The third and final night of Portland Fashion Week on Friday featured designers in the "dream luxe" category, which one would take to mean the most high-end/couture of the week (if you can call three days a week). It also was the one night of shows that didn't feature a single Portland designer. Of the four (three from Seattle, one from Yakima), by far the biggest standout was Devon Yan-Berrong's Devonation (he moved to Seattle from Portland... coincidence?).
But first, the evening began with Andres M. Pinedo, who started off on a quiet note with satin trousers and some pretty basic dresses that would have been at home at the previous night's "ready to wear" show. Then out came a punch of color (a lot of designers around here seem to be into bright, blurred floral patterns, which sounds like something I would hate, but I actually have liked here), and things started to pick up a bit. The world's longest (and most hazardous) earrings provided a segue into the collection's more avant garde pieces, many of which featured long tassels attached to hem. I was glad that he moved into more interesting pieces, albeit with some reserve... but I didn't particularly like them. The whole thing felt a bit limp.
Next up was Francisco Hernandez's Built for Man, the only line devoted totally to menswear. This was a solid enough collection heavy on moto-ready leather, if a bit repetitive. There was little to actively dislike, and plenty of everyday pieces that would be perfectly suited to many men's wardrobes, but a far smaller representation of pieces would have been sufficient.
DWC/Deyonte' Weather Collection opening with a cute little peplum dress in a—again—bright floral print, but the rest of the collection was lacking in cohesion and included a lot of awkward ideas, like an oversized bust protrusion and a... swimsuit? Bodysuit? Whatever it was had a too-aggressive number of straps.
Wisely, the whole of fashion week ended with Devon Yan-Berrong's Devonation, the most exciting collection within the entire experience. Thematically relying on white, with a lot of Tilda-Swinton-on-the-red-carpet architecture, not everything worked, but you could mostly see a continuity throughout, and polished styling helped hold the concepts together, something more designers at the regional level could stand to take note of.
At the end of the day, what are we left with? Something called Portland Fashion Week—a name that has made a lot of progress getting into the ears of people outside the local bubble, though mainly through a different set of producers' endeavors—that, other than its opening Art Institute showcase (and what on earth would have shown if Ai hadn't stepped up to the plate? A two-day week?), features more designers from outside the city than in it, for all its talk of re-localizing the concept (former producer Tito Chowdhury's new FashioNXT, which essentially picked up right where his version of PFW left off, has long ago evolved into a significantly extra-local invitational).
I'm not opposed to the idea of consolidation within the region (although Vancouver BC, as has been suggested, has its advantages over Portland for such a thing), and until we get our shit together and start presenting the best of the entire area to the rest of the world in a consistent, comprehensible way, we'll remain the backwater of the fashion world we have been historically—shows in all three cities have exhibited a variety of design quality, and the best of all three might be impressive enough to get meaningful attention. The under-qualified bring down the qualified, which isn't fair to either party, and is a detriment to the event(s) as a whole.
I'm not against too many fashion shows, either. They're an important part of a designer's growth, and they get, and keep, prospective clients excited. Every designer benefits from the experience, no matter how early in their career. But when you're throwing around a general, official-sounding name like "Portland Fashion Week," the objective and branding should be strong, loud, and clear. It's a name that, to be effective (and arguably accurate), carries a lot of responsibility.
It's a tough place to be, this Portland fashion scene. We have almost nothing in the way of mentorship. There is no blueprint for how to support and grow the scene healthily. As ever, we're in the wild west, and things are still messy out here. It's great—if sometimes mystifying—that so many people are hellbent on being the ones to carry it forward, but I worry that overreaching and moving too hastily is ultimately counter-productive. Sometimes, honestly, it feels like there are too many people racing to become king shit of fuck mountain without a clear motive. Maybe it would be better to nurture the niches organically first rather than go whole hog on a far-reaching event whose purpose seems unclear. If it's to showcase clothing being made in Portland, it's a problem when you have a hard time drumming up the best among Portland apparel designers (who could've shown for free), and maybe you have some work to do there. If it's to showcase regional talent, say so, and get the best of the best.
I don't mean to say PFW was bad—the production was great, and the fashion had its moments. But it feels like we've lost the plot. Again.
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