The first-ever summer showing of Fade to Light played last Wednesday to a typically packed house. With a roster of designers that range from newcomers to local pillars, Fade to Light is always one of the the most varied shows of the year, featuring men's and womenswear, casual and formal, edgy fashion and classic style. As is the show's signature, each designer showed a short film along with their collection, providing viewers with a peek into the thought process and inspiration behind the clothes.
First up was ElizaBeth Rohloff, whose collection included her signature hats, which added some whimsy to her classic and mostly streamlined silhouettes. Using a color palate consisting of black and white along with some shocks of bright red and yellow, Rohloff showed a series of practical, unfussy yet beautifully constructed looks that included soft floral prints, feminine pantsuits, and some dressy organza bubble skirts for a change of pace.
Rohloff may not be the most edgy designer out there, but she doesn't need to be, as her clothes are genuinely beautiful and very wearable.
Next up was Emit, whose slogan "Your life is demanding, your clothing should rise to the occasion," translates to very pared down pieces, constructed using performance textiles. Their signature laser cutouts add interest to the clothes, and are often exquisitely detailed. The simplicity and limitation of the silhouettes can at times make Emit's clothes feel like stuff that a super athletic girl who lives in running shorts wears when forced to put on a dress, but the line has definitely evolved since emerging last year to include increasingly complex patterns that add a new level of femininity and versatility to the looks.
Newcomers Devon Burrus and Seth Noles of Bad Wolf Clothier describe their concept as "a parallel universe in which society is in line with the futuristic visions of the 1960s." This meant sleek, minimalist silhouettes for men and women, with a strong emphasis on suiting. While the clothes were well tailored and very wearable, the palate of grey, grey grey, and some desaturated colors, along with the basic nature of some of the pieces made the collection not the most memorable (it is very hard to make charcoal slacks and a long sleeved T-shirt stand out on the runway). At the end, Noles and Burrus walked out wearing mod-style outfits in colors like turquoise and green, and I couldn't help feeling their own clothes were more interesting than anything they had just presented.
Recent Project Runway winner and current It girl Michelle Lesniak showed her line Au Clothing to much fanfare, with a strong collection that focused heavily on skillfull layering, one of the highlights being the beautifully constructed, loose fitting plaid jackets and capelets that appeared a few times. There was a good variety of looks that ranged from everyday to formal, and for the most part felt interesting and new. The collection did include a lot of the hardware (buckles that allow you to attach your purse to your dress etc.) that PR viewers know Lesniak loves to do, but which can often feel heavy handed (as Nina Garcia was wont to point out). I like Lesniak's work best when she shows a strong editing eye, as she did with a sublimely elegant printed black dress with a long slit in back that felt both sexy and refined.
Studio SKB had one of the most memorable presentations, with designer Sharon Blair opening with a clip from Roman Holiday of Audrey Hepburn getting her hair chopped off, while Blaire herself sat on a stool getting her hair combed and pulled back into a ponytail. As the clip ended, Blaire had her own long blond hair chopped short to donate to Locks of Love. The collection, which was accompanied by a slideshow featuring Audrey and Katherine Hepburn in different stages of their careers, consisted of looks inspired by the '50s and early '60s, but infused with a sense of ease and fun not usually seen during those decades. The highlights of the collection included a subtle plum colored plaid and some intricate lacework, as well as a series of very structured cropped jackets. The presentation concluded with a black New Look-inspired ensemble which, while maybe kinda literal, was stunning nonetheless.
Newcomer Caitlin McCall of Quick Study designs clothes that are intended for cycling, but can easily transition into other daily activities. This translates mostly into simple, versatile dresses with strategic uses of piece work and color blocking. While this does not necessarily make the most dramatic runway presentation, most of her clothes are incredibly wearable and flattering to most body types. My one criticism is that some styling elements, such as the use of multiple belts and suspenders (probably intended more to create an interesting runway than for real life) felt a little contrived.
As Portland's resident avant garde menswear designer, Chicago Harper designer Joshua Buck's clothes are not for everyone. In fact I overheard two girls behind me who were having a hell of a time wrapping their heads around the idea that any man would wear, for example, baggy denim waders with a blue and white floral shirt. But whatever you think about his aesthetic, the fact is Buck is a true creative who is damn good at what he does. As with any innovator, some of Buck's more out there looks will probably rarely be seen very much off the runway, while others, like a color blocked plum and navy suit, feel fashion forward but accessible. Buck's use of contrasting elements—masculine and feminine, structured and loose—always make his collections poignant and memorable. Also, as an additional treat for the audience, for the finale, Buck sent all his models down the runway in skimpy little briefs.
Wandering Muse designs clothes intended for travel, so comfort is as much a consideration as style in the design of the lightweight, simple pieces, which include super feminine touches like ruching and lace. There is probably a considerable market for this particular niche, but I have to say I didn't find this collection incredibly exciting. While I think the aim was for each piece to be equally suited to exploring the beaches of a Greek isle and ducking into a charming little restaurant for dinner, I sometimes just thought "airport clothes." That being said, the looks were, at best, carefree and versatile, and I'm sure a lot of women would wear them.
Bryce Black is known as much for putting on a great show as he is for his dramatic design aesthetic, and this season he did not disappoint. His introductory video featured him walking through a cemetery dressed in pink pants and a faux fur jacket, clutching a Starbucks coffee cup as he goes on a diatribe against all of Portland's "basic bitches" in their hoodies and jeans, and pledging to "create chaos and be fabulous." He then sent his models out in what appeared to be a straightforward runway presentation, until they all froze and then broke out into a hip hop dance routine (they were, it turned out, members of the Nonsense dance company). While this type of display might risk overshadowing the clothing in some collections, this was not the case with Black. The overall look was sorta Party Monster meets Paris is Burning, complete with faux fur, neon green short shorts, shredded everything, and studded hats. While at first glance this collection might seem to be all flash, closer inspection reveals a high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail. One asymmetrical black dress, for example, which would have been beautiful and eye catching left alone, was treated with white spray paint to create a sort of marbling effect, and strategically slashed in a way that actually added to the design rather than coming across as too much. A desaturated tie-dye that appeared in a few looks was done completely by hand, by Black.
A part of me wishes Black would include some looks that could be a little bit more accessible to a wider audience since he is such a skilled designer, but then maybe I'm just missing the point. Either way, his presentation made a perfect conclusion to the show, and no one who was in the audience will forget him soon.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!