Caesy Oney Wants Portland to Dress More Like Portland
Caesy Oney is trying to change the conversation around Portland’s fashion industry.
As the home of athleisure titans like Nike, Adidas and Under Armor, Portland is often thought of in the apparel world as the Silicon Valley of tactical fleece and astronaut jogging pant innovation.
But with Last Heavy, the new line he created with Los Angeles designer Thed Jewel and creative agency Kamp Grizzly, the 33-year-old designer rejects the sparkling Space Age textiles of the big athletic brands, aiming for an aesthetic more closely related to the city’s long-standing vintage scene.
“Ours is one of the few companies of its kind based here that doesn’t have anything to do with athletics,” he says. “We made this line considering the Portland palette and style.”
Last Heavy is currently sending its inaugural Autumn-Winter 2018 line to the market. The lookbook resembles a disposable camera roll of skate rats from some small rural Oregon town: tropical “sexy shirts,” trucker jackets, heavy wool long-sleeves, roomy hoodies, art-kid graphic tees. While the clothes are likely to be snatched up by Parliament-smoking punk kids, it’s not hard to imagine many of the pieces being worn by the more fashion-conservative—”like my Montana family,” says Oney, a native of Whitefish.
In his Industrial Southeast studio, a VHS of The Fifth Element plays on an enormous new flat-screen TV. On the stereo, Chance the Rapper bumps loud enough to make conversation difficult, while Oney chain smokes cigarettes into a glass of white wine.
A primarily self-taught maker who used to sew prototype sneakers for Converse, Oney describes the Last Heavy as a “unisex uniform,” like something you’d find on a factory floor. His first official voyage into apparel came with Draught Dry Goods, a collection he launched after graduating from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2008. Once his full-time gig, the work of designing, marketing and sewing almost every piece himself eventually caught up with him, and the project is now more of a side hustle.
Draught Dry Goods is more obviously high fashion than Last Heavy, and it quickly garnered a cult following. The most recent Draught Dry Goods line pays respect to sex workers—it was inspired by Oney’s two years working at Fantasy Adult Video. The line includes a backpack that looks vaguely like a sex dungeon mask and a clear, plasticine wallet that could hold a healthy stack of a dancer’s end-of-night singles. A recent lookbook he published celebrated legendary Portland stripper Viva Las Vegas, who was celebrating her 20th anniversary dancing at Mary’s Club.
“It just aligns with my politics,” he says. “You need to support sex workers. It’s a pretty shit-on group of people.”
Last Heavy tones down the overt sexuality, but like Draught Dry Goods, it fits into an increasingly non-gendered apparel landscape. In Portland, especially, the kids aren’t clamoring to announce their gender through their business suits or pencil skirts.
“I think these wide-legged chinos are going to be styled very femininely,” Oney says. “This one feels like a Western shirt, but works in New York. We sold the shit out of that in New York.”
Last Heavy will be available nationally at Barney’s New York and Ron Herman Los Angeles, and internationally in Japan and Paris. But Oney hopes the line will still feel rooted in Portland. Part of that is making clothes that can last long enough to earn their timeless appeal, the way Pacific Northwest companies like Filson, Pendleton and Settlemier’s have. Like the majority of those brands, Last Heavy is made entirely in the United States, where Oney and Jewel can achieve a higher level of quality by monitoring the manufacturing processes themselves.
“No one wants to spend $400 on a jacket and have it fall apart and go out of style,” he says. “I expect everything in this collection to be worn for years and years.”