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December 31st, 2003 Elizabeth Dye | Fashion
 

High Style

In 2003, local fashion shaped up into one of PDX's best spectator sports.

     
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It was a bumper year for style in Portland. Despite a sad-sack economy, a summer that burned hot and fast, and the ever-increasing boringness of mainstream retail, our local Look scene has never looked sharper.

1. Mob Scenes. Once upon a Portland, it was unusual for more than 30 people to turn out for a local fashion show. Yet in 2003, thousands watched Seaplane's show at Wieden & Kennedy. With the current disarray of pro sports in Portland, fashion may be on its way to becoming our town's best spectator sport.

2. Trunkadelic. Speaking of fashion shows, it seems absolutely everyone had one this year--but few took on the enormous task of a solo trunk show. Well-received exceptions included Adam Arnold, who also opened an atelier on Southeast Morrison Street this year, and Jess Beebe, whose line Linea will be on everyone's lips as soon as they learn how to pronounce it.

3. Boutiques Bust Out. New stores Dragonlily (on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard) and Frock (on Northeast Alberta Street) fanned the flames of local fashion by opening local-designer-focused stores. Beloved shoe boutique Imelda's stretched its wings with a new, bigger shop and added a men's store, Louie's, to match. Blake Nieman-Davis' Blake improved Portland's style horizons with a new jeans store on Northwest 23rd Avenue.

4. Industry Hatched. The PDX Fashion Incubator is one of just a handful of nonprofits in the country devoted to supporting a local fashion industry. And the Incubator is growing up--moving into its own office-and-studio building in Northwest Portland. Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles may have thriving local design scenes, but none is as collaborative, fresh and idea-driven as Portland's. And none has worked so hard in so little time to build an infrastructure to support itself.

5. Small-Screen Dreams. The fearless Nia Gray has taken to the TV screen, acting as one-woman producer and host of Portland Style (which airs twice monthly on KPDX, Channel 49). Can Portland Fashion: The Lifetime Movie be far behind?

6. Fashioning the Famous. Lake Oswego health-care-accountant-turned-fashion-designer Michelle DeCourcy dressed Norah Jones for the Grammy Awards. In addition, local indie favorite Claire le Faye grabbed the spotlight when one of her handmade slip dresses showed up on Courtney Love for a photo in Elle magazine.

7. Furn Aces. Perhaps the biggest boom in Portland's creative community happened among the router-and-belt-sander set--furniture designers. Not only did Design Within Reach take over the moribund Full Upright Position store in the Pearl District, but local craftspeople banded together for a very chic, very public exhibition, Show 2003, in the space last summer. Next time you're tempted to love it at Levitz, remember local furniture designers. Or you can stop by Splinter, a modern furniture boutique that just opened on Hawthorne Boulevard.

8. Good in the 'Hood. Two underloved parts of our greater Metro area--historic downtown Vancouver and the Lower Eastside Industrial District--buzzed with new life this year. Do a good deed: Ditch the mall and shop in the boutiques, vintage stores, hair salons and coffee shops of these brave restyled boroughs.

9. Big Bucks Luxe. If all our local style isn't enough for you, Portland acquired some intriguing imports this year. The luxury boutique boomlet, if puzzling, is encouraging. That Levi's, Diesel, Kiehl's and Louis Vuitton would all put down Portland roots during a recession displays a touching faith in our citizens' champagne tastes. Bravo.

10. A Last Look. This is not only the last Look column of the year, it's the last weekly Look column. In the past three years, I've reported as Portland's fashion and design community grew from a few crafty outsiders tearing apart prom dresses in drafty storefronts to a bona fide local industry that, if it doesn't always pay a living, contributes significantly to the city's quality of life.

I have enjoyed watching--and, hopefully, helping--Portland's design community grow up graceful and strong. Thank you to all the designers, small-business owners, students, freaks, geniuses and daredevils who let me into their worlds for the purpose of writing this column. I'll still be around (writing for WW in other capacities)--even if the column won't. Feel free to drop me a line about any stylish ventures you may undertake. And by all means, undertake them.

 
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