THIS YEAR, the Mercury marches into its second decade of shining a light on the city's independent fashion scene with our 11th annual runway showcase, Open Season. The show has taken a variety of forms over its lifetime—this will be our third year as a multi-evening festival rather than a huge one-night affair. Its steady growth has demonstrated one thing: As much as Portland has changed, for better and worse, our interest in small, character-driven businesses remains.
In a sense, certain retail benchmarks signaled the city's development: The high-profile arrivals of H&M, Madewell, and Steven Alan gave us a new level of urbanity. But the true appeal of Portland lore is always felt more deeply in the small studios and shops that house original talent, even when—maybe especially when—those artisanal products are found in shops that traffic in good design, shops that aren't flying utilitarian or activist flags of local glorification.
It's a huge source of pride to be able to reflect back on who we've showcased, as many alumni continue to define what it means to be an entrepreneur outside the realm of mainstream fashion. Portland's relative lack of industry structure has been both a boon to individualism and a setback to economic relevance, but this community continues to figure out new innovations, just like other local industries (food, winemaking, bicycles, apothecary, etc.).
If it felt forced, I would have stopped producing Open Season many years ago, but the excitement of working with each year's artists—not just the designers, but the models, makeup artists, and stylists—propels it onward. The 2015 shows are a little ways off, but I wanted to give your calendar fair warning. The barriers to entry are intentionally low: Hours are early evening, and tickets are cheap, so if you're relatively new to checking out Portland's dynamic apparel industry, this is a perfect, casual introduction. Open Season 2015, Mon June 15-Thurs June 18, multiple venues, $6-9 nightly, $20 series pass, portlandmercury.com/openseason.
White Owl Social Club, 1305 SE 8th, Mon June 15, altarpdx.com
At the close of 2014, Mag-Big—a local design-dedicated boutique founded by Cassie Ridgway right in the mess of SE Hawthorne—was in an incubated state, preparing to reemerge as Altar. Gothier, a bit harder, and in possession of a deeper understanding of tarot cards than her Mag-Big predecessor, the Altar customer can prepare for the first public viewing of their foray into swimwear. It's a welcome diversification from a prolific design house that runs lean and delivers interesting, few-of-a-kind items that are completely affordable.
Their approach—one that values small-batch manufacturing—keeps costs and therefore price points reasonably attainable. Fashion's expensive reputation is often earned, but brands like Altar and the lines they carry in-store represent an important middle ground between mass-marketed pricing and bespoke.
Plus, Altar's designs, which favor dark hues, sheer paneling, and discerning patterns, are hot; as fun as they are, they'll also last through more than one revolution of your style's solar system—they're prepared to go full metal, but they'll clean up real nice for the office, too.
Doug Fir, 830 E Burnside, Tues June 16, bradylange.com
Tragically, dressing wittily rarely pairs with fine tailoring. When it does, you get the pure gold of Brady Lange's greatest hits: mini dresses and shirts in "Bali Ha'i"-worthy tropical prints (say yes to pink flamingos, gentlemen), or an astoundingly good run of pants and moto jackets in the ultimate cat-lady upholstery fabric.
After preparing quietly for years under the mentorship of some of Portland's most inventive industry specialists, Lange burst onto the city's design scene with all the enthusiasm that sharply cut, reach-ably priced pink denim can and should command, and has been keeping the irreverent, fun-loving vibes going strong ever since. Designing for both men and women, Lange's ideas are as bold and sexy—bared midriffs abound—as they are clever. It's a mood that hits a sweet spot right now, on the cusp of a long, hot summer.
Rontoms, 600 E Burnside, Wed June 17, reif-haus.com
REIFhaus has three main branches: its main collections of womenswear, its stroke-of-genius line of infinitely printed turbans and turban-style headbands, and its relatively nascent REIFbasik, a lovely trove of softly hued mix 'n' match foundation pieces, from bodysuits to elegantly draped neutral skirts and cozy leisure shorts.
Designer Lindsey Reif is one of the city's most consistently active and successful designers, demonstrating a business savvy and willingness to diversify, matched by a unique eye for silhouettes with longevity. For this year's Open Season presentation, Reif will lead the audience through a complete progression of the range of her lines, from the just-released spring pieces through the basics, and finally into a preview of fall.
Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi, Thurs June 18, adam-arnold.com
If you know about Adam Arnold, perhaps the city's most celebrated tailor and a wonderfully original character, you're paying attention to the right stuff. Though the cult designer does little in the way of self-promotion, the strength of his designs and his personality precede him. You may even have bumped into one of his projects from the world of fine art—at the ballet perhaps, or the art museum's sculpture garden. Pulling from an eclectic range of references, Arnold's clothing is modern, detail oriented, and elegant, as well as distinctive and sometimes cerebral.
Arnold also has a reputation for turning format on its head. What he reveals during Open Season has an equal chance of being theatrical as it does straightforward. Whether he's playing with the sometimes-ridiculous culture of a fashion show itself, or simply exorcising his latest infatuation through fashion, you can always be sure his new work will be visionary.