FOR ALL ITS YEARS, Portland Fashion Week (PFW) remains a riddle. Regarded with suspicion by some and reverence by others, it typically boasts a handful of standout collections, along with a misstep or two that reveals it as an institution (along with the industry it represents) that is still finding its footing within the confines of these iffy times and this iffy city.
Executive Producer Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury has been dogged in his ongoing pursuit of exposure for the event and its designers, drumming up international press and fanning the flames of commerce with a market that's available to both wholesale and individual customers. Sustainability remains a priority, and partnerships with innovative companies have resulted in runways fashioned from bamboo, solar panels, and this year, recycled plastic.
Anna Cohen is a longtime design participant and consultant to PFW, having shown multiple times with her eponymous line, and currently with the Imperial Knits Collection, of which she is creative director. "I think it is good to include all facets of our local and non-local fashion talent," says Cohen. "They are all part of the community, and by diversity, education, exposure, and good partnership, I hope we continue to have a growing level of sustainability at PFW and beyond."
One such recent outgrowth has been PFW's popularity among former Project Runway contestants. This year, in addition to regional veterans of the show Seth Aaron, Bryce Black, and Becky Ross, Jay Sario and Michael Costello will debut next-season lines. "I think it is natural," says Cohen, "considering the vast number of people who follow the show and who have supported our local talent."
Earnestly eco-designed and reality television-boosted lines alike debut on the same runway at PFW, where the level of production value is among the highest seen in Portland. However, not every designer aspires to join the cabal. Isaac Hers' Barbara Seipp has shown at PFW previously, but along with habitual renegade Adam Arnold, her line is debuting within the week, but elsewhere. While stressing that "PFW, as an entity, has done a lot to raise awareness about fashion in Portland generally," Seipp explains that "I think [its] largest shortcoming is that it tries to shoehorn all presenters into the same mold, same venue, same overall experience for the audience. The only thing that changes are the clothes and the music. It is also expensive. Most cities with well-developed fashion weeks have multiple fashion shows all around town. I wish Portland could adopt this attitude of embracing a general 'Fashion Week' and have many, many fashion events happening all over."
Chowdhury is open about his ongoing efforts to address such issues and attract the city's best talent, and at the end of the day his summation of PFW's ongoing raison d'être mirrors the interests of the entire community: "Making [Portland] a better place for fashion talents to make a living."
PORTLAND FASHION WEEK
Wednesday, October 5
• The official Portland Fashion Week (PFW) kicks off with Catapult: The Emerging Designers Competition, featuring House of Summer, Grishley, Michelle Is Well, Silkwood Collection, Chicago Harper by Studio SKB, AM Renegade, Moontess, Lizz Basinger Designs, and Becky Ross for Wicked Quick. Vigor Industrial Shipyard, Swan Island, 5555 N Channel, 6 pm doors, 8 pm seating, $25-175
Thursday, October 6
• PFW continues with Leaders in Athletic Wear, featuring Adidas, Respect Your Universe, Grenade, and Earthtec, which is followed by Leading Sustainable Designers of the World featuring Ethos Paris, Lenzanita, Avni, and Imperial Knits Collection. Vigor Industrial Shipyard, Swan Island, 5555 N Channel, 6 pm doors, 8 pm seating, $25-175
• Isaac Hers presents the spring 2012 collection "Con El Sol," followed by an afterparty and shopping. Really Big Video Studios, 525 NW 10th, 6:30 pm doors, 8 pm show, $15-40
Friday, October 7
• PFW presents spring 2012 collections from Amai Unmei, Stephanie D. Couture, Ms. Wood, Collier, and Seth Aaron. Vigor Industrial Shipyard, Swan Island, 5555 N Channel, 6 pm doors, 8 pm seating, $25-175
Saturday, October 8
• PFW's unofficial "Project Runway Night" with former contestants Jay Sario, Bryce Black, and Michael Costello, plus civilian collections from Helen Sharp and Cardi Wrap. Vigor Industrial Shipyard, Swan Island, 5555 N Channel, 6 pm doors, 8 pm seating, $25-175
• Adam Arnold presents new designs for fall. Adam Arnold Studio, 338 SE MLK, 8 pm, free
Sunday, October 9
• PFW concludes with a market day, during which both wholesale and public customers can score merchandise from their favorite designers on the runway. PFW Market, Benson Hotel, 309 SW Broadway, 11 am- 4 pm wholesale, 2-4 pm public