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Left: Portland fashion designer Janelle Arnold. Center and Right: Design from Janelle Arnold's Vector Angles collection (2020). (Photos courtesy of Janelle Arnold)
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 28 July 2022

Local fashionistas would be well advised to keep the Dorotheaa label on their radars.

The brand of colorful, kinetic women’s wear was launched by The Skanner Foundation’s 2016 scholarship recipient, Janelle Arnold, who is currently preparing new pieces for two West Coast runways: Portland Fashion Week and San Diego Fashion Week.

“I’d say overall my design aesthetic is very bold and bright and colorful,” Arnold told The Skanner. “I do love working with colors, making things that are very vibrant and stand out; I think it brings joy and happiness to people when they wear them. That’s something that’s always very important to me – I want the people I’m designing for to fall in love with the pieces I create.”

Arnold is newly graduated from Marist College in New York, where she learned the fine art of “taking a design from a concept to a finished garment,” and where she made use of top-of-the-line makers lab equipment like laser cutters to make her Controlled Explosion collection a reality.

“One of my inspirations was fireworks.

"Because I do love color and so I thought of how fireworks explode in the night sky, and that was tied into the laser cutting as well,” Arnold said. “Having those shapes, the cutouts resemble floral fireworks, that explosion that was also controlled because it was laser-cut, so it was still very precise in cutting out the fabric.”

Diversity by Design

The COVID pandemic cut Arnold’s senior year in New York short, so she returned to Portland to finish her year remotely. But as her Dorotheaa brand demonstrates, Arnold’s inspiration often comes from home.

“It’s a name that is meaningful to me because it’s one of my middle names and it’s a name that’s been passed down through the different generations of women on both my father and mom’s sides,” Arnold said. “My paternal grandmother was from Mobile, Ala. and her first name was Dorothea,” Arnold said, “and my mother has the middle name of Dorothea, and her grandmother did too, which is why I was given the same middle name. It definitely represents a lot of the people in my life and the women who have impacted me throughout the years.”

Arnold recalls sketching outfit designs while in grade school, and her mother teaching her how to sew by hand at an early age. During her junior year at Grant High, Arnold created a space for herself and other students interested in the fashion industry.

“I started a fashion club for myself and for other people that had that interest, so that we could come together,” she said. “And I did a lot of networking and reaching out to local people in the industry, like makeup artists and stylists, local designers, asking them to come in and talk to us. It was a chance for people to learn about different facets of the industry if they had that passion.”

Arnold became adept at finding ways to express and grow her creativity. But she acknowledges that though the fashion industry is finally – if slowly – coming to embrace diversity, it is not a field where Black designers are well represented. Labor statistics show that less than 8 percent of fashion designers are Black.

“In my graduating class, there were only three of us,” Arnold said.

janelle arnold bluedressDesign from Janelle Arnold's Controlled Explosion collection (2020). (Photo courtesy of Janelle Arnold)“There wasn’t a whole lot (of representation) even in our faculty. I do want to always keep an eye on those who are people of color and follow along and support them.”

She has been inspired by the vibrant hues and often theatrical work of Black designer Christopher John Rogers, who created the outfit Vice President Kamala Harris wore on Inauguration Day; the bold, often more casual looks of fellow Marist alum Marissa Wilson; and designer Christian Seriano’s groundbreaking approach.

“I’ve always loved how in the beginning he was one of the rare designers that was dressing even plus-size celebrities, models,” Arnold said. “It didn’t matter to him what size you were, you’d look stunning on the red carpet.”

Arnold’s work shows a similar passion for diversity in size and model.

“Diversity and inclusion have always been very important to me, so with the Portland show I’m very excited to be doing a size-inclusive collection,” Arnold said.

“I’m excited to be able to work with women who have different body types, showing that potentially everyone who wants to can have an interest in fashion.

"We should, as designers, think in that same way, and not just design for a limited size range but be more inclusive.

"It’s always been something I’ve been passionate about, having more representation and showing that through my brand and just having it be a part of my core brand values.”

Prepping for the Runway

Arnold’s design portfolio demonstrates a range of inspiration, from African queens to the Bauhaus architectural style to the Pacific Northwest.

“Oftentimes I’m very inspired by nature and I think growing up in this area has had some influence on that,” Arnold said. “Even in just my textile designs, oftentimes I do more natural and floral-inspired looks of things, and also I personally love the natural colors that grow within the flowers, and I love having those colors transfer over into my designs.”

In preparing for her upcoming shows, Arnold is busy creating 20 unique pieces for the runway.

“They are both entirely new collections,” she said. “Since it is my first debut collection at a fashion show and fashion week, I want the Portland collection essentially to just be a celebration of what the brand represents of diversity and inclusion, and also just bringing in my brand essence, which is just very colorful and vibrant and fun overall.”

She added, “I’m very much a summery designer, I would say.

"I do a lot of summery dresses and things that are very flowy and have a lot of movement as well.”

To see Arnold’s work, visit www.dorotheaa.com. Portland Fashion Week will be held Aug. 16 to 22. For more information, visit www.portlandfashionweek.net.

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