Recap: The 20th Anniversary of Portland Fashion Week Wows Once Again

This weekend, I took a drive south to Portland. I love traveling there and it is so similar to our own city in many ways; I view it as Seattle’s beloved fraternal twin. The highlight of this particular visit was sitting front row at a couture and bridal fashion show on Saturday, August 22nd—the penultimate evening of Portland Fashion Week’s 20th Anniversary, which ran from August 18-23.

Although this year’s show carried its long tradition of being the world’s most environmentally sustainable fashion show, there were some changes—notably, the usual indoor event was changed to an outdoor affair to allow for a more COVID-safe experience; and the event was moved up to August, instead of the usual late October, so the outdoor guests, models, and staff would not be freezing in the cold autumn winds. I went to the bar and saw a selection of kombucha and kombucha-infused cocktails. This is so Portland, I thought to myself with a smile.

I’ve been to many fashion shows in my life, and this was one of the longest at around two-and-a-half hours with no intermission. That didn’t bother me as it was a constant stream of entertainment. Also refreshing was the spectrum of models represented in terms of age, ethnicity, skin tone, and neurodivergence. Gender too: there were plenty of male-identified models strutting their stuff in dresses throughout the evening, subverting the idea of what it means to be a bride and challenging other gender norms across the board. And then body size: models whose svelte silhouettes resembled Kate Moss, and then others with lovely curves à-la Ashley Graham and everything in between. The fashion world is indeed changing and becoming more inclusive; more expansive on its idea of beauty. Portland seems to be ahead of other places on this front. But of course, there were also those things you expect to see on the runway—like cheekbones that can cut glass. The models were giving us all they had, and the audience recognized it. Comments like “Gorgeous!” “You betta pose!” “Mama you look GOOD!” and of course, “Yaaaaas” were heard over the beat of the DJ (who also surprised us by modeling a look on the runway later in the show).

The clothing was as diverse as the models. From patent leather to tulle to feathers, it seemed no material was off limits. Several pieces were quite breathtaking, like one that was inspired by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It instantly reminded me of the Vera Wang gown worn by Ariana Grande at the 2018 MET Gala. There were many others that stood out—far too many to name. The designers were likewise talented and exceptionally creative.Despite some hiccups during the night—a last minute venue change across town, and some seating and placement confusion before the show began—the show was a great success. The recently crowned Mrs. Oregon, Merryn Roberts-Huntley, gave an inspiring speech. Roberts-Huntley also discussed the charity she promotes as part of her advocacy, Dress for Success Oregon, which helps women obtain professional attire and career development. These remarks reminded us that fashion isn’t just for fun or artistic expression—it also can be life-changing.