Who run the world? From the Toronto Fashion Week press conference to the Interior Design Show opening-night party to Sheroes ’Erykah Badu tribute at The Beaver, the girl power was in full effect this past weekend in Toronto.
At about 6:30 p.m. last Wednesday night, Toronto’s style-someones (and then some) descended upon the Royal Conservatory to hear a proclaimation from Robin Kay, the Fashion Design Council of Canada president, announcing the new title sponsor of Toronto Fashion Week—or make that World MasterCard Fashion Week. Whether some “insiders” like it or not, Kay has negotiated and masterminded the country’s headlining fashion week out of a room at the Windsor Arms Hotel and into real “tents” on King Street West. She’s had her own public trials and tribulations, yes, but she’s never quite lost her power, if not her influence.
No matter how imperfect some—myself included—may still find our bi-annual fashion parade, you can’t deny Ms. Kay a hat tip. Opinions aside, after all these years, she was still holding court, and subjects were still so willing to be there; the free champagne serving as a mere chaser for this dose of reality to those love-to-hate-her types lurking in the crowd. Yes, yes, everyone was there, including a young boy I don’t know in sequined harem pants and chunky-platform-y heels. There were opinions on that, too, but screw gender norms, right? Maybe in this town, the boy thought, heels equal power. In the popular imagination, maybe that’s true and, if this past weekend served as an indicator, it’s easy enough to get that impression—except that it takes a lot more than just a pair of heels to realize how women are running this town.
And so, on Thursday night, at “The Party” for the Interior Design Show’s opening night, another kingdom was celebrating its monarchy. While kicking off the first big international attention-grabbing Toronto spectacle of the year, there was a presence about House & Home magazine’s Suzanne Dimma, an unspoken, potent energy in the space that floated around her. As the editor-in-chief of Canada’s top home-and-design title, everyone wants to talk to Dimma: Interview here, quote there, click, flash, stop, turn, look, smile, wave, strut, air kiss, hug, laugh, acknowledge, encourage, promote.
If you’d call Kay the queen of Toronto fashion, Dimma is most certainly among her contemporaries. Three lives ago, I interned at a magazine where Dimma was an editor—during which time I also crushed on her HGTV show The Style Dept. It’s not hard to be left in awe of her cunning, the command over not only her pages in the magazine, but also over the industry and the contacts that fill her Rolodex, many of whom look to her for intuitive design cues. In four years, I’ve applauded her continual, and deserved, rise as an authority in her field, standing alongside the other ladies-in-charge running across the same Convention Centre carpets: acclaimed interior-decor wonder woman Sarah Richardson, architectural power player Dee Dee Taylor Hannah and Flare’s Lisa Tant—not to mention all the international talents whose names I don’t know, but were propped and styled all over the show floor. (Yet if one more person had mentioned designer Karim Rashid was going to DJ, I would have started an electrical fire. Someone please get DJ Vaneska on the line.)
Still, the IDS party may have only served as the epicentre to Thursday’s ripple effect of other women doing other great things. Down Front Street to the east, actor Arsinée Khanjian was leading an ensemble cast in another opening night, this time for the Canadian Stage-produced Cruel and Tender, a bleak commentary on the war on terror directed by Oscar-nominated Atom Egoyan in his return to theatre. Despite the nit-pickiness of the critics, Arsinée gave a commanding performance. To the west, in the Entertainment District, the big (and pricey) ticket was Ad Ball 2012, a Casino Royale-themed fundraiser thrown by the Ad Women of Toronto in support of their mentorship initiatives, including Connecther, a not-for-profit with the mission to “help women help themselves.”
But, by the stroke of 11 p.m., what really held my attention was Sheroes, a burgeoning monthly party conceived by local arbitrator of realness, reeraw (formally known as artist/writer Rea McNamara), held on the fourth Thursday of every month. I first quietly plugged the music/art/dance night last month when it was at its former home, Naco Gallery Café (RIP). For its first installment of 2012, and sixth overall, reeraw and co. moved the happening to The Beaver, the West Queen West bar known for its all-inclusive atmosphere and willingness to welcome everyone (and everything) from lovers of dark dance-goth scenes to other wildly-fun nights filled with wildly-fun queers.
So who exactly is reeraw’s “co.”? “Sheroes is definitely a community effort, and it’d be best to describe the folks involved in terms of the preset ‘streams’ of our Google+ Page,” she writes in an email. A sampling of team members include visual artist Tony Halmos, resident DJ/filmmaker NoLoves (Alvaro Girón), group GIF show curator/visual artist Lorna Mills and other wonderfully talented people—from local writers to stylists to advisors—that I couldn’t possibly all list here.
Each installment is centered on a legendary lady and the event’s finishing details build from there. Continual brainstorms—sometimes publicly, through the event’s Tumblr page—grow to include DJ sets, GIF art, installations, performances from local artists, poetry readings and more—all designed to pay homage to the lady of the month. Last Thursday, that lady was Erykah Badu. (Yes, you may bow down now.) Headliners for the night were local duo BizZarh—a pair of kinda-legal girls with a flow so smooth it sounds like how butter tastes, and appear to be just as sweet, with ridiculously-good hair to match. They paid tribute to the Analog Girl in a Digital World and plugged their mixtape The Cover-Up, which you must hear now. Sharing the bill was “chanteuse” Natalia Ivanovski and poet Safia Siad, along with a plethora of all this other work from other creatives designed to blend the senses.
The series began last July with Joni “First Lady of the Canyon” Mitchell. As reeraw explains, “Alvaro [who is also reeraw’s bandmate in T∆nG∆, one of her many other side-projects] had a monthly DJ gig at Naco, but was in NYC and asked me to fill-in. I was interested in taking the improvisational practice I do in the band—the best way to describe it is ‘plunderphonics homage’—into the context of a party-night/remix tribute, where it’d be fairly transparent to the audience what the sampled material was. It was probably by Shero number three [for Tina "Acid Queen" Turner] that I became a salonnière organizing a curated monthly art event series dedicated to the ‘League of Legendary Ladies.’” Since then, there have been parties dedicated to Yoko Ono, Madonna and Chaka Khan. Uh huh, sounds good, right?
If it’s not evident by now why I love this party—and why you should—or why I’ve said there’s not much like it, let me be clear: The Sheroes raison d’être, and the reason it succeeds, is that it’s cerebral while remaining fiercely emotional and devoutly connected to, as reeraw would put it, “herstory.” But don’t describe this as something “by women, for women”—it’s so much more than that. “From the start, it’s been an inclusive collaborative effort involving women and men,” reeraw says. “But the ideas are there for sure, in particular this playful exploration of the iconography and cultures of fandom surrounding our ever-expanding League.”
When Naco closed, I was curious to see what kind of space would welcome a party like this. Surely, it’s disheartening to think that a female-centric, badass jam like Sheroes wouldn’t be mounted just anywhere—but it’s true. “We were interested in moving the party from ‘DuWest’ to the more accessible Queen West,” reeraw says, “all the while maintaining the all-inclusive, queer-friendly environment we deem oh-so-necessary for a Sheroes event.”
Indeed, I live for the moments of intersections like these, and I’ll never tire of seeing causes align. But, on top of it, I’ve met very few female party promoters that aren’t public-relations reps. I know there’s an audience for this type of next-level programming; the fact that The Beaver was packed on a Thursday night is simply a reassurance. In the Village, DJ Craig Dominic hosts a similarly thematic (albeit a little more visceral) exploration of women in music known as Battle Pop, a monthly party at the infamous multi-level Barn nightclub that usually showcases two ladies in a musical showdown. In the past, he’s done Britney Spears vs. Lady Gaga (for Pride), and will host Madonna vs. Kylie this Friday. But can parties like Sheroes—with its messages about/homages to influential women with deeper meanings—exist on, say, College or even closer to the Entertainment District? Spaces like The Beaver can provide the opportunity, but why aren’t there enough of them? Let’s change that.
Until then, keep your eyes on the women that bring mere “parties” an inch closer to realness.
Sheroes #7: Etta James happens on Feb. 23. Join the Facebook Group to get in the know on performances and more. Go and salute another true legend that rests in peace. It’s free.