Four Native Oregonians Who've Made It Big on the Fashion Runway

They all have that rare mix of looks and moxie that translates into high fashion.

Edited by Jill Spitznass May 19, 2009 Published in the April 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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They sat next to you in Spanish class or ran on your daughter’s track team. They were tall and lanky—a little gawky, even. And there was something else about them that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. But Calvin Klein saw it, as did Zac Posen and Hugo Boss: a rare mix of looks and moxie that, whether they’re in front of a camera or strutting the catwalk, transforms those kids-next-door into forces of fashion. The four native Oregonians on the following pages have it, which explains why they spend so much time jet-setting around the world—Paris, Rome, New York—plying their enviable trade. We recently convinced them to make a stopover in Portland, and as the slideshow photos reveal, their futures are cleared for takeoff.

Andrea Willis

 AGE: 20
HEIGHT: 5’10”

HOW SHE GOT HER START: Willis, then almost 15 years old, was at a concert in Salem when Darren Dyck, owner of Portland’s Mode Models, spotted the leggy girl and gave her his card. (The clean-cut twist: The band was Delirious, a Christian rock group.) After a series of local test shots revealed big-league potential, Willis went to New York for “go-sees” with photographers and designers. Designer Zac Posen was an instant fan. 

STUMBLING BLOCK: Willis’s parents insisted she come home to finish high school before resuming her career.

BIG BREAK: After four months back in New York, she landed the Just Cavalli print campaign.

BEST THING ABOUT THE JOB: Being paid a lot to be beautiful. “I did a runway show for Calvin Klein and made $1,200 in 90 minutes,” says Willis. “I thought, Wow. That’s good money!”

THE PART THAT BITES: As in all workplaces, boss-employee relations can get personal. “I used to butt heads with one of my bookers who said my hips had to be an inch smaller if I wanted to work more,” Willis says. “But I’m sorry, I tried, and this is as small as they get.” 

IT IS A REAL JOB, DUDE: No, she’s not out partying every night. “You don’t want to be that girl who shows up late for a shoot and doesn’t look good; it’s not very professional.”

‘MODELS ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME’ QUOTE: “I’m trying to gain about five pounds right now. People hate it when I say that, but it’s true.” 

David Hughlett

AGE: 21
HOMETOWN: Gresham 
HEIGHT: 6’1”

HOW HE GOT HIS START: Hughlett’s mother convinced him to attend a casting call at Mode Models when he was 15. The CEO of the company, visiting from Calgary, Alberta, saw Hughlett and signed him as soon as he turned 16. Then just a sophomore at Sam Barlow High School, he did local work for the likes of Nike and Mario’s until he graduated and then modeled in Japan, where his dreamy blues proved an exotic plus.

BIG BREAK: When he was 18, Energie jeans booked Hughlett for an international advertising campaign shot in Rome. 

BEST THING ABOUT THE JOB: This one’s a toss-up. He says the traveling is great, but there’s also something to be said for having an extra edge with the ladies. “I don’t advertise what I do, but I’ll bust it out if I have to,” he says with mock gravity.

THE PART THAT BITES: Apparently female models aren’t the only ones who need to keep their guard up. “There are plenty of people who want to take advantage of you,” says Hughlett of the equal-opportunity threat. “You just have to be careful.”

IT IS A REAL JOB, DUDE: His sub-30-inch waist makes Hughlett popular with European designers such as Hugo Boss, for whom he does runway shows (“It’s fun—you just walk like a badass”), but Hughlett’s New York clients still prefer him with more meat on his bones.

‘MODELS ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME’ QUOTE: “Partying is one of the best things about modeling,” he says. “Who cares about the next day? That’s what makeup and coffee are for.” 

Kate Swain

AGE: 20
HOMETOWN: Clackamas
HEIGHT: 5’11”

HOW SHE GOT HER START: Most 16-year-old girls go to Clackamas Town Center for leggings and tops, but Swain instead scored a career there when she was scouted, as Willis was, by Darren Dyck. Rave reviews from New York agencies and photographers immediately thereafter inspired her to graduate from Clackamas High School a year early. At 17, Swain said ciao to family and friends and headed to Italy.

BIG BREAK: A Vera Wang show in Shanghai that was televised throughout China.

BEST THING ABOUT THE JOB: “I love traveling and meeting new people,” says Swain, though she admits to homesickness. “I was lonely at first, basically living out of a suitcase for months at a time, but I adapted.”

THE PART THAT BITES: The transient nature of the modeling world is tough. “You get close to people very quickly and then you leave,” says Swain. “I hate saying goodbye.”

IT IS A REAL JOB, DUDE: “The job can be really hard—it’s not like America’s Next Top Model,” says Swain. “You’re actually sharing a two-bedroom apartment with 10 other people. And no one drives you places. The agency gives you a map, an address and you’re on your own.”

‘MODELS ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME’ QUOTE: “Sure, men hit on me all the time, but I brush it off. It’s life—nothing new.”

Christa Kepshire

AGE: 31
HEIGHT: 5’11” 

HOW SHE GOT HER START: At 19, Kepshire and her identical twin, Laura, had already piqued the interest of several New York agents (who’d seen the girls at a Seattle casting call the year before) when a scout introduced himself at a local Sears. “We’d been waiting for the right moment,” says Kepshire. “So when we got the call that said, ‘They want you both in New York—now,’ we were ready. 

BIG BREAK: A national print campaign for Target.

BEST THING ABOUT THE JOB: She was happy to be going places—literally. “I loved the travel. It’s hard to top an Evian shoot in Switzerland,” says Kepshire, who’s now a physical therapist and models part-time.

THE PART THAT BITES: There’s no getting around it: Superficial beauty is the gist of the business, something Kepshire doesn’t miss at all. “Models are judged entirely on how they look, so the highs are really high and the lows are really low.” 

IT IS A REAL JOB, DUDE: The downside to working with someone who looks just like you? A lifetime of Doublemint jobs. “Laura and I learned quickly that we’d be typecast for ‘twin work’ if we didn’t split up. So I went to Paris and she went to Milan,” says Kepshire, whose sister still models internationally.

‘MODELS ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME’ QUOTE: “Clubs in New York would send a limo to the models’ apartment every night to pick us all up. It helped to have my sister there, if only so we could say to each other, ‘We really shouldn’t be here.’ It kept us grounded.”

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