The Ace Hotel LAUREN COLEMAN

AFTER A ONE-YEAR HIATUS, the fashion installation event Content is back with a vengeance. Twenty-eight designers are each given a room on the second floor of the Ace Hotel, with permission to go wild, turning the space into an artistic environment that pulses with the heartbeat of each line's unique style and inspirations.

Content was born out of the How We Develop (HWD) designer collective and production team, but this year original HWD member and Project Runway winner Gretchen Jones has peeled off to co-produce the event with the Ace Hotel. With this partnership, the event has expanded in size and scope. This year there will be a pop-up shop in the Cleaners, Ace Hotel's spacious event space, where people (including non-ticket holders) can get their paws on the clothing and accessories featured in the rooms. The party spills out the doors, too—a beer garden will take over SW Stark, and nearby retail shops will stay open late for post-show browsing and shopping.

Content '09 was a raging success, but Content '10 was disappointingly cancelled because of registration fees that were out of reach for many Portland designers. Jones explains the double-edged sword of the Portland arts scene: "What's beautiful about Portland is that the community of designers is immense and the cost of living low. What's challenging is creating a viable 'creative' business in the midst of a community of young talented artists all starting out together."

Many of the Content designers agree with Jones about the benefits of living, working, and showing in Portland. Danielle Wayland of Moonwoods, an eyewear line made from hardwood harvested from sustainable tree farms, says they work here for the access to exquisite materials, the long craft tradition, and because "the air is rarefied and magic." Caesy Oney recently moved his line, Draught Dry Goods, from Montana to Portland because it was "the most obvious/prudential destination. There is a creative energy here that is sometimes awkward, sometimes difficult to articulate, but unmatched in sincerity and ambition."

The cost of living is extraordinarily low for a metropolitan city, which is an obvious draw for many young designers who are still developing their craft and establishing their businesses, but compared to other urban hubs like New York and LA, there isn't a lot of expendable capital floating around the city. That's why Content hits such a sweet spot—Jones says, "The goal is a highly curated happening that offers its participants things they can't afford on their own" with a focus on elevating the brands to find greater success.

The only theme of the event is the "content" of the rooms, which Jones says runs the gamut "from luxury to formal, street to sportswear, accessories, textile design, jewelry, and production." From Sarah Seven's über-feminine, romantic party dresses for fine ladies to the exquisitely tailored custom suits for dapper gentlemen from Duchess Clothier, there's something for every season, like Bridge & Burn's fundamentally Northwest outerwear and flannels, and Isaac Hers' warm, bright "Con el Sol" spring collection, inspired by "memories of vacations south of the border."

For more eccentric tastes, there's Chromium Dumb Belle's delightfully gaudy art-to-wear accessories, whose room promises to be a surreal circus. Sara Bergman says she imagined "a prairie ecology where 10 percent of everything is neon." Dawn Sharp and Taurean Press are teaming up to show work inspired by coming-of-2012 theories, astronomy, and sacred imagery.

High-quality materials, stylish functionality, sustainability, and timeless craft are shared values for many of the Content designers. Melanie Parr of RUKI will show pieces of a geometric, architectural aesthetic made from natural fabrics that are "comfortable, wearable, long lasting, and therefore timeless." Draught Dry Goods will introduce a new collection of efficient, effective bags that every Portlander will be begging to carry in the rainy months.

Content '11 promises to be a celebration of the diversity of style and quality of craft in the Portland fashion community. Be sure to block out a nice chunk of time for the event, since you are sure to get sucked into the microcosm of each room, plus there's the demands of browsing, buying, and boozing post-show. Expect to be surprised, because Wayland of Moonwoods knows what she's talking about when she says, "Portlanders are not herd animals. We are inspired by the unexpected." Content, Ace Hotel, 1022 SW Stark, Sat Oct 1, 4 pm block party, 6 pm doors, $15, all ages

CATAPULT: PORTLAND FASHION WEEK'S EMERGING DESIGNERS

This week also marks the very beginning of Portland Fashion Week 2011, kicking off with the annual Catapult competition, in which emerging brands House of Gunter, Grishley, Michelle Is Well, Silkwood Collection, Chicago Harper by Studio SKB, AM Renegade, Moontess, Lizz Basinger Designs, and Becky Ross for Wicked Quick all compete on the runway for a panel of judges (including the Mercury's Marjorie Skinner), as well as the audience's vote! This is always one of the most fun and fresh-faced nights of the week—don't miss it. Portland Fashion Week, Wednesday Oct 5, Vigor Industrial Shipyard (Swan Island), 5555 N Channel, 8 pm, $25-175