Buy PDX: Q&A with Designer Wendy Ohlendorf, Project Runway and Locally Made Surfboards

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By day, Wendy Ohlendorf is a driver for the TV series Grimm. She's held that post for almost two and a half years. In 2013, before leaving for a weeklong trip to France, she made the cast and crew listen to hours of French on tape, while en route to their filming locations. While Ohlendorf says that driving a white van for a popular drama has its perks, it was her trip to Paris that took her from steering a wheel to being nominated for this year's people's choice award as best emerging designer and best womenswear designer at the Portland Fashion and Style Awards.

Ohlendorf's designs have a romantic allure, thanks to the delicate fabrics she uses and the vintage textiles she repurposes. She still drives the white van, and tends bar at the Star Theater, and paints, alongside designing both couture gowns and everyday wear. The one thing Ohlendorf says she doesn't do well? Sew. 

WW talked to Ohlendorf about visiting the Louvre, her background in interior design and why using old fabric is more sentimental than sustainable.

WW: What were you doing in France? 

That's where it all began. I started working on the production crew of Grimm, day one of season 2, over two and a half years ago. I landed this awesome TV job and saw all of these places that you would never get to see. But it's a lot of work.

What was your position on Grimm?

I was a teamster driver. I still am. I drive a big white van and I drive all of the peeps around—the cast and crew—to all locations. I worked for many hours and saved up all of this money. Then, one of my friends happened to be touring Paris and it was his birthday and I said, “Oh, I could go to Paris.” So, I went to Paris. 

Did you buy a one-way ticket?

No, round-trip, but by myself. The minute I was on the plane, they were speaking in French and I started crying because it hit me. I had worked so hard and I was taking myself on this vacation, but little did I know what was really in store. The first day, we walked all along Paris and I saw everything I had studied.

What did you study in school? 

I have a degree in architectural interior design from the Art Institute of Tampa and I had studied all of these buildings in Paris. I studied the construction and how those things came together. We walked up to the backside of the Louvre and my hands started shaking and I was brought to my knees weeping. 

How did this have an influence in your decision to become a clothing designer?

Well, I had seen this dress in an airport magazine and it was something I would have loved to make and as I’m walking along the streets of Paris, I look up and there it is—this couture gown in the window. This voice in my head said, “You do not drive a van 80 hours a week and you do not make vegan cheese. Get your ass home and do what you’re supposed to do.” 

What did you do once you got back to the States?

I happened to walk downtown and see a "for lease" sign in this space on Southwest Pine. I didn’t think I could afford it but I thought I could split the space with someone. I let it go, though. But then James Clark, a headshot photographer and my best buddy of 22 years, said “I’ll do it. I’ll split it with you.” So, within a day we had the keys. 

Tell me a little bit about your design process.

I use old and new fabrics. I take things apart and utilize different materials like silk, '80s prom dresses, striped silk from India, vintage rayon and I utilize different components to rebuild it and give it new life. It's more sentimental than sustainable.

Does the deconstruction and construction of these fabrics have a lot to do with your architectural background?

Probably! But it's also because I worked at Torso Vintages, and they dealt only with labeled vintage like Chanel and old-school high end vintage. I used to help them fix the clothing. 

Where do you draw your inspiration?

Oh, I draw inspiration from everywhere but the fabric tells me what it wants to be. They talk. 

What's your next step?

I want to go to Portland Sewing and learn how to sew for real.

To see if you've been doing it right this whole time?

I know I do it wrong. But other than that, I need to make my dress for the Portland Style and Fashion Awards, where I am the people's choice for emerging designer and womenswear designer. And I'm thinking London Fashion Week. Why not? 

Project Runway winner and Portlander Michelle Lesniak hosts a weekly open viewing party of Project Runway All Stars at McMenamins Back Stage Bar. The new season features Project Runway winners from previous seasons, including Lesniak. There will be cocktails available, a chance to win raffle prizes and the opportunity to prod Lesniak for stories. 3702 SE Hawthorne St. 8 pm Thursdays throughout the season. 

Four Portlanders have just opened a new gallery-style store, MadeHere PDX, which will feature only local brands, ranging from surfboards and furniture to coffee and apparel. The gallery will act as a showroom for the 50-plus local brands and will also be a meeting space for new clients. "We know this city has an interest in and passion for supporting locally made goods, but until now hasn't had that one place to do so," co-owner John Connor said in a press release. "We're all locals ourselves, and want that place where we can buy from local manufacturers. More importantly, we're offering these brands a place to display their products, a sort of test lab that blurs the lines between retail and showroom." Doors opened Nov. 1 and on Thursday, Nov. 6, as part of First Thursday, there will be a grand opening event. 40 NW 10th Ave. 10 am-7 pm Monday-Saturday and 11 am-6 pm Sunday. 


Seattle-based sports retail company evo has opened its second store in Portland in an 11,000-square-foot building that previously housed the Salvation Army Headquarters. Founder Bryce Phillips, who’s originally from Roseburg, said in a press release, “We want to establish evo as a place for people who share a passion for skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, biking, surfing, music, art, travel and the lifestyle that we live and breathe.” The first and second floors of the building feature apparel and merchandise from over 150 brands. There's also a ski, snowboard and bike service shop in the basement. There will be a grand opening party on Saturday, Nov. 15 to benefit the Chill Foundation, a nonprofit that provides opportunities to underserved youth. 200 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 11 am-7 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-8 pm Friday, 10 am-8 pm Saturday and 11 am-7 pm Sunday. 

WWeek 2015

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