The Definitive Guide to Portland Fashion Shows
Fade to Light
Years Running: 3; When: Every August and February (next installment August 20)
Pros: A multimedia experience, this biannual Crystal Ballroom show overwhelms the senses—in a marvelous way. Each designer is encouraged to think beyond the traditional runway show and create an overall experience. In the past, that’s included such surprises as designer Sharon Blair chopping off all her hair live while models walked, Bryce Black’s “models” that were actually professional dancers and broke into a surprise choreographed routine, or Michelle Lesniak's fantastic noir background cartoons.
Cons: With a very similar roster each time around, it puts a lot of pressure on those designers to one up themselves each time. I’m happy to see some new faces in this upcoming go-around.
Who Should Go: This is a show for fun-fashion lovers and those who love theatrics. It's a great icebreaker for those who think fashion shows are pretentious. They’ll change their mind quickly.
TICKET ALERT: Fade to Light is quickly approaching with their fifth installment. Purchase your tickets for the August 20 show at the Crystal Ballroom here with designers Bad Wolf Clothier, Bryce Black, The Elephant Room, Emit, Everett K, Mag-Big, "Primal Haunt" Shelby Morgan and Kate Troyer Collection, Studio SKB, Urchin Re-Design, and WWJJD.
Portland Fashion Week
Years Running: 1 or 11 (depending how you look at it); When: September and April
Pros: While Portland Fashion Week has been running (with a brief hiatus) for eleven years, I look at it as a new entity since it came under new management a year ago. In that short time they’ve managed to make some serious strides—the city designated PFW as the “official” fashion show of Portland, fancy sponsors have signed on, and a partnership with The Art Institute of Portland loops in the next generation of designers. The latter move absorbed Ai’s decade-plus old highly successful fashion show securing in a sure-thing fan base and some flamboyant local talent such as Hello Eliza and Brady Lange.
Cons: Though the team has been ambitious thus far, the actual production has been less than desirable. The last two venues? The Convention Center and the sad, dismal basement of the Memorial Coliseum with poor, blue, spotty lighting and uneven show line ups (opening night ran twenty minutes, while night two was over two hours). This upcoming go around next month at Pioneer Square has a long way to go to live up to its hype—though the venue change is a good start).
Who Should Go: Supporters of young fashion designers and the hard work they put into their senior thesis collections. People interested in seeing what the continued evolution of this long running institution will bring.
Next round of shows run from September 30–October 2 with tickets on sale now.
Years Running: 4; When: July
Pros: In the fashion industry, runways usually show a trumped-up version of a ready-to-wear outfit to offer a sense of showmanship. Alley 33 eschews the pomp for what most shoppers really want—the truth. The show is dedicated to the consumer with a golden rule: all items on the runway must be available for purchase in town. This one isn’t about fashion fantasy, it’s about what you can wear out in your every day life (and look great while you're at it).
Cons: If you’re looking for a fancy fashion show with cush seating, this ain’t for you. It’s standing only in an actual alleyway, and the fun crowd can get a little rowdy.
Who Should Go: If you believe in supporting local design and community with your dollar, get this on your calendar.
Years Running: 3; When: October
Pros: Producer Tito Chowdhury is in the thick of planning the upcoming third edition of FashioNXT, but he was relentlessly backing the local scene long before that. One of the trio of producers that helmed the old version of Portland Fashion Week, Chowdhury attends New York Fashion Week each season making connections and pushing Portland to everyone possible—and it’s worked.
From Time magazine recognizing our fashion shows to Tito scoring some big gets (like Michael Costello debuting his dress collection here last October, with one of those dresses soon landing on Beyoncé for the Grammys red carpet and numerous “Best Dressed” lists), his glitzy fashion show gets attention. As the biggest (and fanciest) production in town, this is for the folks who want that shiny city feel.
Cons: Chowdhury has received some critique for pushing the Project Runway designer circuit to heavily (with sometimes as many seven designers from the show in three nights), but I see it as the old bait-and-switch technique. The recognizable names are more likely to get new folks in the door as well as garner press which hopefully leads to more attention and support for the community at large.
Who Should Go: People who like Project Runway or want to experience a NYC-esque event without having to leave PDX.
FashioNXT already has some big names confirmed this year including your usual Runway suspects. Buy tickets and learn more info about the nightly shows running October 8–11 at FashioNXT.net
Years Running: 2; When: February
Pros: An increasing number of local folks have jumped into the loungewear and lingerie game. With lower overhead —tinier amounts of fabric to buy—and the fact that underwear is a staple to (nearly) everyone, this market continues to grow. Unmentionable does a great job of pulling in everything from sexy lacy bits for that kind of a situation to everyday undies from Make It Good Apparel for men and women.
Cons: If you’re not into underwear or shy in general about half dressed models, this probably isn’t your thing.
Who Should Go: A fun show thrown by the same folks as Alley 33 and Engaged, this often caters to a younger crowd who want to support the local scene (and folks who believe under garments are as important as outer garments).
Years Running: 10; When: May
Pros: The preeminent indie fashion show, Open Season has been at the forefront of introducing us to new designers for a decade. Producer Marjorie Skinner was using this platform to show the pulse of the city long before we had the support system of “shop local” that we do today. From now-familiar names like Holly Stalder and Adam Arnold to still-on-the-rise ones like Alexa Stark and Crazy Wind, this annual show could be used as a time capsule in years to come for what Portland chic really looked like.
Cons: Moving from an annual big show to a now week-long event with shows for multiple nights at bar venues, it’s not quite the same shindig as days of yore. That being said, the now $5 ticket price means everyone can go.
Who Should Go: People who want to know what's on the horizon of Portland fashion in the casual setting of their favorite bars.
Years Running: 2; When: May
Pros: This small show at the Doug Fir was unexpectedly one of my favorite fashion shows of the year. A nontraditional bridal show, the event featured custom cool 60’s-vibe suits from Bad Wolf Clothier for the groom, pretty robes and corsets for pre-aisle primping from Lille Boutique, as well as jaw dropping gowns from Sunjin Lee, Urchin Redesign, and Xtabay’s vintage collection. While it may be endorsed for bridal parties, non-engaged fashion lovers were equally enthralled.
Cons: Putting the show in May after a busy month with Open Season’s multiple nights meant fashion show fatigue had set in for all. The crowd was much smaller and less awake than it should have been, but a simple scheduling switch could fix that.
Who Should Go: Anyone who’s getting hitched, is friends with someone getting hitched, or simply loves great formal design.