Stand Up Comedy

Fashion
Words by Taylor Dent — Photographs by Nicholas Peter Wilson
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Stand Up Comedy is one of Portland’s top boutiques, but you will probably never find it on your own. The store is tucked away in an outdoor complex on Burnside Street in Northeast Portland, a neighborhood known more for its dive bars than upscale shopping. But for owner Diana Kim, Stand Up’s isolation from the downtown retail giants gives her the freedom to purchase experimental designers each season.

“A big part of choosing the east side was that it was outside of retail culture as we know it,” said Ms. Kim during our interview. She dislikes the fast fashion model, where collections are trend-driven and discarded after a single season. Instead, Ms. Kim currently hand-picks all of Stand Up’s products, which range from books to apparel, based on their quality.

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The store resembles a contemporary art gallery, with large storefront windows and white-walled interior. Inside the space, shirts designed by unisex labels Eckhaus Latta and 69 hang next to dresses by cult favorites Maison Martin Margiela and Assembly New York; rubber bracelets fill glass cases; art books and indie publications pack the shelves.

“We consider our three main product areas, clothing, books, and objects, non-hierarchical elements. The approach is to use one medium to guide our thinking about the other,” said Ms. Kim. Her goal is to provide customers with an all-encompassing experience, rather than just a new outfit.

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Ms. Kim opened Stand Up Comedy in 2007 after leaving her job as curatorial assistant of performing arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, one of the nation’s leading contemporary art museums. After working in New York and California, the Oregon native returned to Portland where she could challenge traditional modes of fashion.

“We chose Portland because the city itself is so actively anti-fashion,” she said. She further explained that the majority of the city’s residents shared her rejection of the commercial aspects of the fashion industry.

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Ms. Kim has never installed a proper sign outside of Stand Up, nor does she advertise her business. However, word-of-mouth spread that the oddly named boutique had something new to offer customers, and by the time Ms. Kim expanded the square footage of her store in 2011, she had a loyal group of supporters.

Stand Up’s success can be attributed to the store’s casual environment, where staff encourage visitors to ask questions and learn about the products. If brands or books at first appear confusing, or downright incomprehensible, Ms. Kim will happily provide an explanation.

“When the context [of fashion] is one that’s rarefied, it’s hard to imagine, how does that fit into my life? So we were trying to change that a bit.” Ms. Kim’s intent is to invite shoppers to leave their serious mindset behind when browsing the store. Poking fun at fashion is the ethos of Stand Up.

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Ms. Kim gave me a tour and showed me a selection of absurd items. Some pieces on the floor are Surrealist-inspired, like a fur-covered extension cord by German label BLESS. “The customer who comes here is not afraid to experiment,” she explained. To demonstrate, she picked up a metallic, bean-shaped clutch: “This is by Rowena Sartin, an LA-based designer,” she said. “It’s part of her useless bag idea … It’s very Dada-esque.”

Next, she presented a slouchy black vest hanging from a wooden pole. One of Stand Up’s recent collaborations with BLESS, the multi-pocket piece was inspired by an outfit worn by Demi Moore’s adulterous character, Diana Murphy, in a ’90s cult film.

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“It’s somewhere between a vest, an apron and a bag,” she said. “The designers at BLESS and I are all really interested in film culture, and there’s this Adrian Lyne film called Indecent Proposal. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been fascinated by the costume design in that movie.”

Above a wall-mounted grey coat and a rack of floppy sun hats was a light-up APPLAUSE sign, so I took the opportunity to ask the obvious: why the name Stand Up Comedy?

“I’m a fan of stand up and we wanted something that was humorous and a bit of a non-sequitur, but also something that implied that there’s a performative element to what’s going on in the store. Plus, in stand up, you’re kind of out there on your own.”

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Visit Stand Up Comedy (811 E. Burnside Street Portland, Oregon 97214)

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