Portland Oregonian

Rogue Vogue
Artists design clothes of wild imagination

Wednesday, October 25, 2000
By VIVIAN McINERNY of The Oregonian staff

This photo collage skirt by Holly Stadler and modeled by Brittany Anderson was one of the designs in a fashion show of Portland designers.

If you can't be a muse, then at least be amusing.

A miniskirt made up of cast-off family snapshots? A slip dress scattered with garters in places legs can't reach? A necklace of colored beads and plastic doll parts? These are styles worth a smile.

On Saturday, the flash of cameras lit up the night as models spilled out of a Southeast Portland boutique, through the bar next door and onto the city sidewalk, wearing these and other unique fashions made by a collective of creative young Portlanders.

"My parents told me whatever you do, don't open up a clothing store," Holly Stalder, 26, said with a laugh. Ignoring parental advice, Stalder and partner Kate Powers, 24, recently bought Kitty Princess Boutique -- rechristened Seaplane earlier this week --on Southeast Belmont Street. The shop carries vintage and one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories by themselves and others.

"I know so many visual artists right now who are designing clothes," Stalder said.

An interest in fashion might have been dismissed as selling out 20 years ago. Now it seems a natural extension of creativity. The artist's life is like a wet painting -- embrace it and some color is bound to rub off onto clothes.

Stalder is a photographer and filmmaker. (A collaborative short film, "Vanishing Point," showed at museums in Chicago and Detroit this summer.) A skirt she made for the fashion show consisted of odd snapshots stitched together in a little miniskirt covered with clear plastic tape. The result was a cross between a patchwork quilt and a wearable family photo album.

"I didn't price it because I didn't expect to sell it," she said. "I was interested in the performance art aspect of it."

The outfit was "accessorized" with a Polaroid camera. The model pointed the camera at the crowd, handing out instant pictures as she walked.

Whether the designers can sell their clothes is less important than the fact that they are making them at all. The apparel industry survives on the tastes of the masses. But it needs the avant-garde to thrive.

"I'm interested in the way old clothes become something new through the different things I'm going through in my life," McKenzie Burrus-Granger said of her line of re-worked "aged" fashions.

For example, the fine-arts school graduate, who has "been sewing since fifth grade," took a pair of old jeans, cut them up, turned the fabric upside down and made a skirt.

"I like the history of the worn spots," she said, pointing out how the faded knees remained in the same place no matter which way the fabric was turned.

At age 22, she's reflecting on the pouf-sleeved past for inspiration.

"The '80s," she said, "ignored reality, which allowed fantasy."

She rummages through bins at Goodwill -- "Sometimes it's treasure. Sometimes it's trash." -- for garments to rework. The fashion press recently raved about a New York company, Imitation of Christ, for doing the same thing.

"They are doing something that's been going on a long time. It could have been anyone who got the attention," Burrus-Granger said. "Right now, it's OK to pull that into the fashion industry. But five years ago, it wasn't. And maybe next year it won't be."

Trendy or not, the process will carry on.

Designer Teresa Sullivan showed beaded gauntlets, a devilish beaded electronic gizmo cover and a curious necklace that revealed hidden treasure trinkets such as religious icons, dice and jointed doll's legs in a tangle of beads.

"This is the primordial, Mother Nature," she said pointing out details of a necklace. "That morphs into the goddess, and then this is stepping into the next phase. I'm not sure what that is."

Her work is priced to represent the hundreds of hours she spends making them. The necklace is priced at $1,800.

All items in the show -- even those constructed like home ec projects on deadline -- provoked thought.

The Anastasia line of slip dresses that looked like Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke fame gone bad, truly bad; the Ginger Peach dresses with safety-pin closures and leg warmers; and the Thomas D. sportswear with splits and net inserts were worth a second look.

In the recent past, alternative fashion was about big hair, big skirts and, most importantly, the big attitude of its maker. If a designer hung with junkies, "forgot" to appear at his own runway show or insisted on wearing a hat over his face for an interview, he was considered not a jerk but a genius.

Now the focus is back on the clothes themselves.

But over-thinking is certainly more interesting than not thinking at all.

"You can buy something for $10," Stalder said of some of the used clothes in her store. "And it makes you feel a little fancier."



You can reach Vivian McInerny at 503-294-4076 or by e-mail at vmcinerny@news.oregonian.com.