October 10th, 2010 | by Jonanna Widner News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

UPDATED—PORTLAND FASHION WEEK 2010: Pret a Portland

Portland Fashion Week, Issac Hers

[Editor's Note: Due to a family emergency, reporter Jonanna Widner was unable to file the second half of her "fashion detective" report on Portland Fashion Week's Friday, Oct. 8 show until today, Tuesday, Oct. 12. We apologize for keeping readers hanging.]

FILE UNDER: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SEND A BUTCH LESBO TO DO A GAY MAN'S JOB

Friday, Oct. 8: Collections from Amai Unmei, La Vie by Michele DeCourcy, Stephanie D Couture, Suzabelle and Isaac Hers

Everybody knows about Fashion Police--they patrol the scene of Fashion Weeks across the world, on the front lines as couture first-responders.

I, however, am more like a fashion detective. At Portland Fashion Week, I walk around with a notebook and peer under cocktail napkins, behind curtains and, if I can, at other people's iPhones. I keep a patient, watchful eye on the masses who attend Fashion week, take notes, eavesdrop, and later I sift through the files.

Why? Because, dude, I don't get it. I mean, Portland Fashion Week? And I want to know –who are the people who go to this thing? What are they like? I'm thinking of myself as a detective in another way: There's an episode on the old Dragnet TV show where Joe Friday has to investigate a Timothy Leary-esque criminal. To do so, Friday must enter a world unknown to him, the '60s counter-culture underground, where LSD shifts everyone's perceptions, where loose morals and long hair abound. Friday's drab gray suit and narrow tie –usually contributors to his conformist anonymity, his ability to fit in—suddenly make him stand out amidst the brightly colored tunics and fringe-y/flare-y ensembles of the Leary character and his groovy cohorts. Friday is immediately pegged for a square, in interloper, and someone who doesn't get it. Suddenly, Friday is the outsider.

Such is how I feel upon entering the cavernous warehouse at the Vigor Industrial Shipyard (note #1: Portland Fashion Week attendees are willing to drive way the fuck out to Swan Island), where the runway shows are held. Surrounded by T-Rex-sized cranes, strategically-placed anchor stays, and a bunch of rusty stuff, this place evokes the type of bad-guy hideout you see on McGyver and 24. It's a pretty cool venue, I have to admit, although what is up with rich people's industrial-chic fetish?

I pass through the entrance and head to the press check-in. As I wind my way through the crowd, I realize that my earlier decision to don my fall jacket, straight out of storage in my dank basement, was a grave mistake: I feel myself leaving a trail of musty odors that cuts through the heady swirl of expensive perfumes. A passel of chirpy, headphone-wearing women explain all my press pass stuff to me, and send me on my way to the VIP area. Which has no VIP perks except it's separated from the riff-raff by a literal velvet rope, which no one notices. There are no seats, the drinks are not free, and the tables wobble.

Portland Fashion Week, Amai Unmei

Amai Unmei at Portland Fashion Week (above)

For such an enormous space, the bi-level room is pretty packed. It's a bit of a feng shui nightmare, with both the ticketing tables and the velvet ropes set at odd angles, causing large swaths of black-clad thirtysomethings to maneuver via a series of swift swivels. Ladies must pivot quickly on the toes of their stiletto heels in a manner that replicates some kind of football drill. Up the precarious stairs is a second, non-VIP bar and a few seats, plus some low tables, upon which sit little mini-cupcakes that no-one is eating. So far, the biggest shock of the evening is that the attendees' clothes are so boring. And also, there appears to be a complete lack of gay people. I expected fabulousness, and instead I'm surrounded by people who seem to think Ed Hardy is a fashion god.

To wit, the men in the room can be loosely divided into types:
1.The Larry David: Balding and/or gray hair, poorly groomed. Monied. Untucked button-down shirts not hiding pot-bellies. Slacks. This is the most common male specimen here.
2.The Glenn Frey: Shorter hair/longer version of a flat-top. Mild use of hair product. Occasional cowboy boots. Etched, tanned faces.
3.The Don Johnson: There's actually only one guy here who fits this designation, but he deserves his own special category of douchebag: Slicked-back hair –seriously!. A tight, tight polyester shirt (I can see your nips, Crockett!). Blazer with sleeves pushed up three-quarters of the way. It sort of hurts to look at him, but at least now I have an idea for my Halloween costume.

The women are clad expensively, but in a $1,000 handbag kind of way. I'd rather see Anna Wintour's pinched face lording over this room than the hodge podge of banality.

This is just Hour 1, of course. We haven't even hit the runway collections yet. Stay tuned...

[NEW CONTENT AS OF TUESDAY, OCT. 12 STARTS HERE]

Amidst the swath of excited, sweaty rich people, a line of some sort seems to be forming. “Form” may not be the proper word, considering the line has no boundaries; rather, it's about five people wide and 50-60 people long. The length and girth of the line continue to grow and the queue takes on its own personality. It ripples like a boa constrictor that's just gorged itself. As it grows fatter and wider, several people ask aloud, to no one in particular “What is this line for?” I resist telling them that it's the line for the ATM.

It's kind of a no-brainer what this line is for. Considering that the warehouse is divided into two sections—the standing-up-and-drinking section and then the as-yet-unseen-runway section (and that we've already done the standing up and drinking part) it's pretty obvious we are all waiting to find out what couture secrets await behind the magic scrim.

Although 90% of the people here are dressed in various types of finery, and despite the fact that this is clearly meant as a high-end affair, the jamming together of hundreds of people in a line is never an elegant thing. Here we all are, waiting to lay eyes on dresses that cost thousands of dollars, but the entire effect is of passengers in the boarding area of a sold-out Southwest Airlines flight to Tuscon. I even clutch my ticket, with my seat and row number stamped on it, like a boarding pass.

We scoot forward, inch by inch, until the bottleneck opens up around a right-angled turn, and the runway splays out right in front of us, flanked on both sides by white folding chairs three rows deep. I'm fortunate enough to have a seat near the aisle and manage to squeeze into my chair, and as my arms brush both of the strangers on either side of me, I realize the Southwest Airlines flight metaphor still holds. We are packed awkwardly close to each others, elbows knocking as if we were battling for position underneath a basketball hoop.

To our left, an usher continues pointing folks toward their seats. Inexplicably, the usher is wearing some sort of chain mail armor from his wrist to his elbow, only on one arm. The woman next to me trills with delight: “Oooh, that is fabulous, where'd you get that?” The usher replies casually, “Oh, I made it.” That's the end of the conversation.

It all seems very silly, but upon finally sitting down, I start to understand what this is about. The lights are dim and the darkness is punctuated with pastel-colored lights. The air is starting to fill with excitement. Thick hip-hop bass drops beat a cadence to the anticipation. This is actually fun.

Even more so when the lights drop completely and the first models strides on the runway like an angry gazelle. It all happens so quickly…as Franz Ferdinand or some other indie/punk/disco whizzes out the speakers. It's the La Vie line, by Michelle DeCourcy, and it's a kicky little grouping of fairly simple clothes that, you know, people might actually wear. La Vie is meant as a more accessible alternative to DeCourcy's usual line, and the effect is fashion that's interesting but not particularly complex. Poppy pastels subtly dominate DeCourcy's spring line, which consists mainly of flowy skirts, knits and –the highlight—a little black dress that somehow evokes modern chic combined with classical allusions to the tunics worn in ancient Greece and Rome. Really.

Portland Fashion Week, Stephanie D. Couture

The classical theme continues in the Stephanie D Couture collection (see photo above). The Spring line features the soft, classical lines of the tunics, yet are given a unique updated flair with various necklines, waists and cuts. And then there's the flirty babydoll wedding gown—perfect for 90s fetishists and Courtney Love fans.

The real question of the night, however, is what the Suzabelle line will bring us for spring. The collection's founder, Seattle designer Suzanne Jaberg, has been raising fashion eyebrows with her wikkid cute, clever takes on winter coats (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has dubbed her “The Seattle Coat Queen”). Her winter collection pulls the best from preppy and intermingles it with hipster flair and an emphasis on detail (who knew buttons could be so cute, and so essential for a look). But, could the fair-weather clothes of her Spring 2010 collection match up?

Portland Fashion Week, Suzabelle

Well, kinda. The line is definitely wearable and accessible. Light cotton camisole-type tops paired with higher waisted shorts bearing vertical pinstripes –super-cute, and also proof that summer casual needed read sloppy t-shirts and cheap khaki shorts.

But, the dresses, with their pleats and patterns, bear a bit of a Laura Ashley air. Whereas the preppy elements of Jaberg's coats complement her inventive take on winterwear, with spring/summer wear, there doesn't seem to be enough room to play with the two. You get the feeling that Jaberg is more comfortable in the darker seasons.

Photo: Model blowing a kiss to the audience during Issac Hers' show (top) and runway shots at Portland Fashion Week 2010 by Mike Perrault.
 
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