Last Wednesday, January 27, The New Oregon Interview Series took up the subject of local fashion with noted Portland designers Adam Arnold and Elizabeth Dye, as well as Ryan Christensen, best known in Portland's fashion scene as the founder of the Sameunderneath streetwear concept line. A cozy crowd curled up with mugs of mocha and glasses of wine as host Nora Robertson led them through a series of questions about their design backgrounds and the experience of working in the garment industry in Portland. Much of it was familiar territory, but particularly during the latter half of the evening, when the panelists took questions from the audience, it churned up many of the same challenges that echo conversations going on throughout the community.
A lot of people fear Portland's kind of stuck, that our fashion talent has to leave for bigger cities when they reach a certain level of success, and that Portland—which, it has been pointed out, should be much more aggressively marketing itself as the tax-free shopping destination just a commuter flight away from Seattle and San Francisco that it is—lacks the infrastructure and customer base to support a high level of growth. The other side of the coin has been a resistance, or at least a reluctance, to conform to a typical career path. As Dye put it, there's a sense that if you reach a level of mainstream success "you're not Portland anymore, like you're not punk rock anymore." Arnold countered that your business decisions can and should be an extension of your creative decisions. "You can be an artist and make money," he declared.
As for fashion shows, it's not always clear in Portland what purpose they serve. Should Portland Fashion Week be trying to live up to the expectations of editors accustomed to New York? For one, a European city would make a much more apt comparison, and furthermore I disagree. Fuck expectations. Give them the Wild West. The best shows here are and always have been the most personal. Arnold said he thought of them as a way to show his extended family what he was excited by at the moment, and Dye's annual "A Novel Romance" bridal show this past Sunday, January 31, was received by a full house of admirers who watched a cast of models that included past and present bridal clients of Dye's The English Dept. boutique.
So far 2010 has already brought tidings of one discontinued annual show, the Strut fundraiser held for the past four years by Basic Rights Oregon, but it also promises opportunities to look both inward and outward, capitalizing on the energy harnessed in 2009 with events like Content, the odd TV-exposure of having another representative on Project Runway, and by a stubborn loyalty to that old magic of independence. I have a pretty good feeling about how it's going to go.