Tomorrow night, Toronto’s first official Fashion’s Night Out will celebrate local retailers with after-dark shopping parties across the city. Here’s how it came together, what it’s all about and where you should go.
A sartorial institution-slash-street party cometh to a store near you—and it only took four years to get here. If you’re a devoted fashionphile—or at least a reader of September’s Vogue—you’ve probably heard of a little organized religion called Fashion’s Night Out (or, in style-speak, FNO). At long last, a small cross-section of Toronto retailers have banded together for the 416’s first edition, and it all goes down tomorrow night.
Conceived in 2009 as a response to the Wall Street-gone-global economic crisis that had shoppers anxious about splurging on $80 Alexander Wang t-shirts, FNO was spearheaded by none other than high fashion pontiff Anna Wintour (and her aforementioned mag) and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). The idea was to get style-interested citizens onto the streets alongside editors, celebrities, and industry-types in support of homegrown designers and the shops that house them. Tomorrow, shops from Yorkville to West Queen West and beyond will stay open from 6–11 p.m., with cocktails and cupcakes and tons of attractions and giveaways aimed at getting you to spend.
Toronto’s FNO came to fruition in mere months this past summer, resulting in a civic scramble to turn ambition into reality. “The City was contacted by a couple of retailers who were interested in participating. They had registered to be included as part of the U.S. event, and New York suggested they reach out to us to have Toronto registered as an official edition,” says Laurie Belzak, who works with fashion and design industries in the City’s economic development division. The next step was establishing a committee that would not only represent the initiative, but also help rally participating retailers and develop and promote programs around the city on the night-of. Ultimately, the committee was composed of the Toronto Fashion Incubator, a hub and advocate for budding local designers, and The Peacock Parade, an online flash-sales site that offers designer goods and was the first to bring Canadian designers like JUMA to the market straight off the runway.
As the kick-off to New York Fashion Week, FNO 2009 was the fan-centric antithesis to the RSVP/VIP-heavy spectacle that sets off the so-called “fashion month” around the world. (Toronto’s fashion week is in October, remember.) The event spanned Manhattan and included celebrity meet-and-greets, bars tended by the Olsen twins, supermodels doing their best Kim Cattrall in Mannequin, and Wintour out of the office, off the runway, and within earshot. It was the ultimate lubricant for N.Y.C.’s parched retail terrain: Even with scarce cash to burn, style-hungry revelers packed the streets to take advantage of the one-night-only magic. Others from around North America made the pilgrimage too. By the following year, FNO had expanded to include 15 more cities, including Paris, London and Berlin. This year, 18 countries are involved.
Another one of Toronto’s founding FNO committee members and retailers was RAC, the Yorkville boutique that set out to “curate a roster of international, emerging, and undiscovered designers” and bring home items that were previously unreachable. “We love Toronto, and we’re in fashion, so we couldn’t understand why there wasn’t such a big presence considering [FNO] is such a global event,” says Faith Orfus, who runs the store with business partner Glenna Weddle. The pair hosted a successful weekend-long “Bazaar” last April in a King West loft space that included several vendors and a big public opening-night party. “We wanted to do another one with more vendors, and we imagined it would be a stronger way to get FNO into the city.”
RAC’s Bazaar is, indeed, back for a fall edition, featuring over a dozen independent retailers like LAB Consignment, 69 Vintage, Robber, Gotstyle, and Magic Pony. The three-day event originally started out as one of the few official Canadian participants on the FNO international schedule and became a catalyst for the T.O. instalment. “It took on a life of its own from there, and we were advised on how to become a committee to support the program,” says Orfus. “Our job was to liaison between retailers and help answer questions. We also sent out some courtesy emails and made calls to spread the word in such a short time.”
It’s not just the Bazaar that has the big pull—malls like Yorkdale and Eaton Centre have signed on to take part in the festivities. Holt Renfrew’s flagship Bloor Street location will also host a “Hot in the City” street party as part of their 175th anniversary celebrations, with a public film premiere on the store’s façade, special animation technology splashed across the windows, and DJ Brendan Fallis spinning outside. But, really, any retailer, big or small, can join in on the fun—for a $250 fee. (All the registration happens through FNO New York, where, from what I can tell, retailers don’t pay to play.) You get a listing on the website, and ta-da, you’re part of the big Night Out too. There’s also official FNO merch for sale around town, with a portion of the proceeds going to the New York City AIDS Fund at the NY Community Trust. (There’s a hope a Canadian foundation will be involved next year).
Will the Toronto edition be a smash success like its global counterparts? I sure hope so. Canada’s fashion scene has always been—for lack of a better word—“niche.” We don’t have the volume or the market share for many of our independent designers to viably produce a bulk of their own collections shown on the runway. In turn, those designers don’t have the pull to draw major names or attractions into their stores, a reason FNO NY became so massive and alluring. Most Canadian designers don’t even have stores. Of course, bigger brands and shopping centres will make a buck 10 times over. The Mink Mile will too. Still, our dearly beloved Joe Fresh is Manhattan-bound, where design honcho Joe Mimran will team with the iconic Ralph Pucci for a special retrospective. I just don’t see that happening here. (In fact, Joe Fresh fails to even make an appearance on the Toronto schedule for FNO.)
However, without the mega-stars (design or otherwise), our FNO actually has a better chance to focus unequivocally on the event’s raison d’être: the city and its retailers. It’s promising that the traction, especially over social media, is undeniable. And if people care so much about something like this, hopefully we’ll invest more in our own designers and industry. Hopefully, said designers will create their own membership-based organization like the American CFDA, an original co-founder of FNO. Hopefully, the new owners of Toronto fashion week will handle said designers with care. And hopefully, the public will keep caring after tomorrow night. “Toronto is an international city, and it just shows that people really want it here,” says Orfus, whose excitement, dedication and optimism is infectious. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of tweets, and people are happy with the idea.”
No doubt, the event will return next year, and there will still be room for growth. At the very least, Toronto’s first FNO will be one big party. And, well, you know how I feel about parties.
Click here for a rundown of Fashion’s Night Out highlights
Fashion’s Night Out happens citywide on Thursday (Sept. 6) from 6–11 p.m. For a complete list of participating retailers and programming, click here. Official Fashion’s Night Out merchandise will be available at The Bazaar by Rac, Toronto Fashion Incubator, The Peacock Parade, eLUXE and Toronto Eaton Centre.