On the busy Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard shopping strip, Red Light Clothing Exchange's eastside outpost has always stood out as a major player in the booming vintage-clothing business.
The store's recent window display featured mannequins of two teens, one with a machine gun, the other with a pistol, in fashionable back-to-school couture. They were posed in front of a blackboard with the phrase, "Welcome back—hope you make it!" This ticked off some neighbors, who are calling for a boycott of the store at 3590 SE Hawthorne Blvd. And the Rogue Desk is calling out the store.
"I stopped in my tracks and began to physically shake as I realized just exactly what it was that I was seeing," says 27-year-old Aaron D. Reichenberger, who lives four blocks from Red Light. For Reichenberger, the display provoked a personal resonance: A younger cousin of his was killed in the 1999 Columbine massacre.
This neighborhood-rattling display was the brainchild of Ryan White, a 27-year-old designer who moved to Portland from New York City, where he held high-profile window-design jobs with Forever 21 and H&M. What does he think about the fuss over his display?
"I think it's funny…there's nothing wrong with pushing the envelope," White says. He also says the connection between fashion and violence is "out there, and we can't deny it…I'm not promoting it, but it's there." White says some of his previous designs for the store window have included piles of pills and a heap of white powder, encouraging young shoppers to "blow your money on hot fashion."
Reichenberger and other residents aren't so amused. "If this is to be called art or commentary, it is art or commentary of the lowest form," Reichenberger says.
We agree. The Rogue Desk is all for pushing the envelope, and while yoking hip-kid fashion to dangerous-kid violence may be profitable for Red Light, it's far from cool.