Image: Megan Udow

Friday night’s FUSE Fashion Show may have opened up with cheesy chatter reminiscent of a Miss America pageant, with hosts that sounded like Access Hollywood’s Nancy O’Dell and Mario Lopez (in reality model Daniel Nieh and a former Mrs. Oregon), but the evening soon gave way to the true star of the event, Portland’s emerging fashion relationship with China.

FUSE was, well, a fusion, of Chinese and Portland designers. Plans for the benefit show started back in April when nonprofit organization Portland Fashion Synergy sent a group of designers to the Chinese province of Henan for their fashion week.

While not a design capital like that of Beijing, Henan is a manufacturing hub and employs over 1 million workers. So, while Henan has the manufacturing muscle, Portland has the creativity to inspire a relationship that will surely benefit both halves. However, it’s not about outsourcing; instead PDX Fashion Synergy wants Portland to sustain itself as a design and manufacturing city, with support from Henan.

And now, back to the show.

It was a much bigger production than expected, complete with a red carpet, ballgowns and even an appearance by the mayor (yes, Sam Adams and I now have a picture together). Portland designs opened the show and were soon followed by an exhibition of Chinese looks. The difference in design ideals was apparent from the first girl who stepped onto China’s runway. I had hoped to be moved by the creative ideas of the far east and to have the urge to recreate my wardrobe the moment I arrived home, but instead it felt more like a rebirth of ’90s style with painted jeans, corsets, and velvety fabrics. These were the clothes I dreamed of having when I was 11 and stopped brooding over a mere month or two later. Occasionally a glimmer of American/European design peeked through, but these flashes of familiarity were sparse.

Though I was somewhat disappointed by the Chinese’s visions for the fashion future, the evening really didn’t end up being about the latest trends, and instead was a hopeful prayer for a more self-sufficient Portland design scene. This was made even more prominent by the teary-eyed finale that saw the faces of PDX Fashion Synergy take to the stage in gowns symbolic of the two cities, one inspired by peonies, and the other, you guessed it, roses.

So while the fashion, surprisingly, did not take center stage, the notion that Portland could rival major markets is hopefully not a fantasy. If Henan could be the muscle behind the creative magic, then we might just be on our way to taking the stage as a fashion force to reckon with.

Experience a piece of the design puzzle with a web exclusive slideshow from Portland Monthly reporter Megan Udow.