Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fashion Trip to Portland (again)

This weekend I went to Portland for a Costume Society of America event (which it feels like I JUST did). I took the train (duh) but this time didn’t stay in the Ace Hotel because all their cheap rooms were booked. So instead I got a decent rate at a Mariott hotel and got to sleep in a giant, fluffy bed.

Six pillows all for meeeee!!!!

The only bad thing about the Mariott was that when I asked the concierge for directions to the Portland Art Museum (less than a mile away) he had to look up the address and then struggled to find it on the map.

The CSA event was in two parts. First, a docent tour Italian Style at the art museum. It was a touring exhibition from the V&A and full of high glamour. Photos weren't allowed, so you’ll have to just enjoy this giant Dolce & Gabbana banner outside the museum.

Byzantine. Realness.

I sort of felt bad for our docent, whose script was clearly not intended for people who already knew a lot about fashion history.  There was one pretty awesome new piece of information though: apparently Emilio Pucci went to Reed College and his first design job was making uniforms for the college ski team.

Besides the fashion, the best moment on the tour was when a conservator in the group spotted a centipede crawling on one of the platforms near the garments. She grabbed the only piece of paper nearby, leapt onto the platform, and mercilessly squashed it.  The piece of paper turned out to be the docent’s notes.


In the afternoon we had the option to sign up for something called the “Portland Style Tour.” We went by bus to four stops:

1. The Dehen Knitting Company

This was probably my favorite stop. Dehen is a heritage brand that was started in 1920 and makes school sweaters, letterman jackets, and cheerleading uniforms, as well as their own line of classic styles. They had these totally cool knitting machines from the 1950s and the floor was slippery with fabric fuzz which of course made me think of...

Tragically, I was not romanced by the mill owner and so had to move on to the next stop...

2. Portland Garment Factory

This was a more modern factory concept: two women who saw the need for a factory that would do small runs for local designers as well as bigger projects for companies who want their stuff made domestically. It is a brilliant idea and they seem to be doing well.

Starting with this stop all our speakers where young and hip and occasionally spoke in Portlandia-worthy quips. The best from this location: “Inspiration struck while I was touring with my husband’s band…”

3. Adam Arnold Studio

I knew a little about Adam Arnold from the Fashioning Cascadia exhibit I saw last time I was in Portland. Basically he is designer who does only bespoke work, and our tour guide described him as a “local eccentric.” You can get a sense of what the visit was like from the following facts:

-No shoes were allowed in the studio space

-We were provided with tea and shortbread cookies he had baked

-He handed out his card which had a picture of him at 5 years old, dressed as a cowboy

-When asked about his influences and other favorite designers he answered “I pretty much get inspired by everything but fashion and designers.”

Some of it was a bit eyeroll worthy, but I also sort of wanted him to be my friend and have him make things for me.

4. Michelle Lesniak Studio
So, apparently this woman won Project Runway? This was way beyond when I stopped watching. The designs we saw in her studio space were nice and she seemed like a talented person who probably wasn’t the villain of her season. However, I had a hard time not rolling my eyes at the following comments:

“I didn’t study fashion. I come from an art background.”

“I don’t follow trends. For me it is emotional.”

I know what she is trying to say, and great designers have to have creative minds that produce ideas that are all their own. But isn’t there always someone on Project Runway who says this? And then their stuff ends up being pretentious and unwearable or totally derivative even though they are convinced NO ONE HAS EVER MADE THIS SHAPE BEFORE EVER.

Also the whole “I don’t follow trends” and “I don’t get inspired by fashion” is buying into this whole idea that fashion is “bad” and so they are "different" and above all that. Hey, guess what-- small, DIY, “artisanal” designer operations ARE a trend. You are part of the fashion system AND THAT IS OK.

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