Saturday night was the Art Institute's 15th Annual Senior Fashion show, and fittingly for such a major milestone, there were about a trillion (23) graduating designers showing. With any show of this size, all the collections can start to blur together after a while, but fortunately, this year there was a strong variety of collections that included quite a few stand outs. While I was a little disappointed to see that there was no menswear this year, the womenswear showcased ran the gamut from evening wear to street, with a really strong showing of swimwear and lingerie. The prevalence of these last two was interesting, as these are arguably the hardest categories to really nail; after all you're working with such a small canvas to create something special, and that has to be flattering enough for women to feel comfortable wearing it. Also, these are two very heavily tapped markets, with a questionable amount of room for newcomers, particularly in a city like Portland. On the other hand, it is a great way for designers to prove their ability to solve problems creatively, and I believe designers of any type who have a strong and unique point of view will always find a way to succeed. Anyway, enough of my musings, lets check out some of the goods!
This is what great swimwear should look like. The vibrant prints and sexy shapes make these pieces stand out while still being accessible (at least if you're not afraid to show some skin). Sandoval clearly has an eye for color, and knows how to flatter a variety of body types using very little fabric.
This was actually the premiere collection of Leo's newly launched swimwear line, LeoREVOLT, and I think we're gonna be seeing plenty more from her. Listed as one of her influences was "the uniqueness of clothing worn at music festivals," and I think these soft, earthy prints would be a sight for sore, peyote addled eyes at burning man. It was smart to do a variety of looks that ranged from super-skimpy to a little covered up, enabling her to reach a larger customer base while staying true to her vision. Also worth noting: I chatted with Leo's business partner, Martine LeLievre during the intermission, and she mentioned their determination to avoid the "made in China" route when it comes to sourcing materials. That's really not an easy task when it comes to swimwear, and one worth supporting.
Standard hippie wares like a denim jumpsuit really shouldn't work in any context other than adorable-older-lady-selling-shit-at-a-garage-sale, but somehow this collection kinda did it for me. Sure it would have been nice to see a slightly newer perspective on Summer of Love style, but these pieces were fun and wearable, and sometimes that's enough.
Ashley Watson (accessory design):
You would really need close-up product shots to fully do these bags justice, and I worry that those in the audience who didn't have fancy front row press seating may have missed some of the level of detail and craftsmanship that went into them. Watson showed a great editors eye in conceiving these super-cute, versatile pieces, and I could see them selling out in an instant at any store.
This collection seemed one part lingerie and one part pared-down-bridal, and was executed beautifully. This is, unfortunately, another example of how simplicity doesn't always fully translate in runway photos, but in person the impact was pleasing and dreamy.
Okay full disclosure: I've done some work with Leonard, writing and doing PR for her line MIDGE, so call me biased if you want, but that doesn't change the fact that her collection was fucking awesome! Leonard is one of those designers who can do drama and fantasy while keeping her feet planted firmly enough on the ground to create real clothing that people can actually wear. I've always thought the test of a truly cutting-edge yet versatile designer is the ability to make clothes that could be worn by both Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga, and I believe Leonard passes that test. As an added bonus, all of her clothes are made using completely upcycled materials.
When I read in the program that Simpson's influences were "the bombing of Hiroshima, the early 1940's and a bit of Japanese influence," I worried the collection might be a little heavy handed, but as it turned out, his contrasting of soft drapery and hard edges, and his original take on East-meets-West felt very new, and a little Alexander Wang. Also, those sleeves on look #4? Are you kidding me?
Military influence is one of those themes that has been done almost to death in fashion, but the touch of feminine romance infused into this collection made it feel original and fresh.
Given that this collection was inspired by "the vaulted ceilings of the Gloucester Cathedral, England," I was surprised by how simple and pared down the silhouettes were, but juxtaposed with the dramatic color palette of black and red with gold lace, it really worked. Two of the sort of free associations I wrote down in my notes while viewing the collection were "McQueen" and "Gia," yet somehow this was derived from garments that were actually highly practical and very wearable.
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