An idea was born in the fall of 2009 to promote fashion and beauty in Benicia. This came after the Great Recession and cities around the globe were acknowledging that the fashion industry needed a boost. Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue Magazine, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with a range of big name fashion elites organized the first “Fashion’s Night Out” on September 10, 2009 in NYC.
Timed to coincide with New York Fashion Week, it followed a year of a historic financial meltdown and was considered by some as a fashion stimulus package. 2008 had marked the lowest retail sales in 35 years as store fronts became papered up as people had lost the urge to shop. The one day event “Fashion’s Night Out” included 800 stores throughout the city that stayed open late offering food, celebrity sightings and lots of fashion. The Olsen twins, Mary Kate and Ashley, served drinks at Bergdorf Goodman while Wintour appeared with Michael Kors in Queens and later were joined by Gwen Stefani and Victoria Beckham as they circled the City.
So, how do you translate a fashion event like that to Benicia? In 2009 there were 6 women’s clothing stores and 30 plus hair salons on First Street. The concept was to bring the businesses together for a week of events with fashion and beauty themes, culminating with a night of shopping and a runway show. The first runway show took place at the Inn at Benicia Bay and featured designs from each store along with Bay Area talent. Benicia Main Street helped coordinate the stores and publicity the first 2 years because of the positive impact to Downtown. The concept breathed some life into the retail economy and as the event grew up, it changed venues, store involvement and in the last few years it attracted up to 500 attendees.
By 2014, there were only 2 boutiques left and by the next year only 1 remained. First Street had changed from retail boutiques, antique and gift stores, to restaurant row. Benicia Fashion Runway became broader in its appeal, with the help of Richard Hallmarq, a Sacramento designer and contestant on Season 11 of Project Runway. The event has hosted 18 designers from the popular reality fashion show, along with established couture designers and, in one case, a fashion legend. Patricia Field, who won several Emmys as the costume designer for the HBO series Sex and the City and was nominated for an Oscar for her work on the movie Devil Wears Prada, brought her collection to Benicia directly from New York Fashion Week. After 11 years, this two day established fashion event has become known throughout the Bay Area for attracting a collection of the best of international fashion, including professional models, some of which appeared on America’s Top Model. A highlight of the show in 2019 was famed designer Richie Rich, of Heatherette, bringing down the house by roller skating the runway, introducing his collection and the show’s finale.
Fast forward to 2020 and the year of COVID-19. Fashion doesn’t seem to be a priority as we deal with a health crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen for over a century. What is interesting is that Benicia’s Downtown has started a renaissance when it comes to retail. There are more women’s boutiques that have opened and are succeeding during the uncertainty of the pandemic. They bring a different vibe with a cool merchandise mix and have an online presence as part of their business model; something that has become more important than ever.
Perhaps with this new energy, Benicia Fashion Runway can go back to its roots of showcasing the best of fashion in Benicia on the catwalk. Stay tuned!