You wouldn't think such a petite retail cockpit could cram in so much fashion, but with their "Destination: Seaplane Spring Runway Show," co-pilots/co-owners Kate Towers and Holly Stalder demonstrated it doesn't take a license to land big planes. Guts, good timing and guerrilla marketing will bring 'em in.

The show's mission: to display what 12 of Portland's independent cutters and stitchers have been up to all winter (full disclosure: I had some designs in the show, but let's not talk about me, OK?). The show pitched the air-travel theme with a straight face--at first. A stewardess clad in an olive-green uniform shot with panels of chinoiserie brocade appeared before the curtain to the growl of revving jet engines. She coolheadedly indicated the fore and aft exits and instructed the audience to stow all baggage under their seats. This wasn't just play acting--a shoulder-to-shoulder mob spilled into the street, causing more than a few midair collisions. Aided by DJs Gabe Bacon and Jonas Rake and "captain"/emcee Matthew Lounsbury, fleets of models passed through white vinyl panels for their little turn on the catwalk, an improvised jetway of dashed white lines. After the first run of models distributed beer nuts and cloudy blue cocktails to passengers, serenity was lost as each designer routed the mothership in a new direction.

The work was as diverse and cosmopolitan as a KLM red-eye to Tunisia. It ranged from the ruched and pleated sheaths of Kate Towers' line ("for flight attendants and frequent flyers") to the cacophony of Very Unbecoming (sawn-off denim vests with lace cap sleeves and biker decals, Little Lord Fauntleroy suits laden with tie-silk rosettes and Boy Scout patches). Some designers opted to use their spotlight time to present ragtag tableaux--a sort of semi-coherent style scrawl that prioritized performance over price tag. First among these was Ginger Peach, whose models strode the stage in pastel lace and fringe skivvies with a one-night-only abandon. Subhero's models appeared co-snarled with coiled yellow tubing, their clothes stabbed by safety pins and chainlink (these designs wouldn't make it past the metal detector). For the anti-flimsy, Anti-Domestic's clothes bore intricate inlaid stripes and spirals in a fabric stiff and sturdy as Nomex. Let's hope it was Nomex--one model brandished a Molotov cocktail. Oooh, urban.

Cut to crass commercialism: can we wear this noise? Uh...some of it...sometimes. Define "wearable" for yourself, then read on. Females with flair will find their hams at home in Lull's skirts (made with crisp shirtings and trimmed with tuxedo ruffles). G-Spot's versatile dresses cruised through, and Mary Kate's cotton pieces, with flattering gathers along sleeves and necklines, struck appealing profiles. The pieces with the most mileage were those that embellished basic shapes with insouciant diversions--small twists that took inert uniform out of the Gap inventory and into the realm of invention. Examples: a mat of off-kilter pleats strung bandolier-style across a bodice, the padded packets affixed in bundles to Cameron's otherwise subdued pants and shirts.

For all the smooth sailing up front, you'd never know the show was scraped together in record time on a rinky-dink budget. In that way, Seaplane's show resembles the commercial flights we so trustingly board every day. Sure, we feel secure when the pilot mutters, "Cross check," but who knows what panicked bursts of improvisation keep our fragile futures in the air? Backstage was plenty turbulent--chain-smoking models slogging Muscat and stapling their hair into uneasy peaks, slapdash repairs with dental floss and airplane glue. How terribly haute couture, but for the sheer absence of big money and haute attitude. Everyone smiled bravely--as you can only when you're working for free.

As for the hordes hogging the sidewalk for a peek, all I can say is that fashion news travels at Mach 1 in River City. The dark-spectacled celebrities in the VIP seats were drawn by the street buzz and fresh design, not corporate inducements and endorsements. In the morning the models went back to their day jobs. "Destination: Seaplane" was the product of plain Portlanders breaking new ground for the sheer and somewhat whacked experiment of it. Here on the fashion frontier, "pioneer" still means something.

Seaplane is boarding new passengers at

3356 SE Belmont St.