ONE OF THE most consistent highlights of the annual FashioNXT series of fashion shows is the UpNXT showcase and competition for emerging designers. Maybe I'm biased—I'm a longtime judge, but as someone with a personal and professional interest in discovering and supporting quality Portland design, it's an excellent way to stumble upon new talent.
Two weeks ago, German Madrigal became the 2015 winner of the annual competition with a collection that emphasized gender-neutrality and modern, architectural shapes. I took the opportunity to get to know a designer I look forward to seeing more from in the near future.
Madrigal, who is originally from Salem, describes his background as "humble," and remembers fostering an early interest in fashion through magazines. Career tests he took in school pointed him toward design, though he doubted whether it was realistic. Nonetheless, he eventually tricked his parents into visiting Portland's Art Institute, where he is now due to graduate next spring—after more than seven years of study strung out between full-time jobs.
He says he's "been blessed" to have had such a long tenure as a student, though, giving him time to grow into his tastes. Once a huge fan of the camp and color found in exuberant lines like Heatherette, he now finds himself drawn to the more sober elegance and modernity of Rick Owens and Céline.
Ask most apparel designers which aspect of their work they take the most pleasure and pride in, and you might get an answer about their environmentally sensitive material choices or the meditative satisfaction they get from their process. You don't often hear "research," but Madrigal loves amassing "packets and packets" of information on subjects he deems to be of interest, from modern architecture to fashion films (he finds them "zenful") to the latest branding and marketing maneuvers.
It's out of this "blending process" that he begins to design, allowing for a 50/50 split between his original intention and allowing things to evolve, aiming for a balance between experimentalism and approachability.
Bashfully excusing himself for being geeky and in the same breath assuring me of his sincerity, Madrigal confesses that he watches a lot of—wait for it—Beyoncé documentaries. In particular, the self-directed Life Is But a Dream film produced in 2013 for HBO is something he watches on repeat. His attraction to it, though, is less about the singer's glamour and costumes than her message of empowerment, particularly for women, which speaks to his interest in furthering the progress of "equalization between genders" through design.
For his UpNXT collection, one of the more striking manifestations of this aim is his choice to cover the models' faces with scarves. It also draws the attention more exclusively to the garments rather than the person wearing them, adds drama and completion to the overall presentation—and was a clever sidestep around the sameness of having to share models' makeup and hair styles with the evening's three other competitors.
Amazingly, Madrigal tells me he's preparing to take on a second job on top of his coursework as he prepares for graduation. Then he's planning to take some well-deserved time off, he says, before admitting that he's already planning his next collection.
It seems likely that he'll take a job at a larger company and keep his own line going on the side. He says pursuing design in Portland holds a lot of "creative possibility," but cites common woes like a lack of material resources and infrastructure. Then again, "in two years, so much can change."
Part of his prize package includes the opportunity to show in 2016's FashioNXT—where he'll be able to decide on his models' hair and makeup looks for the first time—and where we can expect his next batch of new work. That much, at least, is clear.