Portland. Fashion. Week.

In a few days those words will come together to form an event unlike anything this city has ever seen. Portland has been bustling out runway romps for years now, but who knew there was a big enough scene to support a full week's worth of fashionable frocks in little old Portland?

That's because, until now, "Fashion Week" was the term usually associated with the seasonal surveys of couture and ready-to-wear collections of single-named, bigtime Designers. Typically held in all-caps cities like NEW YORK, PARIS and MILAN, each is equal parts meet-and-greet, buying spree and silk-and-stilettos circus. Big companies, like Mercedes-Benz, sponsor them. Big stars, like Sarah Jessica Parker and Madonna, attend them. Everyone gets cross-eyed drunk at the gossipy after-parties. And everybody spends lots of money.

So who's ballsy enough to think a small, sartorially strapped city like Stumptown is ready for big-top glamour? Stella Farina, for one. The founder and director of PDX Fashion Incubator, Farina has marshaled a roster of designers from Portland's ever-expanding pool as well as support from local businesses. She's also commandeered Pioneer Courthouse Square for full-on runway shows beginning Monday, Sept. 15, in imitation of New York's Fashion week (which happens at the same time). Participating designers will showcase new "Spring 2004" lines.

Instead of picking out parkas, you'll be clapping for sleeveless sheaths and slinky swimsuits. Each show will be grouped by theme ("Urban Chic," "Water Gurls," "Classic Edge") in easily digestible, 20-minute lunchtime segments. These public shows, repeated throughout the week, are a stroke of genius. Downtown office workers, who have nothing more sophisticated than a sandwich on their minds, will instead receive a shot of fashion. Each day these spectators will be expected to vote for favorites, the ballot count culminating in a People's Choice-style award ceremony on Friday. It's another inspired touch: Kindle Portland's populist spirit with audience participation! PFW ends with a finale of the full collections at the Portland Art Museum, followed by a trunk show where people can buy the items.

While the "Fashion Week" concept is new to Portland, in recent years it has seen an explosion internationally. Fashion weeks happen as far away as Australia, Hong Kong and India. Though ostensibly an investment to attract corporate buyers, the big shows are, nonetheless, costly to produce. In the United States, much of the cost is shouldered by designers. In 2001 Mercedes-Benz signed a multiyear contract to underwrite New York's fashionable week. But then, remember what else happened the week of Sept. 11, 2001?

Being brand-new and way out west, Portland's Fashion Week is comparatively unencumbered. "Our focus is to draw media attention to designers in Portland," says Farina. As for the weeklong shows, she emphasizes the power of a well-produced event. "A professional show makes it possible for buyers to visualize these clothes in their stores."

Beyond the hype, any fashion week worth its salt must attract pencil-skirted check writers who are willing to scour each show for the next year's inventory. It has persistently frustrated this columnist that high-style regional retailers (Nordstrom, Mario's, I'm talking to you) don't pay more attention to the innovative design happening in our own back yard. Perhaps by bringing it to Portland's own living room, the Incubator will startle this fashion brass into making some sort of commitment. Or at least force them to take a look. If that happens, my hat--locally designed by Pinkham Millinery, of course--is off to our first-ever Fashion Week. Here's hoping there are many more to come.

For a full list of fashionable activities associated with Portland's first-ever fashion week go to



Fashion Finale Tickets on Sale
Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave.
7 pm Friday, Sept. 19. $18 floor/$12 balcony (advance), $20 floor/$14 balcony (door).