If your fashion finger is anywhere near Portland’s pulse, chances are you’ve heard of Leanne Marshall. Three years ago she entered the Emerging Designer showcase at Portland Fashion Week. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (before Lauren Conrad “attended”), the Portlander’s eco-friendly frocks received some international attention in 2008 on a little program called (ahem!) Project Runway. The soft-spoken Marshall made it to the final round, and showed her line in the illustrious white tents of Bryant Park. Her khaki, white, and cerulean pallet paired with her architecturally stunning designs solidified Marshall’s top three position. “So much of what you showed, the workmanship was divine,” notorious designer Michael Kors said when reviewing Marshall’s collection.
Did I mention she won? Because she did. I guess you could say she emerged.
Marshall has since moved to New York, but the showcase that gave her a foot in the door of one of the world’s most high-profile professions put out another open call for their 2009 show on August 23.
The Art Institute of Portland opened its doors Sunday to anyone who honestly thought their work could make the cut for the fall show. The judging round table was comprised of Portland’s tip-top fashion professionals. Sue Bonde, the director of apparel design at A.I. Portland served as the facilitator while Jo Carter, buyer and owner of Physical Element, Anna Cohen, international eco-friendly designer, Marie Saturn, owner of Saturn Style Studios, Marjorie Skinner, managing dditor of Portland Mercury and Lisa Radon, utlrapdx.com and Portland Monthly arts blogger provided critical eyes.
“It is such an eclectic breadth of panel,” executive producer Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury said. “The kind of advice the designers are getting from these professionals—you couldn’t do any better.”
The three-hour auditions brought eclectic looks from surf wear to bridal style, and even a line of corsets designed by Paloma Soledad who moved to Portland from Los Angeles to design penny-sized costumes for the film Coraline.
Each designer was met with questions from the panel, some of which surpassed mere aesthetic considerations. “What if an audience member wanted to purchase a number of your garments,” Bonde asked. “Are you able to mass produce?” When Marshall was first starting out, she was sewing in her apartment and working as a graphic artist. Some designers, still students, were unable to give a clear answer. Angelia Sasmita of Seattle told the judges production was a family affair.
“I have pattern makers and sewers at home in Indonesia,” Sasmita said. “I like to use them because it is a cheaper cost.”
Sasmita, an intern with Seattle bridal designer, Luly Yang, draped her custom-made creations over the panel desk while each judge carefully brushed the craftsmanship with the pads of their fingers. The bridal and evening gown designer has a striking, yet delicate way of combining hard—boned bodices and geometrical patterns—with soft—ethereal bead work and lace embellishments.
The event also was a homecoming. Benson Polytechnic graduate Reyburn Brown returned to his hometown after living bi-coastal and internationally for over 20 years. “I knew I’d go home and do my own line,” Brown said. Dressing his silhouette with designs from silk to Lycra, Brown briefed the panel on the creation of his line. “I envision how it’s going to look when it walks into a room,” Brown said. “I’m not going to tell you what shoes to wear, or how to do your hair. I’m going to give you a solid, architectural piece.”
After the 10-designer program ended, the panel convened to review. Fashion Week executive producers, Chowdhury and Christopher Cone stood to the side while the selection process began. “We are making Fashion Week affordable to these designers,” Chowdhury said. “That is very important to us.”
Sustainability is also very important. Since 2007, Portland Fashion Week has been the first sustainable fashion week in the world. From the green venue to the eco-friendly stage building, PFW thrives off their mission, “you don’t have to sacrifice high-fashion for sustainability”.
The still-to-be-determined number of designers selected will qualify for a $350, seven-look show on October 8. Along with prizes that total in the thousands, the winner of the Emerging Designer show will receive models from Option Model Management to shoot their collection look book and marketing materials, and will receive a business consultation from 24notion marketing firm.
The winner will be announced at the October 8 after party.
Brooklyn may be her new residence, but Marshall has left green footprints in the City of Roses. “This is going to be a trend in Portland Fashion Week,” Chowhurdy said. “We are going to be the launching pad for the next Leanne Marshall.”
This article appeared in the September 2009 issue of Portland Monthly.