If you thought Fashion Cares couldn’t get any scarier than poor Kelly Rowland singing to empty seats at last year’s ill-fated attempt, find a fabulous costume and get ready to masquerade for AIDS on Halloween weekend.
The return of past key players like Phillip Ing, Stephen Brown, Christopher Grimson and choreographer David Connolly — alongside the breath of fresh air that is New Zealand entrepreneur Michael King — doesn’t mean the return of Fashion Cares as we’ve known it.
Bypassing traditional springtime scheduling in favour of an atmospheric autumn night, the AIDS Committee of Toronto fundraiser is back from the dead, this time as Fashion sCares, providing Toronto with the opportunity to attend an haute couture masquerade ball the likes it has never seen on the homo high holiday.
“Expect a more intimate night,” says visionary Ing, the 20-year veteran artistic director who returns this year. “But we’ve restructured it. Halloween is a great time to have it, but it’s a very different time on the calendar. And we knew times had changed economically.
“After what happened last year,” he says, “we’d be challenged getting an audience of 5,000 again,” referring to the estimated number who attended Fashion Cares’ 20th anniversary in 2006.
Don’t expect the usual schlep from one vast area of the Metro Convention Centre to another. This year’s version returns to the roots of 1995’s “Pure Polyester: A Salute to Suburbia” or 1996’s “Future Perfect,” in that attendees are once again literally part of the extravaganza. Seating will be arranged around the stage, with visual treats in progress as gala patrons dine, with the fashion show itself exploding later around both gala and general admission attendees.
“People kept talking about how great Fashion Cares was back in the days when it was at Moss Park Armoury,” says Ing. “When people sat around the stage with friends, drinking and watching the show it was a very different feeling, and we’re going back to that.”
This is good news for the 2,500 costumed revellers expected — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is up for grabs that night seeing headliner Dame Shirley Bassey perform live in such an intimate setting. Bassey is usually one to sell out the likes of Britain’s Wembley Arena.
Ing says signing on the Monaco-based international living legend was “difficult but, amazingly, not difficult.”
“Dame Shirley — she likes to be referred to as only Dame Shirley — will appear with at 24-piece orchestra,” says Ing, who is breathing much easier now that the contract and details have all been worked out.
Contrary to popular belief, says Ing, Bassey’s rider is “simple and chic:” two bottles of Dom Pérignon Rosé Vintage. “Which we’re more than happy to provide. It’s that orchestra that’s complicated.”
In fact, never before in the history of the event have so many live musicians taken to the stage. “Here it is year 21 and everyone’s singing with a live band,” Ing laughs.
The “everyone” alludes to the roster of other talents slated for the night. Feeling almost like an unnecessary apology for last year’s failed version, the team has moved mountains to ensure the success of the night doesn’t ride solely on a one-course entertainment offering. Current “it girl” Katy Perry, who stole the summer of 2008 and drove evangelical Christians berserk with her addictive single “I Kissed a Girl,” is taking to the stage, while Kreesha Turner, predicted by industry insiders to be Canada’s next Nelly-esque export, will perform her hits “Bounce” and “Don’t Call Me Baby.” Toronto-born David Furnish, partner of Elton John, will host the night.
Dress to impress (local costume rental boutiques such as Malabar are offering a Fashion sCares discount), as 12 attendees deemed “best dressed” (no pressure at a fashion event!) will be given the chance to strut their stuff down the runway before judges like Jeanne Beker and Suzanne Boyd while Fritz Helder and The Phantoms, the Canadian electro-pop group famous for its over-the-top on-stage shenanigans, perform.
“It’s a costume contest,” says Ing. “An homage to Paris Is Burning. We’ll literally pull our dozen ‘best dress’ choices when they come through the doors…. Fritz and our 12 attendees will then become their own scene, the first one of the show.”
Ing expects a riot of costume offerings from everyone; even the talent and volunteers are being styled.
It’s a pastiche of burning Paris, haute Hitchcock, community imagination and a group desire to revive a community institution at a time when government funding for AIDS service organizations like ACT have been cut.
“It’s sort of great how the fashion community and everyone who used to be involved have returned. So many people who left are happy to be back. I don’t know anyone who had to think about it when we called,” says Ing.
“The cause has morphed, it’s changed, but I think for Toronto it’s been special to come together and fight HIV/AIDS, there’s something very grassroots about Fashion Cares every year. We bring the gut to it; Fashion sCares will reflect that.”
$500 gala, $125 general admission.
Sat, Nov 1.
Metro Convention Centre.
222 Bremner Blvd, south building.