PORTLAND HAS its art events pretty well covered, between series like the Time-Based Art Fest, Design Week, and Stumptown Comics Fest, not to mention the gamut of Thursday and Friday art walks. However, in a town flooded with galleries and art events, Portland's fashion scene has tended to develop outside of the mainstream realm and—let's be honest—its most visible moments have so far been among its feeblest. Attempts influenced by New York fashion events, like Fashion Week and Fashion's Night Out, have provided a glimmer of fashion's presence here, but Portland always requires a distinct style identity of its own, one that synthesizes the city's love of art and design with its approach to fashion.
As PINO's Crispin Argento puts it, "The show Portlandia famously coined, 'Portland is the place where young people go to retire.' I think that statement is incorrect. Portland is a place where young educated people come to pursue their dreams and their crafts."
Enter Content 2012, the third installation of Portland's most original, premier fashion event. (Full disclosure: Mercury Managing Editor and Sold Out columnist Marjorie Skinner helps produce it.) Content fills the noticeable gap between art and fashion in the Portland design scene. Originally founded by Project Runway winner and formerly Portland-based designer Gretchen Jones, the event grants local designers complete creative autonomy over one room apiece, for one night only, at the Ace Hotel. The results are myriad installations that take over the entire second floor, representing a mix of the scene, from the avant-garde (Julia Barbee's perfumed crystals, anyone?) to the industrial minimalists (Draught Dry Goods, the Good Flock). A new component added last year is a pop-up shop at the Ace's adjacent event space, the Cleaners, where attendees can shop the merchandise of the event's designers.
A few highlights from this year's roster of participants:
On the heels of a tumultuous year that included a re-branding, relocation, and a severe bike accident, Julia Barbee fiercely returns to the Content 2012 bill. With an MFA in studio art, she has performed solo and group exhibitions for over 10 years. Bottom line: Barbee is an experienced artist who speaks to walking the line between conceptual art and fashion. "I try to just trust my instincts, knowing that as our culture and technologies shift, the ideas of fashion and art, galleries, and even space are changing... I'm just happy I can keep making things I love that tread fine lines." Expect an installation that explores the "manipulation and reshaping of the body as an artistic process" in response to the multiple evolutions of the past year.
Other enticing presentations include the debut of Sword + Fern's "Water Object" series, "a collection of tabletop objects" crafted from concrete and natural materials. These will likely challenge ideas about space and time (hence the name, a reference to the fluidity inherent in water) and marks a departure from designer Emily Baker's primary focus on jewelry. Moreover, the presentation will be accompanied by a sound installation from PAWPRINCE, Lovers' Kerby Ferris' spanking new solo adventure.
Fashion "haus" Reif observed a surge in Portland popularity this past year. Three-quarters due to hard work and one-quarter due to hot models and photography, designer Lindsey Reif has established herself on the front lines of Portland's fashion community, one immaculately designed turban at a time. This time Reif pares down the "party atmosphere" of previous years to one visually striking element—let's hope for French new wave-inspired performances similar to Reif's fall campaign. Another notable installation comes from Made on the Moon, a very new line (check out their recently launched website, madeonthemoon.co) that explores experimental Japanese shibori dye techniques.
While it's essential to support the visibility of women's fashion in Portland, menswear has also seen a resurgence, thanks in part to PINO's Argento. When asked about his intention at Content to help Portland men properly tie their neckwear, he said, "Yes, I will be showing people how to properly tie a bow tie, showing the different types of bow ties, and celebrating the gentleman in general. In addition, I will have a little bit about what I am trying to do ultimately with PINO in terms of economic development and sustainable fashion." Indeed, Portland menswear will be in full and handsome form with additional rooms by Tanner Goods, the Portland Collection, and man-friendly accessory lines Draught Dry Goods, the Good Flock, Vanport Outfitters, and Poler.
With nearly 30 participating lines, it appears Content 2012 will offer something for every sartorial and aesthetic taste. Here's hoping that the event harnesses its conceptual power to propel Portland fashion to its fullest, weirdest potential. With this smart lineup, it's almost certain to.