SOME MIGHT FIND IT surprising, but Portland Fashion Week is the third longest-running fashion week in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles. It's undergone several incarnations, most profoundly in the past six months. In 2012 Tito Chowdhury, who had been running PFW more and more independently from ostensible partners Chris Cone and Tod Foulk, decided to found a new brand completely. With a focus on developments in lifestyle technology, Chowdhury abandoned the Portland Fashion Week name for "FASHIONxt." It was a change that left many prone to mispronunciation (it is meant to be spoken as "fashion next"), but the runway itself held the same high-production standards and somewhat eyebrow-raising popularity among former Project Runway competitors that PFW attendees had come to expect from Chowdhury's annual events.
Toward the close of the year, however, murmurs on Facebook began to surface that Portland Fashion Week in its original form was about to rise from the still-warm ashes. Foulk is back at the helm, having taken a backseat in PFW doings in favor of his own events under the name Semper Fashion—such as "Rock the Runways" and 2012's first-ever "Portland Fashion and Style Awards," an odd-duck event that relied on internet crowd-sourcing to determine the "best" in each category. With Foulk are plus-size style blogger Jessica Kane and apparel designer Sarabeth Chambers, once a regular participant in early PFW shows.
As much as FASHIONxt resembled PFWs of the recent past, this Portland Fashion Week has many plans to be different. While Foulk and Kane declined to answer the Mercury's questions directly, a press release issued on Monday, January 14, outlines the coming changes. Scheduled for a lengthy five days in September (25-29), the re-launched PFW will aim to showcase men's, women's, and children's looks, as well as open up the runway to boutiques as well as designers, a step that moves away from the tradition of fashion weeks at large. The location, too, will differ, moving from the dramatic setting of Swan Island's shipping yards (now FASHIONxt turf) to the downtown waterfront, and designers/shops will be charged a submission fee to be considered, but will not be asked to cover production costs.
As for the FASHIONxt camp, Chowdhury also side-stepped Mercury questioning, deferring (due to travel) to creative advisor Lynn Frank, who rather juicily stated on his behalf that, "Portland Fashion Week was picked up by Tod Foulk in 2005, and in 2006 he was joined by Tito Chowdhury and Chris Cone as members of PFW Productions to produce Portland Fashion Week. With Tito as executive producer, the fashion event gained national and international recognition in 2010 and 2011, while Tod's focus was elsewhere," said Frank.
"Tod is apparently endeavoring to capitalize on what has been done by promising a Portland Fashion Week event of his own, which will be an opportunity for him to showcase what he can do," Frank continued. "Portland Fashion Week is in the rearview mirror of Executive Producer Tito Chowdhury—more distant than it may appear... The key asset was Tito and his skills in producing the fashion events. As the success of FASHIONxt affirmed, neither PFW Productions nor the name Portland Fashion Week were relevant to the success of the event." He added that the 2013 edition of FASHIONxt, scheduled for October 9-12, will be "like no other."
Meow! Meanwhile, the designers of the city are left with a panoply of options with what will now be nine nights of fashion shows crowded into less than two months of the notoriously hectic Portland fall calendar—a proposition that has both nothing and everything to do with who holds the reins on these high-profile, if often out-of-synch, extravaganzas. The question of whether quality can be maintained in attracting talented, professional designers who will benefit from the exposure is now the issue at hand.
"Every year I have to make decisions on what events to do, and what will benefit my business the most," says longtime Portland designer Alyson Clair of Clair Vintage Inspired. "I get invites from fashion shows from other areas of the country, trade shows, and fashion shows and events in town. Trade shows are winning out because of return on investment. If I spend 100 hours working on a show that gives me some nice photos and a few minutes of runway time, I do not see any return on that investment that keeps my business open. If I spend 100 hours working patterns, cutting garments, and working with my sales rep, I see a huge return on my investment."
Moreover, a fashion show is most beneficial if it is one that attracts clients and buyers, something Chowdhury has worked furiously to provide to his designers. A dexterous networker, he's also managed to make headway on garnering international press for Portland Fashion Week, and his disassociation from the event, unfortunately, can only be destined to create confusion for outsiders. "Portland Fashion Week" should logically denote the best the city has to offer in terms of fashion design. Unfortunately, the fractious Portland garment industry has ensured that things are far from being that simple.