By Tami Vigness
As a kid, a few times a year, my family and I would hop in the van and drive an hour (actually, more than an hour, back when the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit still existed), and head to Grand Forks to shop. Before leaving, I would have already spent hours scouring the JC Penney’s catalogue and compiled a list of must-have items. As a young girl, my favorite part of shopping was hiding from my mother in the circular clothes racks. She didn’t find this nearly as amusing as I did. Despite my antics, I usually ended up with a few new items in my wardrobe and often dinner at the Royal Fork Buffet. To this day, when I think about the Royal Fork, I can still smell the mashed potatoes and roast beef carving station. As a teenager, my friends and I would pile in the car and hit up our favorite stores. For a while, that meant anywhere that sold a clever novelty t-shirt, stovepipe jeans, and Doc Martens. Later, my grunge look evolved into the plaid skirts and “baby tees” reminiscent of the late 90s. When I moved to Grand Forks for college, the mall became a sanctuary of reprieve from my non-air-conditioned dorm room at Squires Hall, and my roommates and I would wander around for hours to escape the sweltering late-August heat when we weren’t busy studying, of course.
Greater Grand Forks has come a long way since the days of chain retailers and strictly mall shopping. Whether it’s wanting to “shop small” and support local businesses or the desire to purchase items that are more original and unique, local shops and boutiques have taken over the mainstream mall scene. And that’s a trend that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Nine years ago, two women, both successful business owners, met to discuss finding a way to bring the fashion scene in town to a new level. With fashion at the root of the idea, they also wanted to find a way to promote other local businesses and support non-profit organizations and charities in the community, while bringing the residents of Greater Grand Forks together to enjoy a night filled with friends, food, and fashion. Anne Zimmer, owner of Avant Hair & Skincare Studio, and Rachael Eider, owner of RH Standard, were perfectly positioned to bring an event to the Grand Cities that would feature the latest in hair, clothing, and accessories trends. Smaller variety-style shows had been held before, but Eider and Zimmer wanted to elevate the fashion scene with an event that would feature the latest styles and really bring the “wow factor”.
In 2015, the Alley of Love played host to the brainchild of Eider and Zimmer. Chairs lined the iconic alley in downtown Grand Forks, a red carpet was rolled out, Rachael’s uncle Chuck played the accordion, and a handful of local retailers dressed their models in the latest trends in the city’s first fashion walk: The Fashion Affair. According to Eider, in that inaugural year, no one really knew what to expect. The event was promoted through social media, word-of-mouth, and tickets could be purchased for $35. To Eider and Zimmer’s delight, about 150 people gathered in the alley to get a look at the latest fashion trends while enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. With a successful first year under their belts, Eider and Zimmer were ready to take The Fashion Affair up a level – literally – and the next year moved the event to the top floor of a downtown parking ramp. Even more local retailers and boutiques participated, and the audience grew as well.
Now in its seventh year, The Fashion Affair has continued to become the type of event that Eider and Zimmer always imagined it would be. “The demand for tickets is at an all-time high,” Zimmer explained. “This year, we sold out in an hour and twenty minutes,” added Eider. The two ladies explained that the goal is to create an environment where everyone can feel loved, appreciated, and beautiful. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience this year, and I witnessed firsthand the truth behind this statement. Around 300 people flocked to the Grand Cities’ newest eatery, Bernie’s, for a special evening that only happens once a year. Hundreds of models represented 15 different local shops and boutiques. As I sat with my friends and enjoyed a glass of wine at the classic horseshoe bar that was once one of the iconic features of the former Whitey’s restaurant, I couldn’t help but smile and appreciate each of the models as they walked the runway. It was not the type of fashion show that makes you feel uncomfortable or inadequate. Models of every shape, size, age, race, and gender showed off the latest trends to an enthusiastic audience. If walking the runway was not second nature to any of them, you certainly couldn’t tell. Each and every person looked beautiful, confident, and genuinely happy to be participating in the show. The styles ranged from cozy sweaters, denim, and booties, to posh 3-piece suits and glamorous dresses. Elegant formal attire, chic eyewear, and brilliant jewelry also made appearances. More than once, I commented to my friends on how refreshing it was to see a sampling of “real” people modeling the current trends popular in our area rather than unrealistic and impractical styles on people that don’t represent the majority of the population.
In fitting with the theme of wanting everyone to feel loved, appreciated, and beautiful, the non-profit organization benefitting from this year’s Fashion Affair was the BIO Girls. The mission of the BIO Girls is to “improve the self-esteem in adolescent girls through empowerment of self and service to others.” Several BIO Girls were in attendance and even had the opportunity to walk the runway themselves. No matter what type of challenges each girl may have to face every day, on that evening, at The Fashion Affair, the ear-to-ear smiles on every girl’s face betrayed any difficulty a typical adolescent girl might encounter in everyday life. They were able to witness and participate in an event that’s major mission is to uplift everyone.
Over the years, The Fashion Affair has continued to grow and evolve. Trends in apparel, hair, and makeup have changed, different retailers have participated, and different locations have hosted the event. But even with all the changes, The Fashion Affair’s mission remains the same: to promote driving local business and to uplift the community.
Anyone that has ever planned an event understands that often it’s more than just an event. Usually that event holds a deeper meaning. “The day after [The Fashion Affair], Anne and I are emotional wrecks,” Eider laughed. “It’s like planning a wedding - we cry at the end of every year!” Whether it’s bringing the community together, donating to a charitable organization, or helping to drive more local business, for Eider and Zimmer, The Fashion Affair is way more than just fashion. G
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PHOTOS SUBMITTED BY Russ Hons Photography & Nick Thompson Photography
From Issue 3, 2022