Portland Fashion Week’s Thursday show was a confluence of dichotomies—the young mingling with the old, cell phone cameras snapping beside Canon Mark IIIs, and stilettos seated next to flip-flops. But there was no greater contrast than the venue itself.
Held at Vigor Industrial Shipyard on Swan Island, Portland’s glitterati watched some of the city’s most ambitious designers showcase collections in a deceivingly stunning space. The unfinished concrete floors and walls were only the beginning. The warehouse’s exposed pipes and train pullies framed stark white, floor-to-ceiling curtains serving as room dividers. Illuminated by blue LED low wattage lights, the drapes were ethereal, almost floating across the room, teasing patrons about what lay behind them.
Apart from the lighting, Portland’s executive show directors made sure that even the most minute detail passed green standards. From the bamboo, nail-free runway, to the use of electrical connectors that don’t require tape reinforcement, (no tape, no landfill) Portland has the most sustainable fashion week in the world.
We’re not in the tents of Bryant Park anymore.
After my third row seat was upgraded to first (press passes are so shameless) I positioned myself across from Anna Cohen, one of Portland’s most acclaimed designers, and Sue Bonde, the director of apparel design at the Art Institute of Portland. Both women are so talented, so chic and most importantly this evening, part of the judging panel for the Emerging Designer showcase. Jo Carter, Marjorie Skinner, and Marie Saturn rounded out the illustrious group who sat patiently waiting for the show to start an hour late.
Seattle-based designer, Suzabelle opened the show with sunburst seams, vibrant colors and nautical stripes. Her everyday looks flirted with avant-garde: necks were adorned with ruffled, Victorian chokers.
Five Portland Art Institute seniors gave previews of their collection by sending three looks each down the runway. Emily Kathryn Carol stuck to the demonstrative: oh-so-high waisted wool pants, paired with suspenders and cuffs that were tripled in width.
The last show of the evening, the Emerging Designer showcase, started with an unfamiliar name. A senior at the Art Institute of Portland, Janeane Marie was a late add to the roster, but her clothing constructions solidified why she was among the most anticipated walks of the night.
Marie introduced us to her looks with a futuristic feel. An everyday racer back tank was embellished with stripped fabric rolled into thin ropes and placed asymmetrically from shoulder to hip. Her wool herringbone suit jacket and matching pencil skirt was paired with a teal herringbone patterned silk blouse, a look that screamed, “I’m overwhelming!” but really was quite the opposite.
Coraline costume designer Paloma Soledad brought the drama. Her handmade corsets, embellished with vintage and unique hardware were the stars of the show. Even the eccentric and overstated head pieces each model wore could not distract from what was around their waists. The hand-painted lambskin crimson corset, with buckles and buttons dating from the 1930s is gallery worthy. The antique keys adorning a curry colored creation were amplified by the model carrying locks and chains down the runway.
Like most women, Angelia Sasmita loves the sweetheart cut. Her couture line told us so. Although the Seattle bridal designer stuck to a muted palate, her craftsmanship spoke loudly. Her mint strapless gown was architecturally beautiful. The dramatic accordion folding around the bodice was then punctuated by tiny pearls. Sasmita ended her show with a look that stands for everything she is as a designer. The hoop skirt bridal gown was adorned with lace, crystals, pearls, ribboned flowers and an oversized bow.
Mira Fannin’s Sweet Skins line out of Eugene is undeniably urban. Her organic denim jumpsuit was cropped at the ankle, with tied denim bows adorning each bare shoulder. The unfinished hems on the majority of her line gave it a more relaxed feel, making us in stuffy heels and slacks wishing we could get our hands on her whimsical silk tops or her organic cotton maxi dress.
Noticeably absent from the evening’s show was Reyburn Brown and Owen Johnson, two local designers chosen at Augusts’ audition. When Emerging Designer candidates came to present their collections to the judging panel on September 17, executive director Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury said they just weren’t ready.
As the audience filed out of the staging area, they were asked to submit their vote for their favorite collection of the evening. The results were tallied and revealed at the after party, hosted by Candy Ultralounge on NW Couch in the Pearl.
While Chowdhury danced with Bonde to Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It” (I have photographic evidence) the mic screeched in an attempt to grab everyone’s attention. As the crowd started to settle, Bonde leaned into me and said, “I hope she’s going to be totally blown away." And so she was. The 2009 Emerging Designer winner, Paloma Soledad, was utterly humbled by the experience. “Thank you Portland,” she said. “I had such a great time tonight.” Her sentiment was echoed by everyone present.