Fashion Week (above) returns to the Telluride Conference Center Feb. 17-19. (Image courtesy of Telluride AIDS Benefit/Facebook)

The pandemic pushed back the Telluride AIDS Benefit’s iconic Gala Fashion Show last year not only to another time, but another place.

Covid-19 forced the creative talent behind one of — if not the — most popular events of winter to push to the limit to the make the show happen. The results were sky-high, literally: the show was held at the Telluride Regional Airport, model runway hard by literal runway.

“It was an outrageous success,” TAB’s Executive Director Jessica Galbo, recalled.

The “only fashion show of its kind in the world,” and the highest in North America (TEX’s altitude is 9,078 feet), “It was a huge challenge” to pull off.

“We loved it,” Galbo said.

Indeed, the forces behind TAB relish huge challenges. And fast as you can say, “omicron variant,” here comes another: rising Covid cases have forced some changes to TAB’s fundraiser, set for Feb. 17-19 in its usual season (winter) and locale (the Telluride Conference Center).

“There’ll be limited attendance this year,” Galbo said. “We usually have 500” in the audience. “This time, there’ll be about 300.” The size of the audience is about the only thing smaller than usual — the word certainly doesn’t apply to the ambition and enthusiasm that are hallmarks of TAB’s signature event. Auditions for its fashion show, for example, were held at the Palm Theatre last weekend. 

“We had high turnouts — as high as we’ve ever had,” Galbo said. “We had to make some tough decisions. There were twice as many people for the number of spots we have available.”

Just like at last year’s benefit (which was only about six months ago), the seating at this year’s fete will be in pods.

“People like that concept,” Galbo said. Pods allow for “a much more patron-centered experience.” For those who elect VIP service, “drinks will be brought to your table,” as well as a pre-selected assortment of snacks and appetizers, if you choose. “You don’t really even have to get up.”

The artistic director of the show is Molly Wickwire-Sante; choreographer (and assistant director) Diina Tamm is due to arrive in Telluride from her base in New York City this weekend.

“Diina’s first experience in Telluride was modeling for the Fashion Show,” Galbo said. “I know she and Molly are up for the challenge. I’m sure we’ll face challenges,” she added. “We’ll have the same number of models as before. Everyone has to be vaccinated. We’re being as safe as we can. If we keep the same number of models, hopefully they can cover for each other” if someone tests positive. “I’m sure we’ll face staffing challenges, just like everybody else.”

The mechanics of the show will present other challenges. The runway, for example, is an innovation: it’s in the shape of an X. “It’s completely different and very exciting,” Galbo said. “The first time in 29 years that the runway has had a different shape.”

Anticipation for fashion week is sky-high, as well: About 75 percent of the tickets for the Saturday show sold out almost as soon as they went on sale.

“I want to express my gratitude to the community for pulling together to help those less fortunate,” Galbo said. “It’s really hard for everybody right now — no matter your location or your economic level. At the same time, we have to self-celebrate,” she added. “We have to learn to live with this virus as safely as we can, but we also have to live. Our vulnerable population is slammed with two pandemics,” Covid and HIV, “and in some cases HIV testing is down 80 percent” as a result of the pandemic. “So we really can’t take our feet off the gas right now,” Galbo summed up, “and that’s not my style.”

To learn more about TAB’s beneficiaries, and to purchase tickets for Fashion Week shows, visit