I recently sat down to talk with Mort Bishop, president of Pendleton Woolen Mills, about the genesis of his new project, The Portland Collection. This group of Men’s, Women’s and Home items uses iconic fabrics and innovative designs in a collection that’s causing some excitement out there. I wanted to learn about Mort’s inspiration and vision.
Karen: Had you been thinking about The Portland Collection for a long time, or was it more of a thunderbolt?
Mort: More of a thunderbolt. I like to say that the stars were aligned. There was worldwide interest in American heritage brands that started in Japan and just kept growing. We’d done some wonderful collaborations with companies like Opening Ceremony and Comme des Garcons. Everyone was talking about Pendleton, and we knew we could deliver a different twist ourselves with The Portland Collection.
Karen: What was your original concept?
Mort: I wanted an integrated collection of menswear, womenswear and blankets that would appeal to the bridge consumer, something that would show well in a boutique setting. And I wanted to use a Portland design team.
Karen: So you always planned to use Portland people?
Mort: Oh yes. I believe in keeping things simple. If they were here in town, we could open up the company to them, work together, share resources. But more importantly, Portland has a strong, connected creative class of designers, musicians, and artists. I wanted the collection to tap into that independent energy.
Karen: How many designers did you interview?
Mort: I interviewed fifteen designers.
Karen: And you found the Dream Team.
Mort: Yes, Nathaniel Crissman, Rachel Turk and John Blasioli.
Karen: Can you talk a little about their backgrounds?
Mort: Nathaniel and Rachel were already partners in a womenswear line called church & state . John’s line is menswear. They were no strangers to Pendleton because they’d all used Pendleton fabrics, and the three of them were friends. When I approached them about combining efforts, they’d already been discussing it themselves.
Karen: So the stars really were aligned.
Mort: Yes, they certainly were. It was a rare synergy.
Karen: Did the collection stay true to your original vision, or did it change?
Mort: It changed in that, as far as execution, it exceeded my original concept. Our team took our company’s essence and heritage and infused it with newness.
Karen: It’s amazing that it’s all made in the USA.
Mort: Yes, it is. Of course, most of it is sewn from Pendleton fabric, woven in Pendleton mills, but we are a weaving mill, not a knitting facility. Sourcing knitwear domestically isn’t easy, but we did it. The one exception is the bag, which would have almost doubled in price so we sourced that overseas. But other than that, this is a Made in the USA collection.
Karen: Can you talk about the name a little bit?
Mort: Pendleton’s creative team started with a working name, “the Heritage Collection.” And then L.L. Bean did that, and Land’s End. So the word “heritage” didn’t sound as fresh and contemporary as we wanted. We brainstormed for alternatives, and one of them was The Portland Collection. Kathy Monaghan, who works in the Home division, lobbied hard for it. She talked about the fashion and music scene here, the Ace Hotel, Stumptown Roasters; I remember her saying, “this is who we are.”
Karen: So as a name, you feel it’s the right one?
Mort: Yes. A name is what you make it. You start with words, but you add the imagery and flesh it out so that it really expresses what you want it to. I think when you put the name “The Portland Collection” together with the these incredible designs and amazing photography, everything comes together with more of that synergy.
Karen: I have just one last question. Are you excited?
Mort: (laughing) I am. I am very excited.