ONE OF MY FAVORITE cappers to the spring season is the Art Institute of Portland's annual fashion show. Graduating seniors in the fashion department carry the weight of responsibility for an event that is the school's largest source of fundraising for the Creative Arts Scholarship Fund, available to prospective students in any department. Every year (this is the 14th) it's the fashion students who make it happen, heroes that they are, not only by attracting audiences with their design acumen but in executing every aspect of the approximately 40 thousand moving parts that go into making an event of this grandiosity and scale happen, including students from the Fashion Design, Fashion Accessory, and Fashion Marketing programs.
Well, they don't do it entirely alone. Each edition pairs the fashion department with another branch of the school for a collaboration that births the yearly theme (recall the amazing fruit-basket couture spawned from teaming up with the culinary wing, or last year's graphic "fit to print" theme). This time around, the pairing is with the school's interior design department (birds of a feather), who conjured the theme "Dressing Rooms." Each show begins with a showcase designed around the year's theme, and for this one, outfits and interiors were created using inspiration from "presumptions about Portland's neighborhoods." There's "Irvington," featuring a circular print that echoes the neighborhood's many roundabouts along with a pair of rubber gloves and a Stark vacuum cleaner (wealthy neighbors who hire maids, perhaps?). "Pill Hill" takes on Oregon Health and Science University and its surrounding medical professional-dominated environs. "City Center" includes a spiral of street signs mirrored in the whirling bodice of a dress, and a Sellwood-themed piece riffs on antiquing.
This of course is a pre-show to the main event, the unveiling of the design students' senior collections. Many of these talents will go on to work immediately at one of the major sports brands in the area, and a fraction of those will keep enough free time to release their own designs on the side (witness Joshua Buck, who first wowed the design community with his experimental graduate collection of menswear and still produces seasonal collections even as he punches a clock at Nike). Others will move away to larger capitals to pursue a traditional design-career trajectory paying their dues as designers under established brands. But some of them—the ones I'm most interested in—will stay here and join the ranks of the independent designers who have created their own industry. These are the designers whose clothes we will buy when we buy local, and whose aesthetic will help set the tone of Portland's character. Here's where we'll make the introduction. Dressing Rooms, Saturday June 2, Pure Space, 1315 NW Overton, silent auction 6 pm, show 8 pm, $20