Starting a movement
Fashion Week of Rochester celebrates ten years
Here’s one for you—what do rowdy fashion shows and youth homelessness have in common?
Everything—at least once a year. Fashion Week Rochester, a labor of love from Center for Youth director Elaine Spaull and fashionista Meghan Mundy celebrates its tenth year in 2019.
Mundy started out as a student at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She moved to Rochester after working for some time on Madison Avenue and immediately started working as a stylist. “I was going into people’s closets, and I’d say to someone, ‘Oh, that is a gorgeous dress!’ and they’d reply, ‘I would never wear that here; I’d only wear that when I go to Las Vegas.’” Coming from New York City, that attitude was completely new to Mundy—and it bothered her. “Why wouldn’t you want to look good where you live?” she says. “Rochester is a great city full of culture and life. We should celebrate that.” So, with a partner (Chantiza Stern, who has since moved on and now owns and operates the Pittsford boutique Viaggio), Mundy followed in the footsteps of many Rochesterians before her—she took it upon herself to create something our community lacked.
Elaine Spaull, director at the Center for Youth, was in her office ten years ago when the phone rang. “It was a Friday afternoon in July,” she says, “and Meghan calls saying she’s starting a fashion show and wants to know if we’ll be the beneficiary. I said, ‘sure!’ But I had no idea it would take off.”
The first Fashion Week in 2009 sold out. “The very first years, oh my goodness, talk about craziness,” Spaull says. “We were selling tickets out of the back seats of our cars.” The event grew every year, eventually becoming the center’s primary fundraiser. Last year, it raised $500,000 after expenses. Their goal this year? One million dollars. “I don’t know if we’ll make it, but we’re going to try!” says Spaull.
Each night has a different theme, a different style, and a different crowd. And—most importantly—each night’s earnings benefit a different Center for Youth project.
The show: A Family Affair
“It’s going to be all children and families,” says Mundy. “In the beginning I would try to get a lot of models; now we have an influx, 300 or 400.” Mundy says.
“And we can only take sixty or 100,” Spaull laments.
And since Strong Museum of Play is involved this year, “there will be like someone dressed as a Rubik’s Cube, someone dressed as Chutes & Ladders…all different games,” Mundy explains. “And since that’s such a nationally famous museum, people will travel to come to it. So that’s really cool.”
The cause: Crisis Nursery and Owen’s House
The only program of its kind in greater Rochester, the Crisis Nursery and Owen’s House deliver free, temporary childcare during family emergencies, bringing peace of mind to countless families by providing them with a safe, warm, and loving place to bring their babies and children during times of need.
The show: Afternoon Rendezvous
As Fashion Week evolves, Spaull and Mundy have no choice but to make changes and keep the show fresh. But whatever happens, “do NOT take my firefighters,” Spaull says. “Never,” agrees Mundy. “They’re just so excited and they’re so terrific,” continues Spaull. “I always tell the ladies, ‘you don’t get to have dessert because you got firefighters!’” Having a lunch show allows people who can’t go out at night an opportunity to be part of the Fashion Week family.
The cause: Safe Harbour
The sexual exploitation of children is a global problem and one that impacts our own community. Our Safe Harbour program works to create awareness of youth sex trafficking and provide counseling, advocacy, medical support, educational outreach, and housing to at-risk youth.
The show: Lead the Way
“I read about a woman down in New York that was doing a show where she was using powerful women on the runway in her fashions,” says Mundy. “So instead of models, she was calling them role models.” Instantly falling in love with the idea, Mundy decided to try it. “I thought it was gonna be one and done, and it was really good. And Elaine’s brilliant idea was, ‘let’s divide our room in half, so this is free to high school students and then this is all our sponsors.’” The show features doctors, business owners, artists, and other influential women who each have three minutes to describe why they love what they do.
The cause: Street Outreach and Safe Place
Our team works to provide on-the-street services and guidance to youth who find
themselves with family but without support. We encourage them to leave the streets for a more stable environment by building trusting relationships.
The show: On the Edge
“Thursday night will support our LGBT young people, because even in 2019 we’re still seeing an enormous amount of discrimination,” Spaull says. “There has been some pushback in the federal government about whether we can serve LGBT and Trans kids in healthcare in our federal facilities. So we’re gonna raise our own money so no one can tell us what to do.” She explains that the LGBTQ population composes about seven percent of young people but forty percent of homeless kids. “It’s six times what it should be,” she says, “So that disproportion—that striking disproportion—tells you something about what’s going on both in suicide and in homelessness.” Spaull and Mundy’s personal favorite show, “the drag queens have great, great energy. We love that show so much,” Spaull says.
The cause: Arnett House—By Their Side
This independent living program provides safe and respectful emergency, transitional, and long-term housing for our community of LGBTQ youth.
The show: Runway to Rochester
“The Friday show this year, we’re doing this amazing thing,” Spaull says. “Since it’s AIA Rochester’s centennial anniversary, all these great engineering and architecture firms are actually recreating legacy buildings in dresses and outfits.” Bausch & Lomb, the Metropolitan, and other iconic Rochester landmarks will be featured.
The cause: Our Rochester—Expanded Host Home
Through this program, we identify and train families, couples, or individuals throughout our Rochester community who are interested in hosting a parenting teen and baby for an extended period of time.
The show: The Final Look
“The Saturday night show is the grand finale, and it’s an energy, just so much fun,” Spaull says. With brides, dancing, and lingerie, Fashion Week goes out with a bang. They’ve even had a real marriage proposal (she said yes!). “They’re sweethearts,” Spaull says. “They’re badass,” corrects Meghan.
The cause: Emergency Shelter
This thirty-day emergency shelter for youth ages 12–18 is the only place for young homeless and runaway children to find safety. Through the support of our community’s generosity, we can continue to help reunite youth with their families or find alternative, stable living arrangements.
Make sure you read our back page Q&A with Spaull and Mundy, as well as the full interview on 585mag.com.