For three days last week, the new incarnation of Portland Fashion Week had its inaugural run at the Convention Center—if you want the inside baseball on how PFW and FashioNXT came to co-exist, I laid it all out back in January. Despite the rumors that trickled down to me—pissed off models, dropped looks, grumpy sponsors, general chaos and drama—from the front of the house, at least, the event did not fail. The setup was polished, and there were some interesting participants in the pop-up shop area, no models fell on the runway (though at least one audience member did), and turnout was decent if not packed.
My ongoing question with all of this has been whether or not there was any justification for Portland to have what are essentially two fashion weeks within two months of each other. One of the best answers to that, I think, is that due to budget snips, the Art Institute is no longer planning to host its big annual graduate fashion show—which is a bummer. Instead they found an alternative at PFW, which did not even charge its participants a fee. I love student shows (and the smell of fresh blood), and the students deserve to show off their senior collections, so for that, at least, PFW has done good.
There certainly was a lot going on at the first night of the shows. A mix of current and past Ai students' work took the stage, as well as three "emerging designers" and two boutiques. Because of timing there were only two actual senior collections, but Ai clearly dominated the evening both in terms of representation and the fact that at nearly two hours the show literally dominated one's evening! Ai graduate shows are typically pretty long due to the number of students showing, but with five "acts" making up the long set, an intermission would not have been remiss. To my own horror I had to slip out as quickly as I could between sets when my bladder started to prevent me from concentrating on what I was looking at, but the people who got up just to go get drinks? Rude.
The opening act started with emerging designers Briana Jacobs (also a current Ai student), Karen Davis, and Rachel Rector. Jacobs' colorblocked pinks and blues were youthful and flirty, though I preferred the airier teal and whites.
Lingerie designer Rachel Rector's colorblocked sheer lingerie was somewhat reminiscent of famously colorblocked VPL, but maybe a bit more naked. With bodysuits and slips mixed in with bras and briefs, there were a ton of interesting possibilities for layering, none of which I'd kick out of bed.
I was first introduced to Karen Davis' Moulagerie at a trunk show at Garnish, where I was impressed with her use of pleating and the simple appeal of lacy LBDs. These were largely the same clothes, but I was happy to revisit them on the runway.
E.G. Page and Shop Adorn came next—it's interesting to mix retailers in with people showing their own designs. Theirs by necessity is more about styling and mixing together brands, which is fun to watch if somewhat less momentous.
Act 1 of the night was a retrospective of past senior collections, some of which I remembered seeing the first time around. In retrospect, this is where I might have suggested they make a cut to rear in the show's length, despite the fact that I enjoyed the nostalgia, especially from old favorites Summer Gunter and Jason Weiner.
Act 2 finally brought us to the two current senior collections, from Yana Prischenko and Lorena Cabrera. Prischenko's tweedy blue opener was a stunner, but a little out of step with the layered chunky scarves and almost grunge-era vibe of what followed, while Cabrera's sharp-angled ideas were cool and sharp, if a bit severe.
Act 3 was a mix of current and former students, grouped as those whose collections were "for market," in other words ready for consumption. Favorites here tended to be accessories like Amelia Fuertes' colorful bags and shoes (complemented by Rachel Kranick's boho-cozy natural open sweaters) and Sarah Vale Rapp's bags, while perhaps the most perplexing was Jennifer Syler's playsuit with saddlebags. Katie Collins'/Guinn's (the program said one thing while the projection said another) collection opening with short-shorts and a skull t-shirt, only to be followed by collection of girly party dresses, as if the first model had forgotten to change before hitting the runway, but the finale flapper-esque dress was a highlight nonetheless. Lacey Lee's flirty floral pieces—especially a pair of trousers and a two piece bikini top with circle skirt—were among the best of the night's apparel, while Cathy Rae Kudla was responsible for the best daring-but-shrewd choice of print, a vivid floral abstraction that immediately reminded me of Erdem. Kristina Tarasyuk's most interesting piece features asymmetrical draping on a breezy pair of white pants, while Ryan Edmonds and German Madrigal's angular, leather-accented pieces were so forcibly edgy that they inadvertently looked dated. Those who attended last month's Fade to Light got another viewing of Bryce Black's most recent work, deceptively meticulous in its thrashing—the distressed black is still my favorite.
When the 4th and final act came, it brought a much-needed jolt of energy to a crowd that had now been sitting in their chairs for quite some time (you can see how long this blog post is, and it only includes a fraction of the looks that were sent down the runway). The mix of current and former students had been tasked with creating a single futuristic look, and while much of what had shown previous was rather ho-hum, they took to the challenge with gusto, perking up the crowd and ending on a high note. Personal favorites were Nancy L. Simon, Summer Gunter, Bryce Black, and especially the finale by Danielle Grasseth.