner Goods, 1308 W Burnside, Thurs Aug 18, 6-8 pm