A mere decade ago, Portland was absent from the world of fashion design. Alice Dobson is one of a handful of designers who remember these pre-boom times, and was among the first to witness the scene swell up, selling pieces of her line, Sofada, at Seaplane during its earliest days. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, Dobson reluctantly left the life she'd built there to return to her native Oregon (she's a graduate of Seaside High School), and when her clothing did well at Seaplane, she opened her own tiny space on NE Fremont. It's a kind of Portlander dream that she has been able to progress to a point where she now owns both a larger boutique (2937 E Burnside) and the building it sits in, with a team of interns and employees who do the production of her entire line under one roof.
For the past six years, Dobson has steadily built a following for Sofada, a soup-to-nuts womenswear line that comprises everything from simple, flattering, wearable separates that won't let your bra strap peek to custom bathing suits and formal party dresses. After she showed the collection in New York while pregnant with her son several years ago, Dobson, despite the flood of good press and business, took a step back to concentrate on family and building up the shop, focusing on the designs that are her bread and butter, if not the most scintillating new ideas.
But, as was revealed at last Friday's Sofada fashion show, Dobson is emerging newly reinvigorated as a designer, departing from many of the safeties she relied on while digging in her heels on the retail front. Always colorful, the Sofada line has suddenly taken a bold approach, as witnessed by the saturated shots of red in a collection that purposefully embraces influences from decades Dobson has historically avoided: the '60s and '80s.
Pushing herself against habit, Dobson created a collection that's much sexier and more confident than the marriageable-girl-at-a-garden-party look that we've come to associate with Sofada. Hemlines are up and curves abound in a collection that reminded many of the wardrobes on Mad Men. The scalloped hem- and necklines we've seen prior hints of come to the fore, while the Sofada signature rolled hemline retains a presence but not a stranglehold. In general, things are looking fresher. What was missing were the swimsuits that Sofada has received so much acclaim for—she's saving them, along with the most formal of the party dresses, for her second show this season, on Sunday, October 12 during Portland Fashion Week.