For six days and nights in a shipyard warehouse on the Willamette River north of downtown Portland, Portland Fashion Week showcased the products of a boom in Portland fashion design that is at an all-time high after eight years of growth. Portland has not only hundreds of independent fashion, jewelry, and accessories designers, it has seen the opening, in the last couple of years, of myriad local boutiques to stock and sell those goods.
You could blame the health of fashion in Portland on the city’s unique combination of cheap rent, holdover DIY mentality (the punk rock, “I could do that”), a design school, and a number of corporate apparel headquarters spinning off fashion entrepreneurs including adidas and Nike. But designers will tell you as well that Portland has a uniquely supportive and connected fashion community.
Portland Fashion Week was six nights of shows with between five and 10 designers each night, panel discussions, and pre- and after-parties. It was a unique hybrid of homegrown Portland talent and an invitational for sustainable fashion labels from elsewhere. Visiting sustainable lines included Del Forte Denim (SF), Habitual (TX), Izzy Lane (UK), and Lara Miller (CHI).
There were weaker nights, when t-shirt dresses and bridal gowns (very lovely bridal gowns) repetitively marched down the runway. And Portland Fashion Week had its share of lines that showed mainstream feminine dresses and separates that will no doubt sell well, but weren’t exhilarating, knock-your-socks-off design.
On the fourth night, things got interesting with a greater concentration of statement-making design than any other night of the week. The night featured The Collections, a loose group of designers who came of age as DIYers, but have now grown into fiercely independent designers who produce very limited edition or even one-of-a-kind pieces (often tailored to the wearer) with influences ranging from Chloe under Phoebe Philo to Threeasfour to Buckminster Fuller. Some of the designers embrace rigorous minimalism, some a nostalgic femininity with bows and ruffles, and some a sculptural boldness.
A few of The Collections designers showed fall 07. Linea by Jess Beebe did brilliant minimalism, her only flourish the exposed (inside-out) brass zippers on boiled wool jumpers and mini-dresses like the mini-dress in black whose cuffed six inch hem formed great pockets. And Liza Rietz’ an elegant form-based collection absent of ornamentation—a long dress with oversized draped pockets and kimono sleeves, a great charcoal draped circle coat, a long skirt with suspenders—was very good.
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