It was a very busy week, thanks to two nights of the semiannual Fade To Light Fashion Show and the final Art Institute Fashion show*. (The Art Institute of Portland is closing its doors at the end of this term, following recent accreditation concerns and a multi-state lawsuit against its original owner, a for-profit education company.) With all these shows, the week felt as close to a fashion week as Portland gets—and at the Art Institute’s final fashion show, I found myself in a whirlwind of creativity and emotions. So buckle up, because we have a lot of designers and designs to cover!

First up were the graduating students from Portland Fashion Institute, whose designs lacked a sense of vision. Usually with new designers, the problem is having too many ideas, which translates into over-designed products—but I was seeing the opposite here. There were craftsmanship issues, poor fabric choices, and no clear voice. These young designers did not answer the most important question: Why should I buy into your brand? Young designers should be encouraged to have their own voice in order to create a brand that really stands out.

Next up was Linea, who projected a cool Icelandic rock climbing vibe conveyed with color blocking, colorful prints, and rope belts with carabiner fasteners. I loved the loose-fitting jackets and the quilted patchwork dress. Though there were a few designs that slightly deviated from the rest of the collection, I was happy to see thoughtful styling and a variety of designs; Linea left me wanting more.

Jeff Wong

From construction to design, the line from Carolyn Hart was the most elevated collection of the night. The highs were the metallic silver form-fitted dress and the t-shirt dress with heart cutout. If I was to nit-pick anything, there were a couple of looks—like the striped tank dress—that could’ve benefitted from another layer.

The Portland Fashion Institute Collection featured a collaboration of two veteran designers: Sharon Blair and Jo Carter. This marriage brought out the best in each designer, spotlighting Blair’s sharp eye for tailoring and Carter’s knack for styling. The collection started out strong with two matching, satin-printed trench coats that unveiled coordinating swimsuits underneath. There were so many great pieces, like satin jumpsuits and the bell-cuffed hoodie paired with satin sailor pants. There was a little wobble in cohesion, which is to be expected when two designers come together for the first time, such as a denim jacket paired with a tulle skirt that I could have done without.

I enjoyed every look from Sara Bergman because they all gave me something different without compromising continuity. Seeing the white tulle tunic dress was one of my favorite moments of the night, and I got so many inquiries after posting it on my Instagram story.

There is some great draping in Ale O’s collection—but all in all, I didn’t see any flattering silhouettes. The proportion of the garments made the models look bigger.

There was a clear theme of female empowerment with Holy Voids’ large knitted breast warmers and deconstructed dresses that seemed to be protecting the body underneath. In some places, the looks felt a little overdesigned, which can start to read like a costume. But I loved the built-up creative angst and definitely lusted after pieces like the oversized puffer coat that took up the entire runway.

Next up was Sarah Bibb for Folly, who you can always count on for color and corky texture combinations. This collection was fun and lighthearted, and I especially liked the large button details and use of velour to break up textures.

Jeff Wong

I was anxiously anticipating the collection from One Imaginary Girl, and designer Sarah Donofrio did not disappoint. Donofrio loves to pair print on print, and I loved her short suit with a “WHAT IF” print in red, white, and blue, and the dress covered with her own fashion illustrations.

As the final fashion show for the Art Institute of Portland, what a way to go out. One segment was titled Statements, where students were challenged to create a look based on a political movement. As an Art Institute alumnus, I can tell you this would have never happened when I was enrolled—but we could all feel fashion directors Sue Bonde and Melanie Risners’ fuck-it attitude. It was tastefully done and I felt myself getting emotional with looks such as the white jumpsuit with a picture of Eric Garner and the words “I can’t breathe” written several times on the back. When it came time for the senior collections, I was in awe. Yes, some collections were stronger than others, but each had cohesion and clear vision. With tearful speeches and lots of hugs, it was the perfect note to end on.

This week inspired real appreciation for our design community, and I was reminded to not take things for granted—because you never know how long you’ll have them.

*Full disclosure: Both shows are produced by Mercury style columnist Elizabeth Mollo.