By  on November 20, 2007

Lisa Pierpont's annual women-only party in her Victorian near downtown Boston is billed as a potluck. But the night is more about styling than baking.

"Who's that by?" and "where did you score that?'' are often the conversation openers as guests bond over Chardonnay.

Fashion has come out of the closet in Boston, the city that defined preppiness and New England pragmatism (read: flannels from L.L. Bean and bargains from Filene's basement) rather than Miu Miu platforms.

"In the past five years that Yankee repression has thawed," said Pierpont, a former ABC affiliate television producer in Boston who launched the Web site last year to profile the city's creative class.

"Fashion has been traditionally viewed as anti-intellectual, shallow and self-indulgent," Pierpont said. "Now it's seen as a respectable and interesting form of art."

The city has loosened up because of its young population, a concentration of universities that cultivates an entrepreneurial culture and burgeoning industries such as biotech that recruit stylish out-of-towners.

There are also shifts in the social landscape — a hipster contemporary art scene and younger, more aggressively fashionable women stepping out in Christian Louboutin heels and onto prominent cultural and charitable boards. The colorful plumage of Roberto Cavalli or Etro is now spotted in restaurants, along with Chloé and Balenciaga at charity luncheons and avant-garde pieces from Comme des Garçons or Martin Margiela at artsy parties.

Luxury store openings are rolling ahead and several major new mixed-used developments with substantial retail may help transform the city's South End, historically a blue-collar enclave.

About 120,000 people viewed re-creations of Parisian couture runways that Museum of Fine Arts, Boston curator Pamela Parmal staged last year. And more than 100 people paid $1,000 each in 2006 to join the MFA's Fashion Council, a group that will travel to New York this winter to tour designers' studios.

"We tried to launch a similar fashion group in the Eighties and it just didn't fly," Parmal said. Now, however, "there is a growing interest in — and willingness to spend on — fashion."

Several fashion publications have launched to chronicle the scene. Charity balls have taken to restaging New York runway shows for an evening's entertainment. And in September, organizers resuscitated Boston Fashion Week, although there seemed to be as many panel discussions about fashion as designers attempting to show it.

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