In times like these, when the stage is swept of pleasure and our self-appointed cultural spokesheads start making fatuous declarations about "the end of irony," fashion gets poo-pooed as puff and fluff. But let's step beyond the pomp and smoke signals. As the unlikely collaboration between two very different local clothing boutiques can attest, sometimes the show must go on.
The not quite "Extreme Fashion Show," held at Dante's Thursday, Oct. 4, was the brainchild of longtime friends Brooke Claridge and Sandi Langman (the owners of Art à la Carte and The Future, respectively) and was a benefit for Greenhouse youth shelter. Claridge chose to honor Greenhouse with the show's proceeds because she has witnessed Portland's "troubled kids" head to better things under Greenhouse's guidance.
"I just really believe in what they do," says Claridge. "It's great. I've seen kids end up in college after coming through Greenhouse."
Before the official fanfare began, the mood was casual and communal. Bewigged models mingled/smoked with the crowd, tugged at hemlines and untangled gummed-together fake eyelashes. The audience was a little older and more well-nourished than the pleasure junkie crowd you typically see at Dante's. That could be due to the fact the audience was stocked with Art à la Carte's typical clientele--less hipster waifs than full-grown women seeking a little downtown glamour.
For this particular show, three stages were carved out of Dante's cavey, red-and-black "Hell's Parlor" decor, which surrounded sipping spectators with the models' antics.
Most of the models were what are euphemistically called "dancers" in the local "entertainment" community, and the show had a slap-n-tickle tingle to it. Two flaming torches on either end of the main stage flanked the opening mannequins, who posed in metallic vinyl raincoats and black fly sunglasses. You guessed it: Those raincoats came off, with the customary grinding and a slow-tease, untie-the-belt sequence. But underneath it was glitter and faux fur, baby, just the kind of spangled-up sunshine Art à la Carte and The Future, in different ways, love to bring to its customers. The result? Imagine a celebrity death-match between Bea Arthur and Tank Girl. I wouldn't call it extreme (too much black, too little exposed flesh), but it was cheeky and flirtatious and, all in all, determined to have a good time.
And the good time was infectious. Members of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, a self-parodying dance-rock band playing at a club across the street, wandered in to suckle a few beers and catch the fashion show just before their set. The band's guitarist, Dave Dasher, commented, "It's kind of like going to a dance club and watching two people dance, but the girls are cute, and the clothes are cool."
Beyond Dasher's insightful fashion commentary, what's worth applauding about these clothes is not their relative oddity, but their total and joyful embrace of fantasy. This show imagined a fashion world that's half Xena outtake, half '80s Ministry video. In the spirit of that fantasy, staid style rules like "clothes should coordinate" and "no stripes with plaid" were flung on the fire. A mohair-and-paillettes shrug-like thing was paired with a leopard and plaid kilt-esque skirt. Odd bits of feathers and lamé edged tube tops and micro-miniskirts--it may not have been haute couture, but it was Portland from top to tail, with gyrating dudes in boas and black light and red-lipped honeys doing their damnedest on the catwalk with that clingy, one-shoulder, silver-sequined, two-piece mermaid getup. Stumptown may not be the epicenter of urban cool, but hey, who wants to be the epicenter of urban cool anymore?
It was actually nice, for a change, to see models dance (well, sort of dance), wiggle, smile and generally turn it on for an upbeat and attentive crowd. Best of all, the "Extreme Fashion Show" was a refreshing antidote to the haughty, dried-down uniforms pumped out by big-name designers this year, clothes so humorless and self-satisfied they seem hopelessly out of date (I'm talking about you, Mr. CK and Ms. DK). If this period of great seriousness in our history should teach us anything about fashion, it's the value of fantasy and of taking true pleasure in those moments of our lives when we have the liberty to scatter a few spangles.
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Get a Load of That Rack!
Check out the grand opening of Miss Mona's Rack, a clothing thrift store whose proceeds support Danzine, that plucky resource agency for sex workers and the people who love them. Live mannequins and Miss Mona herself will be on hand to accept your clothing donations. Ribbon cutting at 7 pm.
628 E Burnside St., 234-9615. 6:30-9 pm Saturday, Oct. 13.
Her Work is So...Cellular
Galerie 2, the new studio and idea lab on the Pearl's fringe will show the artwork of Tomo Kanki, whose mix of organic and tech-y images makes you think maybe those medical-chic people were onto something.
Galerie 2, 328 NW Broadway, #114,
279-9546. Closes Oct. 31.
Ready To Get Lit?
Brooke Claridge and Kenney Wujek's new store, called Lit, will open this Friday. With urban clothing for men and women, the owners are billing it as a "more sophisticated Poker Face, Retread Threads kind of thing." Admit it, you're intrigued. 214 SW 8th Ave. Friday, Oct. 8.
Art à la Carte
1103 SW Alder St. 221-0431
1015 SW Washington St. 241-0875