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Whether it was last month or last year, chances are the fashion loving people of Boston have attended a Fashionably Late show at The Liberty Hotel. The weekly event has drawn viewers from down the street and around the globe as models parade along the upper balconies of the historic lobby. It was amazing to see the transformation from decaying prison to swanky hotel more than five years ago—due in no small part to the work of General Manager Rachel Moniz. We spoke to Moniz about the inception of her Fashionably Late program and more facets of the stylish hospitality brand.
What was the catalyst for creating Fashionably Late?
It started a few months after I started working here, almost five years, so its the longest standing fashion event in Boston, which we're really proud of. I moved here from San Diego and I started to go out and explore and I met Samuel Vartan and Michael DePaulo, Tonya Mezrich...I felt like there was this amazing art happening but there was nobody showcasing it, so I looked up at these "catwalks" and I thought perfect, why don't we do a fashion show and infuse it into the nightlife. Of course the first one maybe five people came, it's like you're that kid who throws a party and no one comes!
Now we see other hotels doing fashion shows which is great because the impetus of it for me was let's give these people a place to show what they can do. We never charge them, we never charge guests, or the community. Part of it is balanced with let's create a community experience. And also, let's create an experience for hotel guests that aren't from here and give them another piece of Boston.
What do you think is the relationship between fashion and hospitality? Obviously not just in Boston, there is a long standing relationship between the two. How do you think that has been translated here in Boston?
First of all, The Liberty Hotel sort of stands on its own as an iconic structure. From a design standpoint it just made sense that we incorporated the arts here, anything we can do to be unique and to be indigenous. I think that it makes sense in this hotel in particular. Another piece to this is what we are wearing. We're a lifestyle hotel and we want to reflect that. At one point we have 9Tailors come in for a fashion event to do men's shirts, and I got to know Sam the owner and thought it was really great. I thought that our front desk women looked like men, huge shoulder pads and things that looked like they're from the 80s, so I thought we could do something different. I partnered with her to design a wardrobe, an entire attire collection, to give the girls choices in what they could wear.
Had there not been this atrium structure with the balconies do you think you would have had the idea anyway?
I do, but I don't know that it would have been so successful. There is something about this space that people want to be in it, so we give them a reason to stay. I ran the fashion show when I first started it through Alibi as well, it's crowded and we had to warn people. I was determined to do it, and the show itself went up here to the atrium, but people were leaving Alibi to come to the lobby. Clearly something was happening here and people made a night of it, all on a school night so to speak.
What's the most memorable Fashionably Late?
The Karmaloop and Boston Ballet one! That initially came to be because Denise Korn, a friend of the hotel, had said the Boston Ballet was switching from the Wang to the Boston Opera House, and I asked if they wanted to do a party. She said the whole concept was that they were breaking out and what better place to do that than a jail. And we started talking more, and Fashionably Late came up. I suggested we use the ballerinas as models since they were trying to appeal to a younger audience, so I said I think we should use Karmaloop as the fashion partner. It's urban, it's more than just fashion, it's a whole lifestyle brand.
That was really unique in the sense that it would be a unique event even within a really serious fashion environment in say, New York. It's cool that you pushed the envelope here. Did you have any background in fashion?
I've always worked for lifestyle hotels with a nightlife component. If it wasn't for having that background, I would never have gotten that you can do that in a hotel. There are a lot of logistics. When I opened another hotel called the Ivy in San Diego, I worked with Tadashi Shoji to design evening wear for all of our nightlife staff: cocktail had leather outfits, rooftop had white almost sweatsuits, and long evening gowns for our hostesses. Before that I worked with the W and we had a collaboration at the time with Kenneth Cole and we did custom suits and they were very refined, and also that skinny-thin concept at the time and it was new. So when I had the opportunity that I could step in front and execute my vision, I took it.
From your vantage point, what are challenges that local designers face in trying to make a name for themselves?
I think some of it is the lack of opportunity. It would be great if Boston had more, so I think that as a community we can all work on it. There is a lot of structure to Boston Fashion Week but I think it leaves people on the outside a little bit, who don't have the relationship or can't afford to be a part of it. That's very much against what I stand for, so what I do is try to create a no-cost opportunity; the designer literally just has to show up with 15 looks. We pay for everything else. There have been times when designers have said they can't afford the fabric and we've paid for it, we've even sponsored designers. This is a way for them to walk away with a professional quality show. Even for local boutiques, they have a mom-and-pop way of doing business and through Fashionably Late they have pictures for their websites.
For them it's basically merchandising to style their inventory on a catwalk. And you've done pop-up shop components too, right?
Yes, it lets people have another outlet to show their wears. Accessories have also always been important, so just having a jeweler or shoe store be part of it too is fun.
How has the event grown and to what extent does it match your vision for it as it exists now?
We're adding new concepts to it. We've had MiniLuxe as a partner for Manicure Mondays and they've come back for an accent nail bar, or we had a braid bar. Adding different beauty and design components enhances the night. We give each night a story and unique identity. I definitely don't want any designers or design students to ever feel intimidated by this event. I would like to see more innovators approach us to infuse with the stores and the brands.
To what degree do you work with students?
We want to, but a lot of times they don't have an entire collection to show, so it gets to be difficult. We've had several students band together for a show to overcome that. We opened a couple seasons in a row with that focus.
What is your favorite part of Boston to direct hotel visitors for shopping?
Charles Street is right outside our door and has a lot of small little shops with integrity to what they do. When I first moved back to Boston I lived in the North End and it's known obviously for the food, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many boutiques popped up on Hanover and Salem streets. South End is the same thing.
Stop by the opening night of Fashionably Late for the 2013-2014 season this Thursday. The featured designer is DVF and the show starts at 10pm.
· The Liberty Hotel [Official Site]