I'm sitting in the front row of a fashion show at the Benson Hotel, and I've never been more uncomfortable.
The show begins with a light and shadow display using canvas sheets, and a woman emerges in a Ace-bandage-like bondage gear suit. Six or so five-foot metal poles are connected to various points on the bandage suit, and they drag behind her like a strange, industrial-strength dress train.
She crawls, clanks and clomps out onto the catwalk, followed by three women in skintight white suits and black, shiny knee-high leather boots. They dance (sort of) to the end of the catwalk, and a pole slips off the platform and touches my leg. It's the single most terrifying moment of my life. But one of the white-suited women swiftly reaches down and grabs it, and soon they're all grabbing the poles and shaking them, while the Ace bandage woman writhes on the floor, her body jiggling, and frantic techno music.
This is the creative vision of designers Robb Kramer
and Paloma Soledad
. They met when they both moved to Portland to work on the art and costume design for Laika's hit stop-motion movie Coraline
, and have recently combined their efforts to create MYTHAUS
, a fashion design company that fuses their two visions.
“I wanted to have a show where the models can enjoy what they're wearing, and the girls walk slowly so the audience can devour each look,” Soledad says. She and Kramer have great friendly chemistry, and they explain that they work well together because Paloma is Type A and Kramer is Type B. “I keep him in line, he loosens me up,” she says. “I'm vintage, he's modern.”
Soledad has made a name for herself designing corsets
, and Kramer's painting style is an abstract, modern medley of shapes and colors.
The show reflects the blend of these two styles. Models of all shapes and sizes come out onto the catwalk in a collection of Twilight
-meets-The Legend of Zelda
esque dresses. Almost all of the outfits involve corsets, Soledad's signature style.
One outfit—the most outrageous, by far, aside from the Ace bandages—is a corset-based tunic with a bikini-style bottom, wings, and a crown of twigs, leaves, feathers and vines.
Everyone cheers for another outfit, although I cannot help but think that the outfit and the woman in it look exactly like Vittoria from Twilight
—she's got a curvy figure, and she's wearing a red and black corset and riding pants combination. At the end of the catwalk, she pulls out a Blackberry and pretends to answer a call.
Kramer's influence comes into play in the last three outfits, curve-clinging dresses that he hand-dyed to look like his style of painting. His dresses start out as blank fabric, a canvas converted into a dress, and he “paints” original prints on them.
These are my favorites. The dresses hug the bodies of his beautiful models in a sexy, natural way, and the prints are stunning. If you've ever wanted to look like a character from Avatar
or Fern Gully
and still look fashionable, here's the answer to your prayers.
With price tags in the thousands, these outfits are created for an elite clientele, Kramer says. But that doesn't stop the fashionistas of Portland from turning out in droves. Attendees, mostly ages 24-35, are dressed in various combinations of tulle, lace, corsets, gladiator-style stilettos, studs zippers and feathers. They mill around with drinks in their hands in the ballroom, where a catwalk is set up with canvas sheets displaying Kramer's paintings
. A lot of these tulle-wearing, tattooed trend-setters hug and kiss each other.
The most ridiculous outfits I see:
a man wearing plaid pants, a man wearing a shiny silver suit, a woman with giant hair that would give the Jersey Shore
cast a scare, a woman in a sequin leopard print two-piece suit, and, best of all, a woman wearing what can only be described as a lace wedding dress, topped with a black fedora.
Kramer's paintings are currently on display at Radish Underground
just below Burnside. If you're aching to buy something Soledad designed but don't want to drop $5,000 on a velvet dress and corset, you can buy a Lo Pocket
, Soledad's original creation. It's just what it sounds like—a pocket that clips onto the top of your knee-high boot and holds all your little things (money, cell phone, lip gloss, condom?).
“Portland's fashion scene doesn't influence me,” Soledad says. “I influence me. I'd like to bring something new to Portland.”
Photos courtesy of Michael Andrus Photography.