There is no more valuable way to signify the fashion value of a city than through a relevent fashion week. This form of event showcases the importance of region’s design aesthetic, but more importantly it says to buyers, fashion editors, store owners, garment manufactures, and designers: We are a viable market,and we are ready for you.
Portland has always possessed a strong arts community, but only in the past decade has really begun to develope a fashion culture. With modern world fashion taking many of it’s cues from the d.i.y. art/music scene of the early 90’s as well as ideas related to sustainability, it would seem that Portland (which has always had a strong base in both) would be one of America’s burgeoning fashion capitals. And in many ways, it is.
Based on what was chosen to be presented to the world stage during Portland Fashion Week however, you would never know it.
The thematic elements of Portland street fashion, boutiques, and more notable designers seem to have been popping up on runways around the world the past two seasons. The four that in my opinion have been the most relevent as of late include:
- Deconstructed Romantic
- Bike Punk
- Lumber Jack / Pendleton
Though some of these ideas were hinted at or even directly referenced (such as in the bike themed Ready to Roll group show), they were never presented in a way that was either authentic or directionally forward.
Instead, 90% of the looks that were sent down the runway were tired, poorly styled, and cheap looking. It’s all very “I got it on sale at JC Penny in 2006“. Even the slightly more ambitious attempts (for example the black dress with the bow to the right) come across as very….Target-ish. Like most of the clothes in Target’s “Go International” line, they might look cute on a hanger, but on a body they are an unflattering mess. No one looks good in voluminous, pin-tucked black satin. No one.
Presenting this selection of designs as a representation of Portland’s presence to the global fashion community does an injustice to the city. It says to anyone outside of the region looking in at it: “We don’t care about fashion“. This is, of course, bad for designers. But is also bad for businesses and workers trying to make a living off fashion in this struggling economy.
The saddest thing about this situation is that Portland does have talented, forward looking designers. It’s a roll call that we should all be familiar with: Adam Arnold, Holly Stalder, Liza Reitz, Church and State, Anna Cohen. And these aren’t just my own personal favorites. These truly are the most important designers working in Portland today. Many of them did host secondary events during PFW, but since none (with the exception of Cohen) were officially involved, non-Portland residents looking at PFW coverage would not be exposed to their designs.
Admittedly, I don’t know all the details of exactly how designers are chosen to be a part of the event. I know that they have to apply and that, if selected, they have to pay a fee to show. Whatever the exact process is though, it reeks of misguided inclusiveness and perhaps even nepotism. Almost none of the designers chosen deserved to be chosen for this or any fashion event. The bar needs ton be set higher. If relevent designers are not applying and/or can’t afford the fee, they should be invited to show for free. It would be unfair to some, but so what? In the end, it would mean more ticket sales, more national press, and a raised presence for the fashion community. It would also encourage other talented designers to apply in the following seasons.
The reason that most of the good designers in Portland don’t become involved is because they know that Portland Fashion Week is a total joke. They don’t want to shell out money to be part of something so irrelevant. But like it or not, as long as Portland Fashion Week exists it will be what most outsiders view as the defacto representation of Portland.
And that’s a very, very, bad thing.
Oh, and last but not least, I thought I’d leave you below with my vote for the absolute worst look of the entire week. Out of kindness for designers who might be searching for press about themselves, I decided not to include any names for most of the pictures attached to this article (hey, I’m not out to hurt feelings here). However, Nelli Millard and Dru Broekemeier (of NelliDru Design) need to be called out on putting such a monstrosity into the world.
Ugliest dress ever!