Strike a pose

Runway action happens on and off the stage overline: 4.5/30/1 Ebony's annual fashion show gives reason for all to put on the ritz

It's Friday night, and Flennard Grisby is wearing his Sunday best. In a fingertip-length jacquard jacket in dove gray, a stylish hat and rectangular shades, Grisby is dressed to impress.

'I wear this suit a lot of places,' Grisby says matter-of-factly. Even church? 'Even church.'

Amen to that. Grisby was just one of many guests at the Ebony Fashion Fair show, where it's hard to tell which is more ahhh-inspiring, the audience or the models on the runway.

Well-dressed attendees such as LaVerne Green insist that there's no reason to choose sides.

'This event is like having two shows in one,' announces Green, resplendent in a linen ensemble purchased on the street in Harlem. 'First you have the audience Ñ who are dressed to kill Ñ and then you have the models on stage. But the thing is, we're all working it. The walk to our seats is our runway; we're just meetin' and greetin'.'

Held at the Oregon Convention Center, the annual event benefits the Portland chapter of Links Inc., a national service group. Proceeds go to scholarships and educational programs.

This is the 35th year that the national show has visited Portland to entertain what is primarily a black audience. The event attracted more than 500 well-dressed patrons, and the group had a goal of raising $30,000.

Ebony magazine has put on the show around the nation for 45 years, bringing it to Portland every other year in the early days.

Harold Williams, chairman of Portland's African American Chamber of Commerce, says the Ebony Fashion Fair show is much more than a parade of beautiful clothes.

'This show has always linked us to a world of imagination, hopes and dreams. Fashion lets us know that we can be a part of that world,' says Williams, dapper in a gold sport coat punctuated by a royal blue tie and matching pocket square. 'The colors of royalty,' he says smoothly.

Of course, half the fun in strutting one's stuff is in choosing a look. A cool Portland night allowed many of the guests one last chance to don luxurious fabrics and fur coats.

Sherra Neal and Janice Booker were doubly devastating in leather suits accentuated with beading and hourglass cuts. Leather toques completed the head-to-toe look. The women admit to a strategy behind their bombshell delivery.

'We start planning about a week before,' Neal says. 'We were glad it was cold tonight so we could wear leather.'

Once the official show began, the models kept the evening's energy up with a sexy, humorous presentation that was as much about entertainment as it was fashion.

Unlike traditional designer shows, where the audience sometimes deigns to coolly applaud a favorite piece, Ebony models engage the audience with an enthusiasm that borders on high camp.

Waving, winking and lapel-snapping are par for the couture-studded course, one that includes equally theatrical designers such as Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood and Bob Mackie.

Veteran guest Vickie Naylor says the electricity generated at the show keeps her coming back for more.

'These models have a different approach,' she says. 'They strut.'

Inspired by the audience, no doubt.

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