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Shopping affairs aim to satisfy all cravings in one place

Weekend!Nightlife: On the Rocks
by: Denise FARWELL, Julie Duryea (middle) checks out clothing with Ziba Cranmer (left) and Stephani Kobayashi during last Wednesday night’s Crave party. The party put wares from many local shops under one roof.

For some it's the designer jeans. For some it's the one-of-a-kind purses. And for some, it's the free cheese.

Overall, the mostly female crowd tonight at an event called Crave is delighted to be here, browsing the wares of local boutiques, accepting samples of high-end hand cream and kick-starting the holiday shopping season in style.

The idea for Crave began in Seattle, where Melody Biringer began organizing locally focused shopping parties in 2002. She expanded to Portland, where Ericka Dickey took over local operations in 2005. Crave also has expanded to other cities as far-flung as San Diego, Detroit and Tampa Bay, Fla.

Dickey has held events at the Jupiter Hotel and the World Trade Center Plaza downtown, but tonight's event is at Disjecta, a gallery and performance space in a former warehouse under the Burnside Bridge.

It's a freezing November night, and the neighborhood couldn't be more bleak, but inside it's warm, festive and full of pretty things. 'We need a spot that we can make our own,' Dickey says.

Crave, where admission is $15 ahead of time or $25 at the door, is too high-end to be a crafts fair, and too informal to be a trade show.

Dickey explains: 'We want it to be more like a party. … It's hanging out with your friends, it's having a cocktail while you shop, while you get a massage.' Yes, masseurs and bartenders are in attendance, along with a hair stylist and an esthetician.

In other words, if shopping at the mall is a Big Gulp, then Crave is a saketini. As a matter of fact, saketinis from local distiller SakéOne are the featured drink, along with gingerbread lattes from Starbucks. After downing one of each, I'm ready to tour the lineup.

Many gifts are made by hand

There are soaps, silk scarves and handmade wrapping paper for sale, scented candles, Christmas ornaments and party dresses. One woman is passing out samples of steak cooked with a mocha grilling rub. Nearby, for $20, you can purchase a lovely box of truffles … for your dog.

The name on a jewelry booth catches my eye. Oh My Goddess! is the tag for jewelry designed and crafted by Seattle artist Schamet and her sister, Delilah, neither of whom use a last name.

Schamet favors natural materials such as metals, semiprecious stones, pearls and glass for her creations, because, she says, she's 'really working with Mother Earth.' She's inspired by the adornments of the ancient Egyptians, and also by those worn by Wonder Woman.

'I like to celebrate and honor the Goddess through my jewelry,' she explains. 'It's all about empowering the feminine spirit through wearable art.'

Female empowerment takes many forms. As I'm talking to Schamet, a young lady in a different part of the room is preparing to demonstrate the art of strip club-style pole dancing as a fitness regimen.

Meanwhile, Kyle Severson is having henna applied to her index finger in a dainty pattern. Creating intricate designs with henna on a woman's hands and feet is an ancient custom in India and North Africa, as well as a popular attraction here at Crave, where glitter has been added to the deep orange of the natural dye.

Severson has chosen a discreet design, she says, because she works in a strictly corporate environment. She heard about Crave through a women's group called Ladies Who Launch, a support group for female entrepreneurs and women like Severson, who calls herself 'an entrepreneur wannabe.'

Indeed, she hopes someday to be on the other side of one of Crave's tables full of handmade and hand-selected wares.

'I want to be one of these people,' she says of the vendors. 'I'm here to be inspired.'

Fair lends a hand to women

'We love to support women-owned small business,' organizer Dickey says. Each Crave event also is a benefit for a girl-focused charity - tonight it's BecomeX, which helps young women develop career and life skills.

Only about 30 percent of the businesses here tonight are repeat participants. Dickey works to find new vendors every time - and succeeds, which is a huge testament to the explosion of boutiques, spas and beauty-related cottage industries in the Portland area.

Dickey says: 'My friends from San Francisco come here and say, 'I want to move here. This is so cool. It's better than San Francisco!' ' - for the shopping, that is. Also for the restaurants, which makes more sense to me. I can imagine moving somewhere for the food much more easily than I can imagine moving somewhere for the shopping.

In fact, I'm such a bad shopper that I leave Crave without having purchased anything. Well, nothing but a second pomegranate saketini.

The next Crave party in town will be in March 2007. Sign up for an invitation at www.craveportland.com.

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