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Portland Fashion Designers: Independent to a Fault?

by Marianne Salina
Fashion Career Center Columnist

Fashion design takes on a specific personality in every city. For New York, there is a high fashion sensibility with a particular fetish for couture and sophistication. Los Angeles raises the bar for free-spirited designers, calling for basics that are both glamorous and perfectly constructed. But what defines the growing fashion scene in Portland, Oregon?

No one word does this northwestern metropolis justice, as Portland designers refuse categorization. Collectively, they are a group of non-corporate, independent, and eco-friendly artists who have created a buzz in the fashion design industry but refuse to bow down to any of its rules.

While Portland's fashion identity develops, the local designers who are producing promising lines find a home for their collections at Seaplane, Portland's most reputable indie-designer boutique. Seaplane was founded in October 2000 by fashion designers Kathryn Towers and Holly Stradler, whose clothing lines are featured alongside Portland's most talented names like Anna Cohen, Adam Arnold, and Church and State.

How Does Do-it-Yourself Compete with Design School?
Many of Seaplane's designers maintain a fiercely independent approach to their clothing creations, utilizing do-it-yourself determination as opposed to formal techniques honed in design school. At the local level, this doesn't seem to be a problem, as Portland's independent fashion consumers are happy to purchase an item that is both non-corporate and unique.

At national and global levels, however, the lack of formal fashion training may be preventing Portland from establishing itself as a real force in the industry. Internationally recognized clothing designer Anna Cohen argues, "Without proper training, [these designers] could potentially compromise the basic principles of good design," and thus prevent Portland from ever rising to the same level of recognition as New York or LA.

Fashion Design School: Local Scene vs. National Fashion Revolution
One thing's for certain, Portland is full of talented, local fashion designers whose sense of independence sets them apart from other artistic hubs in the nation. Particularly after hosting two fashion weeks earlier this year, Portland is surely not fading into small town oblivion any time soon. But for the fashion designers who want to make it elsewhere, fashion design school may be the best answer.

Sources:
Seaplane
Survival of the Fittest

About the Author
Marianne Salina has a B.A. in Literature and Creative Writing and enjoys researching and discussing the myriad of fashion design pursuits in her columns.