Cool designer, hot collection

Solar power inspires Vancouver’s SethAaron Henderson’s futuristic clothes for Portland Fashion Week

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter



‘Star Wars” was among the first things to pop into Vancouver fashion designer and “Project Runway” winner SethAaron Henderson’s mind when he toured the SolarWorld plant in Hillsboro, Ore., this summer. He was seeking ideas for a solar energy-inspired collection to debut at Portland Fashion Week.

If you go

• What: Portland Fashion Week.

• When: Oct. 6-10. For the Oct. 6 opening-night exhibition, check-in begins at 6 p.m., VIP access starts at 7, and general access is at 8. The doors open Oct. 7-10 at 6 p.m., and shows begin at 8. After-parties on Oct. 7-10 begin at 10 p.m. The designer marketplace goes from 2-5 p.m. on Oct. 10.

• Where: Shows take place on Swan Island at Vigor Industrial Shipyards, 5555 N. Channel Ave., Portland. The designer marketplace is at 1039 N.W. Couch St., Portland. Check the Portland Fashion Week website for after-party locations.

• Cost: General admission is $20-$35 in advance, $25-$40 at the door, and $100 for a five-day pass. Preferred seating is $30-$65 in advance, $50-$75 at the door, or $180 for a five-day pass. VIP access is $60-$100 in advance, $80-$115 at the door, or $350 for a five-day pass. Patron-level tickets are $150-$160 in advance, $175 at the door, or $640 for a five-day pass. After-party access is included with preferred and VIP tickets. After-party tickets purchased separately are $10. The designer marketplace is free.

• Information: http://www.portla...

“When I was there, it felt like I was on the Death Star. I felt like I was in outer space,” said Henderson, 39. “It just felt very futuristic. It’s all machines and metal. It was a very cold, industrial vibe.”

The collection he unveils on the runway will have a similar aesthetic. Henderson used lots of black and silver, as well as splashes of blue, purple, red and yellow, to mimic the color palette of the solar panel manufacturing factory. He employed a mix of materials, including vinyl, faux leather, cottons and wools.

Schedule of events

Oct. 6: Artisan designers exhibition. Designers and lines include Adam Andreas, Idom, R.A.W. by Rio Wrenn, Dawn Sharp, Liza Rietz, Laura Allcorn and Sword+Fern.

Oct. 7: The first segment features designers Lizzie Parker and Jessica Milton, as well as the Art Institute of Portland Fashion Show. The second segment — Catapult, The Emerging Designer Competition Runway Show — spotlights Devonation, Anar-Couture, Ms. Wood and Nelli Millard.

Oct. 8: Designers and lines include Amai Unmei, La Vie by Michelle DeCourcy and Stephanie D. Couture.

Oct. 9: “Project Runway” alumni show featuring Jay Nicolas Sario, Jonathan Peters and SethAaron Henderson.

Oct. 10: Designers and lines include Amelia Toro, Ethos Paris, Souchi and Lenzanita. There’s a designer marketplace earlier in the day.

“It’s innovative, leaning more toward 2020 than 2010,” Henderson said of the 10-plus looks he’ll premiere.

Henderson is headlining Portland Fashion Week’s Saturday show, which also features “Project Runway” season seven alumni Jay Nicolas Sario and Jonathan Peters.

It won’t be the first reunion for the three “Project Runway” veterans. Henderson saw Sario and Peters at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York last month.

“It was a fun time. They’re really excited to come here and show together,” he said.

The “Project Runway” reunion is just one of several shows taking place over five days beginning Wednesday as part of the seventh annual Portland Fashion Week, which last year drew about 5,000 people.

About 30 local, regional, national and international designers are showing their spring and summer collections this year. In addition to the runway shows, there’s an opening-night exhibition spotlighting artisan designers, who do smaller runs of handcrafted apparel. There’s also a market on the last day where people can buy designers’ fall and winter clothing.

“The goal is really getting designers exposure and business, as well as our broader strategic goal of becoming part of the fabric of the city and how it’s perceived outside,” said Chris Cone, co-founder and co-executive producer, along with Prasenjit Tito Chowdhury, of Portland Fashion Week.

“We certainly have the talent here. We’re sort of over the whole Portland-as-best-kept-secret thing. We don’t think it should be a secret anymore. There’s a reason two out of the last three ‘Project Runway’ winners have been from the Portland area,” Cone said. In addition to Henderson winning the seventh season, then-Portland resident Leanne Marshall won season five. “We attract creative talent in various fields, and fashion is one of them.”

The new black

Putting that creativity to the test, 2010 event organizers charged Henderson with creating a concept centered on solar energy. SolarWorld is among Portland Fashion Week’s major sponsors, so this year’s theme is “Solar Is the New Black.”

The runway will be made from SolarWorld’s black laminate solar panels, and that’s just one way the event promotes sustainability. Portland Fashion Week uses LED lighting and features several eco-friendly designers who work with green fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo.

Henderson sees Portland Fashion Week as a way to encourage collaboration between the energy and fashion industries.

“There’s the solar, techie world, then there’s the fashion world,” he said. “How can we join forces to better the environment?”

Henderson and his wife, Tina, have always recycled, but now that son Aaron, 14, and daughter Megann, 12, are more aware of environmental concerns, the family is ratcheting up its efforts. They recently purchased a home in the Uptown Village area, and it will be solar powered.

Besides the upcoming move, Henderson has a lot of work and travel keeping him busy. He sewed all his designs for Portland Fashion Week himself, and is working on his fall 2011 ready-to-wear collection. He’s also making public appearances at department stores throughout the region and is in talks to sign on as creative director of an international upscale handbag and accessories manufacturer. In March, he’ll travel to China to show at Beijing Fashion Week.

“I want a lot of stuff in the works,” he said. “I’m taking all the opportunities that are right.”

But no matter how busy he gets, he makes time to watch every episode of “Project Runway,” currently in its eighth season.

This go-round, Portland designer Gretchen Jones has rubbed fellow contestants the wrong way with her penchant for giving unsolicited advice, and designers Ivy Higa and Michael Costello have made enemies, as well.

“A lot of drama this season,” Henderson noted.

He said fans of the show keep coming up to him and saying how much they dislike Jones, though he thought she seemed nice the few times he’s encountered her.

Henderson helped with casting for season eight and has met all the contestants. He doesn’t want to make predictions or choose favorites, but two competitors do stand out to him.

“I like Mondo (Guerra),” Henderson said. “He’s just a good guy. Andy (South) is great, too. Also, I think they think outside the box.”

Mary Ann Albright:, 360-735-4507.