Leana Leo Amy Rollo

IT'S THAT TIME again: graduation season! Hot on the heels of Portland Sewing's own graduate showcase comes the Art Institute fashion program's annual graduate show, the school's largest fundraising event of the calendar year. For each show, fashion students partner with one of the school's other fields of study to collaborate on what has become one of the most exciting and exuberant shows in city.

This year the school's animation department has stepped up to launch 2013's iteration, Drawing the Line. A traditional runway show featuring graduates' senior collections will be augmented by animated fashion installations, and—as always—the main event will be preceded by a silent auction (the best kind of auction).

In many cases, this might be the only opportunity—at least for a while—to see the solo endeavors of these students, many of whom go on to design for the large local sporting wear/performance companies, while others choose to move on from Portland altogether. However, what's arguably most exciting about these large (and with over 20 designers, I do mean large) shows is getting a glimpse of the names and capabilities of those who will choose to remain in Portland and contribute to the vibrant independent design scene (and who's to say you can't both work for a sportswear giant and create your own line? Art Institute alum Joshua Buck does).

In looking at the sample of work to be presented (pictured here), I'm reminded of an observation I've been making over the past year about local apparel in general. Small things, most notably lingerie and swimwear, seem to be gaining in popularity as a mode of focus for small production designers. Sue Bonde, who heads the school's fashion program, says, "It's a manageable line of expense for a startup because it's such small yardage. But it's technically very difficult, since there's such little room for error." Adjunct professor and co-producer of the annual show Eden Dawn concurs. "I do think it's a response to people wanting to make things here, but the cost is so dang high, so all this stuff, like Reif's turbans, SeaEcho's bags, Aniela Parys' lingerie and swimwear, is a way to try and still be able to be successful designers in a city that doesn't have much money."

In addition to the possibility of more-than-usual skin on the runway, this year marks the reintroduction of an old tradition in the form of a "best in show" award determined by industry insiders like Portlandia stylist Amanda Needham, designers Holly Stalder and Sarah Vale Rapp-Nickel, and senior menswear buyer for Mario's Simon Chan (the winner will receive sewing supplies to further their career). Nonetheless, only time will tell which of these exciting new talents will be the real "win" for the city.

Drawing the Line at Pure Space, 1315 NW Overton, Sat June 1, 6 pm silent auction, 8 pm runway show, $20, all ages