PORTLAND NEVER knows quite what to expect from what has been known for years as Portland Fashion Week (PFW). Turned off by the high price tag, unfamiliar crowds, and what has historically been an uneven curatorial eye, the majority of the indie cool kids won't go near it with their own collections. Despite this, PFW has lived on, becoming its own enigmatic beast entirely; it's found a niche with some of the city's other designers, and endeared itself by launching some new names via an emerging designer competition (now discontinued).
Having recorded and critiqued these shows for too many years than I care to recall, I always described them as "two steps forward, one step back." Each year featured at least one get, whether it was a new collection from eco-design force Anna Cohen or a spectacular, exotic collection from Colombia's Amelia Toro. On the flipside were monotonous and too-long presentations of gym clothes, or—far worse—devastatingly amateur collections. In 2011, the spark seemed dimmer than usual, and as the calendar stretched into 2012 there were seedling doubts whether PFW would return. It did, albeit with a slightly new game plan.
Although largely the same experience (same place, same time, same crew), PFW was rechristened FASHIONxt, and rather than play up its earlier emphasis on green fashion, it strove to bring in entrepreneurs from the personal technology field, banking that the same crowd interested in new fashion would also be into the latest gadgets. With the tech products largely separated from the fashion, it wasn't a heavy-handed integration (the notable exception being an unsubtly billed collaborative collection by Vancouver's Seth Aaron and New York's Viktor Luna "inspired" by Intel's Personal Cloud technology), but the change of pace appeared to breathe new life into an event whose highlights once again outnumbered its relatively few lowlights (stricter vetting of what makes it to the runway would still not be unwelcome).
Validation came mid-week in the form of a new issue of Time magazine, which did a one-pager on US fashion weeks outside of New York, naming Portland's at the top of its list along with a full-page photo. It bolstered an already upbeat week that saw well-received collections from Project Runway alums (who, for various reasons, we have become a harbor for, with a total of seven appearing this year) including Viktor Luna, the metro area's own Seth Aaron and Becky Ross, and—most impressively—Michael Costello. Last year's emerging designer winner Amanda Grisham rebounded with another spunky Pendleton-centric collection, and Collier charmed the crowd with handsomely styled menswear.
PFW/FASHIONxt is clearly still working on its identity, and while it may never win the cold war at home, its battle with the rest of the world could make a city proud.