EARLY OCTOBER on Swan Island typically attracts an unusual crowd to the industrial shipping yards usually inhabited by the wearers of hard hats and operators of cranes. It's the favored site of a series of grand-scale, polished-production fashion shows that have, in years past, flown under the banner of Portland Fashion Week, where coiffed and stiletto-heeled partygoers take in new apparel designs from an often jumbled selection of designers near and far.
This year, things are different. Portland Fashion Week has re-branded itself as FASHIONxt (pronounced "Fashion Next"), taking a new tack in hopes of fusing an interest in new clothing with an enthusiasm for developments in personal technology. According to Executive Producer Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury, whose day job at Intel entrenches him in the tech world, it's a response to the fact that tech devices like phones and iPads have evolved into extensions of people's personal style. Items that historically have been designed for practicality and ease of function are increasingly expected to look good, too, creating a natural extension into the world of style. The problem Chowdhury has identified, and intends to bridge, is a marriage between "left- and right-brain business models," introducing new products like Intel's new "Personal Cloud" and the curious, scooter-like Boxx vehicle at the event.
He may be on to something: Global designer Diane von Fürstenberg created waves at New York's most recent Fashion Week by sending her models down the runway in prototypes of the in-development Google Glasses, a milestone in the fashion world's sometimes rocky relationship with internet technology. Just weeks later, in Paris, Karl Lagerfeld unleashed Chanel's spring 2013 prêt-à-porter collection among slowly turning wind turbines and a solar-panel runway (an idea, it should be noted, that Portland Fashion Week executed first, back in 2010, when the Fashion Week runway was supplied by the Hillsboro-based SolarWorld) to the tune of a live performance by the Portland-originated band Chromatics, no less.
As an outlier in the fashion world, Portland has often been perceived as needing a hook in order to attract designers from out of town for Fashion Week; first it was green fashion, and now it's this. Somewhere along the way, after sending a number of our up-and-coming talents into the reality-TV jaws of Project Runway, we've also become something of a Mecca for former contestants of the show. Indeed you could almost call this year's series of shows Project Runway Week, with no less than seven of the show's designers spread out over the span of four nights, with only two of them (Vancouver's Seth Aaron and Portland's Becky Ross) hailing from the area.
Those seeking an alternative to the bright lights and looming freights will find an alternative in Déjà Vu, a first-time fashion presentation of small, independent designers—again, from Portland as well as elsewhere in the country—that doubles as the one-year anniversary of Solestruck's downtown flagship location. A simple shoe store it may be, but it has injected the city's shopping scene with an appetite for parties and has dared to offer Portlanders access to a more outrageous, experimental side of footwear, something retailers in the past have shied away from risking on our supposedly conservative sensibilities. Look for similarly minded designs from Portland's Hello Eliza, New York lines Degen and Bess, and more, paired with live performances from YACHT and White Rainbow.
Your pick. FASHIONxt at Vigor Industrial Shipyard, 5555 N Channel, Wed Oct 10-Sat Oct 13, 8 pm nightly, $25-150; Déjà Vu at the Spot, 2401 N Harding, Sat Oct 13, 7 pm, $15-18, 21+