Portland's biggest fall fashion preview happened in the Crystal Ballroom on Aug. 26 at local designer Elizabeth Mollo's "multidimensional fashion event," Fade To Light. The many dimensions this year include a Health Goth-inspired jersey dress by Sara Bergman, a metallic taffeta trench and PDX carpet-patterned shorts. Attended mainly by a monochromatic fashion crowd dressed in a minimalist, casual uniform of black jeans, black Chelsea boots, black dresses and more than a few black mesh tops, Fade to Light promises Portlanders a fall that's probably better labeled "fade to dark."
Here's what we saw:
Sara Bergman Apparel
Sara Bergman got Fade to Light off to a strong start with a collection that combined the pattern and cutout-driven minimalism which she has built her brand on with influences from Portland's Health Goth movement. Her collection had a lot of standouts, particularly when she pushed the sportswear concept to its limits with her use of synthetic fabrics in dresses. Three of my early favorites from the show were Bergman's varsity jacket minidress (complete with zipper running from top to bottom), grey sweatshirt dress with square cutout, and her stunning blue varsity jacket with gold animal print and black stretch collar.
StudioSKB rejected Portland's current minimalism fetish and went for a collection of billowy satin chiffon and print dresses, skirts, and tops awash in tropical blues and bright floral prints. Designer Sharon Blair's collection was probably the most inconsistent of the bunch. Her best pieces were tastefully accented with silk and patterned mesh trims, and her tendency towards roomy silhouettes and tapered waists was a pleasant respite from sheath and box dresses. However, the pieces that abandoned the tapering were veered towards frumpy and took the Latin themes a little too far into abuelita territory.
Project Runway veteran Bryce Black gets to play by a different set of rules because he works in the realm of high fashion, and thereby creates investment pieces tailored to specific events and concepts. I did not want to see a series of garments suitable for everyday wear. I wanted a unified collection whose component parts work together to articulate different aspects of the same idea.
That is exactly what I got. Black's theme for the evening was encapsulated by the booming rendition of Prince's "Purple Rain" that bellowed as his models made their way down the runway. He put a spin on his minimalistic tendencies with a series of dyed and bleached pastel garments that stretched the traditional use of his fabrics, primarily denim, to their extremes (see my preview of the show here [link] for Black's inspirations for the collection). The result was a physical manifestation of a thunderstorm through cloth. I was particularly impressed with the subtlety of textures: the use of quilted cotton evoked the comfort that a young child would seek from a security blanket, while denim treated until it was almost elastic mimicked sheets of rain. Black's creativity and mastery of conceptual continuity made his collection my favorite of the night.
WWJJD's collection consisted entirely of all over PDX carpet-patterned staples: T-shirts, singlets, hats and board shorts- you get the idea. This was easily the worst collection of the night; unvaried, uninspired Sriracha T-shirt dad kitsch you would see at Spencer's Gifts. The only thing I enjoyed about WWJJD's collection occurred when the tipsy 40-somethings across the aisle jeered at a ripped male model as he sauntered past.
Stefanie Houlis' label Stefanie Says may end up being the sleeper hit of the evening. Very little information about this new designer is available other than that she appears to be fresh out of fashion school and, from what I can glean from her collection, that she has a fondness for some mixture of seapunk, retro-futurism and throwback California airline stewardess uniforms. Houlis' striking garments appear to be built for high fashion (I can't imagine seeing many of these on the street) and pushing boundaries, with plenty of exposed midriffs and deep-V dresses. I am very impressed by Houlis' vision and look forward to more from her.
Anna-Marie Cooper has been building a name for herself in Portland's fashion world with her rock-'n'-roll inspired streetwear. Cooper worked with a lot of velvet, lace, mesh and sheer fabric with this collection, creating functional, versatile garments that can be dressed up or down with a rock or goth aesthetic. I particularly liked her incorporation of mesh as a way of breaking up her garments with subtle textural and tonal shifts without using it as a crutch.
Gunnar Deatherage's collection for the night was the most colorful of the bunch by a longshot. This Project Runway alum went with a dark circus/steampunk/Southern Gothic aesthetic for his collection which was at times executed immaculately. Deatherage had some of the best individual pieces in the show: a metallic copper trench coat (probably the best single garment in the show), beautiful, form-fitting olive green tops and dresses and a collared metallic orange-bronze faux fur coat with burgundy cuffs. As you may suspect from those descriptions, Deatherage's style is likely to be too much for some to handle; a few of the pieces were so outlandish it is difficult to imagine anyone wearing them. In a vacuum, Deatherage had one of the best collections of the show. I would love to see more of what he has to offer.
Altar PDX with Elizabath Mollo
Altar PDX's Cassie Ridgeway collaborated with Fade to Light producer Elizabeth Mollo to bring a Greek Orthodox and psychedelia-themed spin to Altar's dark streetwear stylings. Accents were the name of the game with Altar's collection: Cobalt blue velvet accents below the knee really set off a pair of men's black dress pants and a pair of gold zigzag-patterned short shorts was one of the top ready to wear pieces of the night. However, Altar may have overdone it a little on the sheer. Altar's collection had so many sheer overlays, sheer tops and sheer cutouts that I began to wonder if there was some kind of subversive cultural statement being made. Maybe they just like their sheer.
All photos by LUCAS CHEMOTTI