THE FIRST-EVER Portland Fashion and Style Awards debut this week, an ambitious affair at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, with tickets starting at $35 and reaching $100. Sounds fancy: Every week in this space I write about many of the people working in the Portland industry, and the fact that there is more happening in the city than there is room to write about indicates a thriving and expansive community. An event that celebrates some of its brighter stars with public appreciation and glass-blown trophies that stand over a foot tall (and cost over $250 a pop wholesale, according to Executive Producer Tod Foulk) isn't an outlandish one, but its execution thus far is questionable at best.
On the morning of Monday, October 1, visitors to the Portland Fashion and Style Awards' Facebook page were greeted with a list of nominees for awards in a comprehensive list of categories ranging from best boutiques and salons by quadrant to best fashion photographers, models, apparel designers, and even best dressed, and best writer (which I'm both nominated for and likely to be disqualified from). The curious thing, though, is that out of nearly 100 nominees, the large majority of them are... obscure. As in, I've literally never heard of them.
That's because, as Foulk readily admits, all of the nominations in each category were crowd sourced. Whoever happened to come across information about the awards' existence was invited to log into the website and nominate whomever they wanted in each category. The nominees are simply the top four people who received the most nominations. Of the nearly 5,000, Foulk admits that many of the names were only nominated once, and agreed that at least in its initial generation, it boiled down to a popularity contest. "We wanted people to work for it," Foulk says. "It's up to you to get people to vote for you." One can sort of see the logic there, I suppose, but the proof is in the pudding, and it's a pretty out-of-touch pudding.
Furthermore, Foulk points out that the final winners are determined by a panel of judges—a stable of 20 that does include some trustworthy names, like Emmy-winning stylist Amanda Needham, as well as bizarre choices like Dave Dahl of Dave's Killer Bread. But when they're overwhelmingly presented with sets of nominees that bear little-to-no resemblance to what's actually making waves in the industry, they're squandering their expertise on choosing the best out of four candidates who could have simply hit up their friends to nominate them, and not an educated "best" list of what exists in the city, and... what are we awarding again?
"There are a lot of people working to make Portland something, fashion- and style-wise," says Foulk. "People like that deserve recognition." I completely agree, but in order for it to be meaningful, that recognition should come from a knowledgeable and well thought-out place, informed from the start by people who are intimately connected to what's relevant within a still very fragile industry. Portland Fashion and Style Awards, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, Fri Oct 5, 8 pm, $35-100, all ages.