Photos: Cully Wright | MUAH: Danielle Solis | Assistant: Audrey Beach | Model: Vivian James

Our city boasts some impressive Project Runway finalists: some who’ve won, some who’ve come close, and some who were cruelly robbed of their deserved victory! City pride aside, the show has been a great jumping-off point for many of our manufacturers who are giving it their all in the realm of fashion and putting our city on the national map. One such designer is Sarah Donofrio of One Imaginary Girl. A transplant to Portland by way of Canada, this designer has brought something fresh and new to our city’s palette and has been hitting the fashion show scene hard between Fade to Light, FashionXT, and more. Though she didn’t win Project Runway, she’s definitely been sought after since showing the world her personal style in such a big way. 

As a fan of Project Runway and a designer, I’m always curious how this show pans out for contestants. According to those in the know, there’s a strictness that goes hand-in-hand with months of filming. Contestants are asked whether or not their schedules can endure the rigor involved, and the rules regarding outside social contact are nothing to joke about. So it makes perfect sense that so many contestants aren’t able to hold back their tears when they call their loved ones. They are in a fight for survival of the fittest with very few opportunities to hear the bolstering voices of their support network. In short, besides being extremely talented, Project Runway contestants also have to be tough as nails.

That said, every contestant seems to come out of the show with a vivid sense of the international fashion climate and its immediacy—its need for insatiable creativity, and a trueness to one’s own vision. It seems the essence of what makes us “worth it” as designers is the continuity of our personal sensibilities.

Donofrio is certainly proving herself in that light. Her emphasis on bold primaries, wacky geometric motifs, playful use of clear vinyl, or broken records fused into fabric is balanced with gorgeous silk and sophisticated wovens. It gives us something new and refreshing, yet relatable and wearable. 

It was surely a bit of a challenge to move to Portland and immediately represent our city on a televised platform, but in the months since the show, Donofrio has adjusted swimmingly by finding her place in the fashion community.

“Obviously, representing the city on a big TV show was a great way to just dive right into the design scene,” she explains. “I guess I got to skip the whole ‘slowly emerging designer’ buzz thing, but at the same time, maybe people’s expectations of me were set pretty high? I think what I’m doing is something unique for this city, and all great design scenes thrive on diversity. I’ve made some really great friends with other talented designers and general fashion types, so settling into a scene is easy when people are nice and open to seeing what you have to offer, even if they wouldn’t wear a full geometric-printed neon suit.”

Donofrio’s origin story as a designer is definitely informed by her love for prints. She describes her childhood whimsy for illustration and repeating patterns, and says that she seldom drew landscapes or objects, but rather images that mirror textile art. At this stage in her life, she says she draws inspiration from both print and color.

“I am always inspired by out-of-the-box use of color,” she says. “Seeing a daring color block always jump-starts my brain to think about how I can combine those elements into a print. I feel that art and fashion are here to remind people (especially in these tumultuous times) to not take everything so seriously, and that there’s always something around to make you happy.”

Donofrio says that other inspirations in her work include style icons such as Madonna, Debbie Harry, Kate Moss, and Alexa Chung for “their authentic and deceptively simple” style. This is all-inclusive in the mission statement for One Imaginary Girl.

“Being fashion-forward is not just for the financially set,” says Donofrio. “High-end and unique fashion should be accessible to everyone. Our wardrobe-staple-worthy quality brand incorporates signature bold prints, strong texture, and pattern play, set into forward yet wearable silhouettes, at an honest price point. With an emphasis on separates, there’s a style for whoever you imagine yourself to be.” 

The most recent lookbook from One Imaginary Girl definitely stays true to all of these influences. It’s peppered with power-clashing print combinations that are toned down with beautiful, classic silhouettes. The garments are beautifully tailored and feature vintage-inspired elements such as the trending pussy bow. There’s a power-red jumpsuit that dropped jaws at the recent Fade to Light show that will be available as well. You can shop this collection at the One Imaginary Girl store at 2330 NW Westover in the Alphabet District or online. I’m betting some of these pieces will make a splash at the spring and summer parties this year.