Ace Hotel — Content 2013

Art & Design
Words by Taylor Dent — Photographs by Nicholas Peter Wilsonmarisa_howard_seaworthy_ace_hotel_content

Last Saturday, Content, a one-night fashion showcase, returned to the Ace Hotel as part of a chain of Portland’s fall design events. Since its founding in 2009, Content has given local designers the  freedom to transform a single room in the Ace Hotel into an extension of their creative visions. As an alternative to the trade show model, Content allows the collections of twenty eight designers to be displayed in their intended environments. One room featured live woodworking demonstrations in a temporary studio; another designer staged a candle lit ceremony around photographs of oversized patron saints. These rooms are living spaces which provide the public with the latest trends from the Northwest in highly interactive environments.

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This year, Danner’s store on Union Way hosted Content’s pre party, featuring a menu of gourmet sandwiches catered by Lardo and a full selection of Danner’s fall boot catalogue. At 4 pm, the festivities moved across the street to the Ace’s lobby, where a live band, photo booths and an open bar bred familiarity between industry veterans and guests.The success of Content does, after all, rely on group interaction: bloggers palled around with designers; draft beer was shared; names and Instagram accounts were exchanged.

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But the night’s real energy culminated upstairs, where light and music spilled forth from the rooms into the hallway of the second floor. No one recognized the newly occupied spaces; rapidly color-shifting LEDs, flashing vintages marquees and models posed as actors in character. It was one of those rare occasions where anyone would forgot that they were in the Ace Hotel, even though every good Portlander’s visited before. To this effect, the mood of the night was exciting, but also unfamiliar, and it seemed necessary to search for a unifying tone that pervaded the rooms. Although Content never specifies an official theme, the rooms this year marked an intersection of Northwest traditionalism and technology as entertainment.

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The founders of Mazama Wares, who recently exceeded their goal of $15,000 on Kickstarter, and whose first run will be sold this fall, displayed their hand-crafted, ceramic vessels in a room bathed in tangerine light from a overhead projector. The sisters proudly announced that they had finished hiring for the Mazama team, selecting local artisans and an art school graduate to join the minimally designed label. Starting a business is a serious endeavor, but the room adapted a humorous tone. Life sized fruits occupied the bed; balloons spilled across the floor. A television set looped a montage of drinking scenes from cult classics, such as the Big Lebowski, in order to graft the drinking ritual to the modern brand.

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The duo behind Imaginary Authors lined their walls with vintage storybooks which had been repurposed into three-dimensional scenes based on the brand’s scents.  Guests flipped open book covers to a woodland canopy and a pixilated vortex, which snapped a kaleidoscope portrait with a hidden camera.

Toward the end of the night, a line formed down the hall to Tanner Goods’ converted retro cinema, which was the most popular installation.  Once inside the velvet curtained theater, an usher seated a limited number of guests in front of a screen that was entirely self-operable. All that was needed was a shot from a replica rifle directed at the screen to start the footage. After a woman took aim and pulled the trigger, the footage rolled to an interview with L.F. Streifel, the master craftsmen who imparted the techniques of leather working to the brand. As part of Tanner’s campaign to celebrate “What a Mentor Means”, guests controlled the film, selecting segments of Streifel’s biography and current projects. Once the film had ended, the usher announced a drawing to win an original leather piece made by Streifel in the 1970’s.

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What was most striking about Content was perhaps the paring down of each room to the basic ethos of the brand. These rooms were intended to be experienced from a more conceptual perspective, which meant that many of the collections and pieces were limited in the rooms. For example, Tanner took the opportunity to thank a figure otherwise unknown to the general public, instead of creating purely promotional material for their brand. It’s a relief to see designers taking an alternative route in marketing their products, since industry events, even those with young talent, often become insular and predictable. The best way to air out the claustrophobia is by allowing the public and the designers a temporary space of unmediated creativity.

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