Two big fashion shows this fall are vying for Portland’s top talent.
Will one be in, and the other, out?
In the 10th anniversary of Portland Fashion Week, veterans of the city’s garment industry are sending two glitzy visions down the catwalk.
The first show, Portland Fashion Week, is being resurrected after a noticeable absence last fall. Proclaiming itself as the “Sundance” of fashion weeks, the show plans to take center stage in the heart of downtown, with notes of glamour in a red carpet, a bamboo runway, firework finale and an “haute suite” VIP area.
Only 10 days later, Fashionxt will present its collage of technology-inspired fashion apparel and lifestyle goods. It debuted last year as the city’s only high-profile fashion event, garnering national recognition in a full-page spread in TIME magazine.
Tito Chowdhury, executive producer of Fashionxt and a former organizer of Portland Fashion Week, shot down the idea that there’s any sense of competition between the two shows.
“With anything else that has not happened, there’s no point of commenting or comparing,” Chowdhury said. “We do what we do best. That’s what I’ll be doing.”
In September 2012, the original team of Portland Fashion Week split up for good.
Tod Hunter Foulk, a founding member, and partners Tito Chowdhury and Christopher Cone came to an agreement over who would have rights to the title of Portland Fashion Week, said Jessica Kane, an event producer who later joined Foulk for a new partnership. Portland Fashion Week Productions LLC was no longer.
Enter Portland Fashion Council LLC. Five days before Christmas, the papers became official, according to the Oregon Secretary of State business registry.
Kane, who had produced a plus-size show for Foulk while she managed Scorch magazine, came onboard. So did Sarabeth Chambers, a plus-size fashion designer and a regular of Portland’s “in scene.” They all agreed that changes needed to be made. Ever since the beginning of January, the new trio has been busy working out details, a few they cannot yet disclose.
“The most important thing was the fact that it was a Portland fashion show and the fact that Portland wasn’t a big part of it,” Kane said.
Despite nearly a decade of shows, there were still people who were unaware of Portland Fashion Week, Kane said. Retailers that can’t afford to throw big promotional parties also needed to be more included, she added.
This year, the whole point of the Sept. 25-29 show will be to highlight up-and-coming designers and push business, Kane said. Branded as the “Sundance” of fashion shows, Portland Fashion Week is being positioned to the international fashion community as the go-to spot for fresh, emerging faces.
“When I think of Sundance, I think of a festival, a place that actually searches and empowers independent creativity and that’s what I thought Portland Fashion Week needed to be,” Kane said. “We need to bring integrity back to the whole system, who’s judging it, who’s on the runway, the contest… It needs to have a level of quality that I feel is absolutely what represents Sundance to me.”
That includes a new way of judging: Designers won’t have to pay for production costs. Instead, they’ll simply pay a submission fee. Portland-based designers get the first pick at being critiqued by a panel — names soon to be announced — of “fashion experts, buyers, editors and producers” called the “runway curation council.” As part of the attempt to push business for retailers, selected boutiques will also send their looks down the runway.
A few major details are still being negotiated. The location, though hinted on the website to be on the waterfront, is not yet official, Kane said. And she won’t say who the buyers will be at the show, though she said they are currently talking to Fred Meyer, Adidas, Macy’s, Nordstrom, international retailers and “the gamut of it.”
Details are even more spare on Fashionxt’s end. Chowdhury is staying steadfast to his vision of tech-inspired fashion and lifestyle goods and gadgets, scheduled this fall for Oct. 9-12. It’s not supposed to be traditional, he said.
“The consumers are still not there yet,” Chowdhury said. “We are getting them excited about how really the future is how technology is becoming more and more about fashion. There’s a huge demand for that.”
Chowdhury wouldn’t reveal any new partnerships, only that he’s in talks with potential organizations and that this year’s show will be “more prominent, more exciting.” He wouldn’t deny or confirm the location of Fashionxt, which was held last year at the Vigor shipyard industrial building in North Portland. More information will be released over the next few weeks, he said.
Chris Werner, an adviser to Chowdhury and a board member of the Pearl District Business Association, wrote in an email that Chowdhury has several changes planned for Fashionxt “that sound very exciting.” The business association has also talked to Foulk and Kane of Portland Fashion Week for the best way to support Pearl District boutiques and businesses.
“We’re not Milan, New York or Paris,” Kane said. “It’s a consumer event. We’re going to have industry people there. But the most important piece of the puzzle is the consumer… The whole point is to sell.”
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Written by: Dominique Fong