If you build it, the fashionistas will come

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      All treasured pieces of clothing come with a colourful anecdote attached, and it isn't “I bought it on sale at Sears” but more along the lines of “I had a couple of hours to spare the day I flew back from London so I roamed along beside Regents Canal through Little Venice, got sucked into Camden Market, and that's where I found my vast paisley shawl. Is it modern? Hardly. More a 1920s knockoff of a Victorian classic. Twenty quid, about $40.” You get the idea. Any roving fashionista likely returns from her travels not just with a black-velvet coat from Sydney's Paddington Market or a bias-cut skirt pieced together from crimson and saffron silks plucked from a heap on a stall in Siem Reap but with a question. Why not us too? How come Vancouverites can't amble around in the open air, picking up this or that item of clothing or jewellery and schmoozing with the people who created them? Why can't we have a Camden or a Paddington in Vancouver? Well, guess what? If enough people jump aboard a brand-new project, we can. Starting August 27 (and the last Sunday of every month thereafter), we'll have our very own outdoor clothing and crafts market, thanks to inveterate market shopper and local, Carlie Smith.

      Smith, 25, grew up in North Vancouver, studied entrepreneurial management at BCIT, and promptly hightailed it to London for a couple of years where, she says in a recent interview, she discovered the thrill of shopping at markets: “I loved…the atmosphere, and finding something you know you won't find anywhere else. Spitalfields was my favourite. I was buying from local designers. A lot have businesses in the area and exhibit on Sundays to get additional exposure.”

      Smith hit the tarmac back here in November 2005, immediately showed her U.K. boyfriend the Plaza of Nations, and told him, “That's where the market's going to be.” A ballsy move. Now she has 50,000 square feet, four dates confirmed, and is currently rounding up stall holders. Hence the early warning. Designers who have already signed up for her Portobello West (www.portobellowest.com/) include recent Kwantlen grad Kathleen Leung with her biker kids' Motostars line, Karen Holden and her Slipstitch handbags, and Sugarlime Jewellery, as well as cool Main Street boutique the Petri Dish. Cutoff date for registration is June 1.

      “I want diversity,” says Smith, who envisages the event as a nexus, and has, in her sights, “everyone from recent fashion-school grads to unknowns to established designers.” Armed with a list of 130 names, she's currently explaining how it all works, talking to people, telling friends to tell friends, hoping the shampoo-commercial theory or six degrees of separation, whatever you want to call it, will draw talents out of hiding, and banking that there's enough of it out there to rock the city.

      Her goal is a mix of 50 percent clothing and 50 percent jewellery, art, and pottery. The cost, if you share a 100-square-foot booth with a couple of other noncompeting designers (Smith will organize that), is $70 a day. Whether you stay that size or go bigger, the table, backdrop, and promotion (including paid ads and an event guide) are all factored in. Smith is also looking for sponsorship. What's in it for already known labels? Try artistic fulfillment. “More established designers can have their full collection at the market,” says Smith. “If they have some riskier pieces that stores might not be interested in,” here's their chance to test the consumer waters and to promote the stores that already stock their line. “We're inviting boutiques to participate, to co-op with a designer,” Smith says. Men's and kids' fashions are also part of the equation.

      Right now, Smith is doing it alone, funding it from her savings, temping on the side to top up the cash as need be. Portobello West is most definitely not a one-off, she says. “We need consistency. I'm adamant about it being once a month.” As she points out, the location is outdoors but covered, and “winter, there will be more of an interior feel.” She's thought it all through, right down to where you try on that slithery new dress or those outrageous pants. There will be draped areas to change in. Bongo Beat, already a sponsor, is providing music. While you're browsing around up to 100 stalls, you'll want somewhere to fuel up on java and possibly snack on deli-style food. She's organizing that, too. “The way I've got it in my mind,” says Smith, “it will be such a great experience. And you'll probably walk away with a really fantastic piece.”

      For more information on exhibiting at Portobello West, e-mail carlie.smith@portobellowest.com.