There are approximately nine days to go before the official opening of FASHIONxt Portland and Tito Chowdhury is a busy man.
For the past few months — and really since the last Fashion Week one year ago — he has been contemplating, considering, ideating and ultimately deciding how to evolve one of Portland's premiere arts and culture events.
A professional engineer, Chowdhury spends the bulk of his time designing complex architectures for advanced computer microprocessors. His concurrent six-year role as the executive producer of Portland Fashion Week is something he does in his "spare time."
Since last year, Chowdhury has been working on something different for the upcoming style showcase. I recently paid him a visit at his Pearl District home to find out what he had in mind. Chowdhury explained that this year, audiences can expect not only runways shows, but a full "lifestyle experience" that brings together form, function and fashion.
Ifanyi Bell: So there's been a lot of mystery surrounding this year's show. What's going on this year with Portland Fashion Week?
Tito Chowdhury: As you know, this year I am producing a new concept — a new idea that is an evolution of what I have done in the last six years as the executive director of Portland Fashion Week. This year I am producing FASHIONxt.
IB: And that's "fashion next." That's how you say it?
TC: Yes. Fashion Next.
IB: So what does that mean?
TC: FASHIONxt is about what's next in fashion — what's next in apparel, what's next in a fashion-forward lifestyle. So what attendees will be expecting is a fashion-forward lifestyle experience. Yes, they are going to see the exciting runways shows by some of the most exciting designers in the country right now, from Portland, to New York, to Los Angeles.
TC: Yes, nationwide. At the same time, the pre-show experience, and sometimes on the runway, you will be seeing the presentation of the fashion-forward lifestyle. As we see it, fashion in 2012 is not only what we wear, but also what we carry and what carries us.
IB: I talked to Becky Ross who will be showing her collection and she told me about her interpretation of a fashion-forward lifestyle. How do you define it?
TC: I define it as the expression of our self-image. It's not only what we wear as apparel but also what we carry — our own personal style picks, whether it be a fancy purse that we find useful for a specific time of the day, or special occasion, but also about our own personal technology that we carry that has, more than ever before, become part of our self-image. And it could be a lot broader. Our own personal devices, even a vehicle that has been designed with a certain style sense in mind. Why should people care for that? The reason people should care is that in 2012 people care about their personal-style technology which used to be only functional. From their cellphone, to their computer, laptop, everything. In the past, it was only a form-factor issue. Styling these objects has become a very recent thing.
IB: So you're saying that people want their devices to be more than just functional ... that's what "fashion-forward" is?
TC: I'm saying that [after] seriously talking to a lot of industry leaders in big, high-tech companies, they are seeing that people are indifferent to basic performance, speed, all those kind of things — it's not that they don't care about it, but people expect them to perform well.
IB: It should be a given.
IB: So is this the perspective on design that Apple takes with products like the iPhone, for example? The iPhone sets itself apart because it doesn't need to look the way it does, but it's very well designed and they protect that fiercely and with many lawyers.
TC: And the user experience, so technology has become part of our lifestyle because people care for how it enhances our life experiences. That's what lifestyle is. We took this direction because Portland cares about lifestyle. Portland is a lifestyle city.
IB: What makes Portland a "lifestyle city"?
TC: The overall balance of our lives. Here, people live very active lives. People care less about what brand you are wearing, and whether it is the latest or greatest, but they care very much about how something is really useful — how something enhances our life's experience. In this context we are talking about what we are wearing, what we are carrying, what is carrying us, in all those contexts, we look at something much broader.
IB: But when people think of fashion, don't they expect the latest thing?
TC: Don't get me wrong, it's not that Portlanders don't care for the latest thing ... they do. But it's not necessarily the latest brand, the hottest brand, or what a celebrity is wearing, or trying to endorse or what you are seeing on TV. That's not what Portlanders consider first. It's not that it's not what they think about, but how it affects their lifestyle is a bigger factor.
IB: So it's not either/or.
IB: So why this evolution, why the need to change it up?
TC: With all my projects, I want them to be relevant, have a niche and have them be in a position to lead. As you know, in a previous year's show in 2007, we made it the world's first sustainable green production of a fashion week in the world and that got international recognition. Now, Fashion Week 2012 is about fashion-forward lifestyle and Portland is the niche. I want to show [the fashion world] something that Portland is a leader in. People pay attention to that kind of showcase. I want people to come to FASHIONxt to see the latest on the runway, but also to see the Lifestyle Plaza to see the next exciting thing in personal style picks. Technology, vehicles, everything that enhances or impacts self-image and life experience.
IB: The sustainable fashion show in 2007 did get a lot of attention and there were other productions that followed that trend. Do you see the fashion-forward lifestyle theme catching on with other designers and fashion show producers?
TC: I'll give you a very good example. Remember when we talked some months ago about Fashion Week this year, and I told you what I had been brainstorming, what would become FASHIONxt? Well, just two weeks ago, Diane Von Furstenberg showed Google Glasses on the runway [at New York Fashion Week].
IB: I heard about that.
TC: If that's not validation of this idea that I have been talking about, what is? What they tried to do in that show was look to the future. What they understand is that, whether people like it or not, technology has come to [be] fashion. Everything technological has to be fashionable moving forward.
IB: I think it might be easy for people to say that this is a gimmick. What do you say to those people?
TC: To them I say, look at the annual revenue of Apple. That's just one example. Portland companies like Carbon Audio with the Zooka. They make an iPad speaker bar that attaches to your iPad and gives you higher quality sound. It works ... it's not a gimmick. It's not just a funky speaker. This is what I'm talking about. In the past, people have made square boxes. All aspects of our lives here in Portland have become very fashionable, and I'm not just talking about apparel or shoes or handbags.
IB: What are you most excited about?
TC: I think I am excited about the new vision of "fashion-forward" [and] "lifestyle" being under the same umbrella. Number two, we have some really good, young Portland designers — they are the past emerging designer competition winners. We have some really exciting designers that are coming from all over the country — several Project Runway all-stars. They will be joined by Portland's Project Runway winner Seth Aaron. He is launching a new men's line, so I am very interested to see what he's doing with that.
IB: I'm also really excited to see that.
TC: We're actually opening the show with Seth and Viktor Luna who are creating a concept collection based on Intel's personal cloud technology. I've seen a few sketches and it's going to blow people's minds.
IB: Thanks for chatting with me. I look forward to seeing all this stuff on the runway and in the Lifestyle Plaza.
TC: I am really excited about it. I can't wait to share it with everybody. I'll see you at FASHIONxt!
Arts and Life will be showcasing Portland companies and designers who are participating in runway shows and the FASHIONxt Lifestyle Plaza. Be sure to check back to get an inside look at the designers and their products.
- Vigor Industrial Shipyard - 5555 N. Channel Ave Portland, OR 97217
- October 10 -13
- Runway shows are from 8 p.m. - 9 p.m.
- Click here for ticket information.
Correction - January 8, 2013: A previous version of this article stated that FASHIONxt was an iteration of Portland Fashion Week when in fact, Portland Fashion Week and FASHIONxt are two, separate trademarks.