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Pricey Peep show

Fashion Cares gets exclusive

PEEP. Fashion Cares is going upscale with a burlesque-themed event in the Distillery District on Sat, May 12.

Fashion Cares is launching into its third decade with a whole lot of changes: a new high-profile executive producer, a new venue and ticket prices that are higher than ever before.

The annual fundraising event for the AIDS Committee Of Toronto — the burlesque-themed Peep edition takes place Sat, May 12 — is celebrating its 21st anniversary by moving from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to tents in the Distillery District. A gala ticket for the bash costs $1,000 while general admission is $175. Last year’s gala tickets were $375.

New producer Chip Quigley — who has taken over the reins from Phillip Ing, the executive producer and creative director for 20 years — is confident that increased ticket prices are the way to go.

“I’m about exclusivity,” says Quigley. “I don’t think it should be 5,000 people. I think it should be fewer people at a higher price. A $1,000 ticket is about what the market’s at.”

The New York-based Quigley has a long history of producing big-ticket events, including Diana Ross’s Central Park concert, concerts by The Who, the Emmy Awards, Conan O’Brien’s shows in Toronto and O’Brien’s upcoming trip to San Francisco. Quigley has also produced fundraising shows for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and for the Amercian AIDS fundraiser Fashion Rocks.

“I have a deep background in AIDS charities,” says Quigley. “We were heavily involved in the ’80s with the original AMFAR [American Foundation For AIDS Research] and Liz Taylor. I know it’s in Africa and everywhere else, but it’s still at home. I was stepping over junkies when I was a kid. I know people who have died.”

Quigley says he’s looking to bring even more of an entertainment angle to Fashion Cares.

“I’m doing an AIDS benefit, but I’m also in showbiz. I’m going to maybe modernize it a bit, give it a little more musical entertainment.”

Quigley disagrees with criticisms that Fashion Cares focusses on the entertainment to the exclusion of AIDS issues.

“The reason for ACT and Fashion Cares — AIDS — hasn’t gone away. Certainly there’s a point in the show where you talk to that. But I think everyone knows why they’re there. An event that entertains likeminded people, I think that’s great.

“If you’re already in the club where you’ve bought a ticket, you’re already an activist to a certain point. The one message I need to say to people is, ‘Hey, thanks for coming. You’ve done a really great thing by coming.'”

Quigley points to the Elton John fundraisers as an example of what he wants out of such shows.

“I think people want an hour and a half of greatest hits they wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

To that end, this year’s installment of Fashion Cares will feature a number of well-known musical acts including R&B singer Mya, Destiny Child’s Kelly Rowland, Toronto band Bedouin Soundclash and Girlesque, the new group from Pussycat Dolls founder and choreo-grapher Robin Antin. The show will also feature famous burlesquer Dita Von Teese and her girl-in-a-giant-champagne-glass act. The show will be hosted by Jay Manuel, the host of Canada’s Next Top Model.

But even with the lineup of stars, Quigley says he doesn’t think criticisms of Fashion Cares as being too expensive to produce are valid.

“I was given a very tight budget to work with,” he says, though he declined to put a number on it.

Apart from the opportunity to mount the entertainment aspects, Quigley also cites the change of venue to the Distillery District as having attracted him to the show.

“The fact that they wanted to do something different was exciting. In the past, it’s been in an indoor area. This year, in the Distillery District, we’re tenting it. I like the nature of the district itself. It reminds me of the meatpacking district in New York or the waterfront in Boston.

“With the tents, the space is different, the dining experience is different. Everyone has a different experience. But it’s about the total experience from the red carpet to the cocktails. I think it’ll be a really fun night.”

Quigley does admit that the weather is always a risk with any outdoor show. “I was partners with God for years, which is what you’re doing when you put on an outdoor show.”

He says he didn’t feel any pressure in taking over from Ing. In fact, he says he wasn’t really aware of what Ing had done in the past

“Ignorance is bliss. I kind of already had something in mind when I took it. I like all the creative people who have been involved, and I looked a little bit at the past, but I’m not going to look back.”

Quigley says he’s planning to produce Fashion Cares for the next several years at least. “I like to build these things for couple of years.”