WHEN MAYOR Charlie Hales took over city hall at the beginning of this year, his arrival heralded untold changes to come. One that perhaps was not paramount to most citizens is that Portland now has a first lady in Nancy Hales, a role that, in recent history, has been either vacant or largely inconsequential. Predecessor Sam Adams' domestic partner Peter Zuckerman (technically a first gentleman) and Tom Potter's wife, Karin Hansen, tended to hang back out of the spotlight, and prior to that was the tenure of unmarried Vera Katz.
It's understandable then, if little was expected out of the unremarkable knowledge that our new mayor has a spouse—there's a musty, quasi-monarchical connotation to the idea of a "first lady," after all. But it quickly became noticeable that Nancy Hales, a handsome and photogenic woman, kept getting photographed in pieces from the Pendleton Portland Collection—not only repping a local, if well-established, apparel company, but specifically its one division that employs young designers who came up in the city's grassroots design scene. At her first official speaking engagement, the 30th anniversary dinner of the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association, she wore a dress by another Portland company, Silvania, and has been quoted in the Tribune saying that she's "trying really hard to wear Portland."
It's not just for the sake of show while sitting by her husband's side. In fact, her role as first lady is somewhat less interesting than what Hales does for a living in her own right. Along with one assistant and a handful of student volunteers, she helms First Stop Portland, a tiny department created less than four years ago by Portland State University. A reaction to demand from a private sector bombarded with international requests to study various aspects of the city, Hales spends her days planning and executing tours researched and tailored to the interests of diverse delegations.
It was through this work that she began, last summer, to discover Portland's wealth of reasonably priced, locally manufactured fashion design. A frequent area of interest among her touring groups is Portland's oft-lauded "livability," a catchall term that encompasses, among a multitude of other things, the city's DIY culture and support of local products. While preparing for a visit from a group of Brazilian textile producers she realized the extent to which that retail culture is, like food, "an important part of the Portland narrative."
In her previous career in philanthropy, as president and chief executive of Vancouver's Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, she was largely limited to "black pantsuits," but now uses a looser dress code to attract interest, viewing it as a natural extension of her job at First Stop as well as Portland's first lady. "Nobody is going to ask me about the plain black pants," she points out, indicating her draped blue Hubris Apparel top, "but they sure will ask me about this... it's been easy for me to sit in my kitchen and demonstrate Portland's local produce to visitors, and now I can also do that with apparel."
The potential significance of a woman like Hales being positioned as she is goes well beyond having a representative of our city who can appreciate (and who looks good in) a Portland Collection pencil skirt. She, perhaps more than anyone with access to our community's decision makers, understands the significance of Portland's designers and makers. Both as point of contact for international emissaries and in her more visible relationship to city hall, Nancy Hales might be the best possible person to get it
--The downtown-wide Spring into Color shopping event is already underway, with trunk shows and parties celebrating the new season at 25 style-oriented retailers of all types, from the corporate (Banana Republic, Bebe) to the indies (Flora, Radish Underground). Now through Sun April 7, downtownportland.org/spring-into-color for schedule and list of participants
--The second annual Two Faced is a collaboration between Solestruck and Machus, a super-fun fashion event for the comparatively underserved male population. Limos will shuttle shoppers between the two locations with discounts and giveaways, libations and music, and a special appearance by designer Daniel Patrick. Machus, 542 E Burnside & Solestruck, 417 SW 13th, Thurs April 4, 8-11 pm
--Fashion on 12th is a story in three parts, with neighboring boutiques Garnish, Leanna NYC, and Physical Element each offering a different flavor of festivity. Cruise the strip for music, prizes, and fashion presentations, including the official debut of Garnish's in-house spring collection and a 10-year anniversary/housewarming for Physical Element. Leanna NYC, 402 NW 12th, Garnish, 404 NW 12th, Physical Element, 416 NW 12th, Fri April 5, 6-9 pm
--Union Rose celebrates April's Montavilla First Friday with a Clair Vintage Inspired spring/summer trunk show, a photo/poetry show by Joel Preston Smith, plus prosecco. Union Rose, 7909 SE Stark, Fri April 5, 6-8:30 pm
--Longtime Portland apparel designer Alyson Clair, best known for her Clair Vintage Inspired line, also volunteers with a number of dog-rescue organizations. She, along with Glynis Olson, helped organize tonight's Doin' It for the Doggies to drum up some cash for them, featuring a glamour shot photo booth (results of which are to be judged by yours truly, among others), plus a raffle and hair/makeup assistance by Heidi Cuthbert, Alicia Calligan, and Bett Merz. Crush, 1400 SE Morrison, Sun April 7, 5-10 pm $10 donation