Look out, London: here comes Portobello West

The question back in May was whether she could pull it off. Armed with nada but nerve, could Carlie Smith, 26, launch Vancouver's very own outdoor fashion and art market along the lines of those in Paris, Sydney, and (her prime inspiration) London? Seconds after she arrives at a Cambie Street coffee shop, she tells me yes. With a month to go, 75 designers had already signed up for the first Portobello West happening, and by press time the number was well over 80 and climbing. Post this on the fridge now: the inaugural market happens this Sunday (August 27) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Plaza of Nations, and there'll be one the last Sunday of every month thereafter. Jeweller Irit Sorokin has already committed until the end of 2007, and Smith says that 25 other designers have booked for the rest of the year. More will jump on, she feels, once they've seen how the first one goes.

Smith says that initially the whole shebang was a one-person, full-time job. Then a Web and graphic designer came onboard, and in early August she hired a marketing person. Publicity, the grapevine, referrals from Granville Island (where she'd made herself known to the Crafts Association of B.C.), and input from the organizer of Splurge, a similar biannual event in Victoria, have all helped boost the numbers. While she's open to accepting more names from September on, Smith was forced to stop signing up jewellers for the August event even before her June 1 deadline. “All those we did accept are very diverse,”  she says. “Glass, wood, vintage beads””they're all very different.” 

The printout she's brought along lists sign-ups to date. Alongside familiar labels like Sans Soucie, Blushing Designs, and Underdaaks are new ones such as Fill Yer Boots!, a company that does hand-painted Wellingtons. Some designers and artists are launching at the show, among them No Dice Threadz and Lysa Bromaroff, who blows up her wildlife photos to 90-by-90-centimetre and 150-by-300-centimetre panels.

Think outside the store, and think all your favourite stores in one place. Barefoot Contessa (where Smith once worked) is focusing on home accessories. Mecca at Large, along with Little Miss Vintage, is contributing “not Value Village but real finds” . You'll also be able to reconnect with Emilie Kaplun, who owned the much-missed Raspberry Retreat on Cambie Street. But this is more than a chance to indulge in Vancouver names. Take a gander at the saucy party clothes from Victoria label RaspberryAnn, or the Ferenza collection of sustainable clothing from Bowen Island, or Port Moody–based Ebb and Flo's girly cuffs and necklaces.

If you've always hankered after a custom piece, check out the samples on display from LaSalle College students. Besides spotting up-and-coming designers, you can shop for the next generation of fashionistas (and fashionistos) thanks to leather styles from Mally Bibs and nursery art from Two Parts Love. Even Rover and Fluffy get a look-in. Isabel Nanton is bringing along her fundraising line of Jua Kali (Swahili for “hot sun” ) beaded Masai dog and cat bling. Smith admits she's a little light on male fashion, but barring the guys, that's the whole crew taken care of.

Smith's strong organizational abilities mean logistical problems haven't reared their ugly heads yet. “I'm sure on the day there'll be a last-minute panic,”  she says, but it doesn't appear to faze her. In late July more than half the vendors sat in on a seminar she hosted on marketing essentials, merchandising, and methods of taking credit cards. Fingers crossed, Smith is hoping some 2,000 shoppers will arrive by SkyTrain, bus, or car. Parking is two bucks when nearby stadiums are event-free, as they are for the dates she's booked. Also making it easy, she says, is a cash machine on-site. Should you start to flag, she's organized food, drinks, and music to get your pulse racing again.

Admission is free and so is a guide with info on all the designers, including contact information and a map. You can aim straight for Sedated Clothing's hand-screened Ts or Flaming Angels' cherubic and wicked offerings, or simply amble around seeing what catches your eye. Smith's Web site at www.portobellowest.com/ also lists, with links, the complete designer roster. If you really want to suck in that fashion vibe, volunteer. Smith has hands for this Sunday's event but needs people for subsequent markets to help the designers set up their stalls. Be there or be missing out on what may be the birth of a city fixture. “It's not a flea market,”  Smith stresses. “It's a fashion market, London-style.” 