In 2008, Pamela Baker-Miller started Frances May, a tiny boutique working with a handful of designers she knew from studying painting in New York. Today, Frances May is among the most influential boutiques in Portland, a place that plays local home to international streetwear powerhouses Common Projects, Acne Studios and A.P.C., and trendsetters Aimé Leon Dore and Études.
"We had four tiny racks with 3-inch finger space between every garment," says Baker-Miller. "I didn't know what to expect, or if people would even come. Dresses were $200 or $300, which at the time, was a lot. You'd nervously swipe a card, 'Are you sure I should do this?' That's how it felt—that excitement."
With the boutique's 10th birthday coming up in April, Baker-Miller took a new step forward with Frances May, introducing the boutique's first-ever in-house Houseline collection.
"The collection is something I had wanted to do since we opened, but I didn't know how to do it," says Baker-Miller. "I feel like the way retail is going, it's important now, more than ever, to define who you are as a store. With online sales, there's a homogeneity of what people are carrying. One way of getting through that is by creating your own product."
To craft this collection—six dresses, all made with vintage fabrics sourced from Los Angeles—she enlisted Rachel Turk, Frances May's brand director since 2014 and a veteran of Portland's mid-2000s fashion scene. Turk started cult Portland label Church & State with her now-husband Nathaniel Crissman in 2004, and in 2010 they were tapped to design five seasons of Pendleton's Portland collection.
The Houseline collection released at the end of October, and in true Portland style, it strikes a playful balance between formal wear and upscale casual. The "Ruffle" dress in robin's egg-blue vintage rayon features a half-dozen wafer-thin ruffles cascading down the chest, before tapering off with an elastic waistband into a free-flowing skirt. The bright marigold spaghetti-strap "Simple Layer" dress is feminine and elegant, featuring a fitted bodice atop three flowing layers of rayon. My favorite is the cap-sleeve "Godet" dress, a flattering shift made of black silk and patterned with pastel pink and green Betta ("Siamese Fighting") fish. Prices run from $385 to $575.
"A lot of other boutiques do have their own brands, but maybe they're kind of more basic," says Turk. "We thought this could be something a little more directional. Long story short: We did this line, and we put it together in eight months."
"We were kinda just going for it, to see what we would come up with," says Baker-Miller. "I think a lot of times in fashion, people have stories you don't really see in the collection, or that they make up afterwards," adds Turk. "I've always been product based, and based in what's going to look good."
This collection will serve as a milestone for one of the few boutiques that has made it to the 10-year mark in a business where many, if not most, fizzle within two years. "I think we're digging our heels in deeper," says Baker-Miller. "As we're going on 10 years, you're just kind of figuring out who you are. Having started the business when I was 25, and now being 35, I have more self-awareness and intention with what I do. The store has evolved as I've evolved, and the staff has evolved. It's really a family around here."