Before we start, I have a confession to make: I’m a fan of the Montreal Fetish Weekend. It was the first overseas event I attended, and this year was the third year running that Emma Alexa and I have travelled to this French-speaking corner of Canada to party with the global fetish crowd.
MFW has a vibe all its own that comes from the friendliness of the locals, the scale of the international crowd in attendance, and the fact that you’re concentrated in one hotel — yet in the middle of a very atmospheric city.
To call it a weekend is to do it a disservice, and seriously to understate the stamina and sheer quantity of luggage you need in order to make it through six nights of all-out fetish partying. Eric Paradis, the energetic and hospitable promoter, intends to make it seven nights in 2011 and I have no doubt he’ll pull it off.
If you go (and you really should), it’s worth stating the obvious: this is a marathon, not a sprint. The Montreal events tend to finish at around 3am rather than say 7am, but you can easily continue at the official and unofficial after-parties until most normal people are having lunch. Once. Or maybe twice.
But seven nights in a row, with activities during the day too? Even the hardiest clubber will start to dream of a night in front of the telly. But beware; you’ll probably find yourself getting ready yet again, simply because each night is different and you won’t want to miss out.
As I’ve written before on these pages, all the fetish events I’ve been to have a different focal point, whether it be the pool, the crowd or the music. Montreal’s has always been, in one form or another, the stage. The spiritual heart of MFW is Club Sin, where Eric has been running fetish nights since 2004.
Club Sin is essentially a cabaret, and that cabaret ethos permeates the whole of the Fetish Weekend. It’s reflected in the scale and variety of shows on offer, and even the nature of the venues (which almost always have a large stage).
Now, I’m a big champion of interactivity in clubs, and I often miss the performances at fetish events because I prefer to be engaged in my own mini-performances. But that’s because in most clubs it’s “either/or”. You cram into one room to watch the fashion show, or you head off to another for the dungeon.
But in Montreal, the dungeon is smack in the middle of the auditorium and the shows are there to watch, either with your full attention or as a backdrop to whatever you’re doing. It’s unusual, but very effective.
So let’s rewind and take a look at what MFW had in store for us in 2010.
We flew in from London on the Tuesday evening to try and acclimatise before the nights started in earnest. If you can, this is worth doing, as it’s hard to get over jetlag and a hangover simultaneously (I know this to my cost). It’s also one of the few chances you’ll get to go out and see Montreal by night with vanilla eyes — a fun thing to do.
Head up to Rue Crescent to check out some great bars, and Rue St Catherine for an eye-popping assortment of strip clubs nestled between the churches and office buildings. Not that Emma and I have ever been into a strip club, of course (cough) but I’m told they are rather more, er, hands-on than the ones in London.
Flying into Montreal early if you can. It’s one of the few chances you’ll get to go out and see the city by night with vanilla eyes - a fun thing to do
The event hotel (Les Gouverneurs) is, let’s be honest, not going to win any Condé Nast awards. The staff, particularly at breakfast, can be phenomenally rude at times, and it sits on the edge of a fairly “colourful” part of Montreal. But with that seediness comes a great feeling of acceptance if you’re wandering the streets in latex.
The hotel is also good value; it’s a four-star hotel and not actually that bad inside, plus it’s pretty cheap. Most importantly, it’s a two minute walk from the main venue. Coming as I do from a city where you generally have to travel for 45 minutes to get to a club, that’s a big plus.
Wednesday saw us heading out to the welcome party. This has, in previous years, been one of the highlights of the week for Emma and me, because it provided a low-key, inclusive, cocktail bar atmosphere in which to meet people.
Even as a newbie it meant that you arrived at the main parties knowing quite a few people and recognising many more.Last year, MFW took over a lovely cocktail bar in downtown Montreal, and this glamorous crossover between the fetish world and the vanilla one was a hugely refreshing change and very much my cup of tea (or rather, tequila sunrise).
This year, however, the evening took place at the home (and dungeon) of a local Montreal mistress. The home was lovely and the hospitality gracious, but the dungeon wasn’t used (that wasn’t what people were looking for in a “get to know you” night) and overall it felt just a bit like a low-key house party.
The beauty of previous years was that a well-lit, mainstream space is so unusual for fetish, and yet so effective as a place to shine (literally), and to meet people. This year it was too dark — and the space didn’t flow well enough — to serve that purpose well.
Eric and I did chat about this and I know what he was trying to achieve, but I genuinely hope 2011 sees a return to a classy modern venue for the welcome night. That said, it was really my only issue with an otherwise excellent week.
Thursday night was Club Sin’s Sixth Anniversary. The venue, Café Cleo, is a Montreal institution that the city is trying to pull down to make way for shiny high-rise office blocks, but Sin holds on tenaciously with its mix of dark décor, industrial music, and cabaret tables around the stage/ dance floor.
The shows included a creditable TV impersonation of Lady Gaga and, well, lots of latex. The venue itself can get pretty warm, but the real action is on the street outside. Video and camera crews mingle with the latex fashion to give a real buzz to the night.
Friday night was a genuine innovation, and a very welcome one. The whole evening was a fashion gala — something like three or four hours of latex fashion show, interspersed with a range of acts and hosted by The Richard (Montreal’s one-man nuclear generator) and the ever-gorgeous Jean Bardot.
The venue for Friday was used on Saturday and Sunday as well, but with different layouts and dressing, it avoided becoming boring. It’s a great space that doubles as a theatre and a cinema when not hosting latex balls.
The entrance lobby is warm and welcoming, and works well as a space to mingle and chat, while the auditorium itself offers a range of tiered levels, all focused on a large stage. For the fashion show a good-sizes catwalk projected out into the auditorium, with the audience seated at cabaret tables across the entire floor.
Akina Oiszo organised the fashion show and the sheer number of designers and models was a huge achievement. From Hedony to Bondinage, DeMask, Dawnamatrix, Blacklickorish Latex and many many others, the designers and creations just kept on coming.
I think I counted around 30 designers in all. The whole night was a bold, creative venture and one that showed you can create genuine variety within a multi-night fetish event.
Emma walked for Hedony (whose creations in thin latex are something to behold), so we had the pleasure of getting to know a bunch of the models — and what a lovely group they were. And of course, the presence of so many gorgeous models (of both sexes, I’m reliably informed!) did no harm at all to the eye-candy factor for the whole event.
Saturday started slowly but I had to get into gear quickly as I had a shoot arranged with amazing jeweller Atelier Gothique. Modelling in latex and some stunning BDSM couture pieces from Atelier were Emma Alexa, Tina Timebalm, Jordan Solaris and Lacy Black. We shot against the backdrop of Montreal from our room on the top floor and I have to say I was thrilled with the results.
It did mean that we missed many of the workshops going on that day in the hotel, but I heard great things about the range and quality on offer, from severe restriction to pleasure training and my favourite title, alternative fitness!
Saturday night was the big event, the Latextacy Ball – a glamorous night with great stage shows and a crowd that rivalled the best I’ve seen
Saturday night was the big event, the Latextacy Ball, and it was a glamorous night indeed, with more great stage shows and a crowd that rivalled the best I’ve seen for the variety and quality of their outfits.
There were another 30 or so performers over the weekend — too many to single out — and the music in the larger venue was well chosen and inclusive, coming from a great selection of DJs including the lovely Xris Smack! from NY. It was also good to see some of the longstanding supporters of MFW paying a visit, including Bianca Beauchamp and Martin Perreault among others.
The official after-party was hosted at a vanilla club across the road and while it was initially a bit strange to be out of the pure fetish environment, there was a dedicated area for the “fetish diaspora”, and mixing with the ‘nillas is always fun.
We also ended up at a less official after-party hosted by Ego Assassin and our amazing friends from Western Canada, who had taken over a house nearby and turned it into a cross between The Young Ones and London Fashion Week.
And surely that’s the great thing about these events, wherever they may be: the opportunity to meet, connect, and then reconnect with fantastic people who share your outlook and passions.
Sunday saw another true highlight of the weekend: the exhibitionist photo tour of Montreal. Some 50 latex-clad exhibitionists and photographers set off from the hotel to the nearby underground station and wandered around Montreal, creating havoc and art in equal measure.
I can’t really imagine doing this in London without at least a few incidents, but Montreal took us in its stride. I think my favourite photos from the tour came after Emma led a group of latex-clad lovelies into the local information booth and started handing out leaflets!
That evening brought the main play event, the Night of Masks and Vampires, and again the effort that went into dressing the venue — and indeed into the masks on show — was most impressive. It’s really worth checking out the event photos to get a sense of the ambiance.
I’ll be honest and confess that I don’t remember much of what happened that night. But I do remember the next… er… afternoon, which featured a glorious breakfast of French toast and fruit at the nearby Chez Cora — one of Montreal’s dirty little secrets and a must-eat if you visit Canada.
After yet another great photoshoot (I did eight shoots during the week!), we failed to make it to the VIP farewell supper that night, as Emma and I really wanted to spend some quiet time together. However, in the past this has been a lovely opportunity to chat and reflect with friends old and recently made. And by the way, “VIP” isn’t as limiting as it sounds; you can buy a VIP pass for the whole week at a significant discount to the individual events.
By the time Tuesday morning came around, we couldn’t believe it was all over. The feedback from the people we spoke to was overwhelmingly positive; the MFW has evolved over the years and matured into an ambitious, inclusive event that survives the occasional — and inevitable — rough edge, and succeeds in creating an atmosphere all of its own.
For the sheer scale, variety and fun on offer, the team behind it should be genuinely proud.
I feel as though Montreal has welcomed us into its heart. Despite its size, it’s a more accessible, friendly and inclusive affair than many London events, and for us the Fetish Weekend is easily justifiable despite the distance, cost and time it requires to attend.
We’ll definitely be there next year, and we already know a group of people from the UK and elsewhere planning to come along too. Drop me a note via my website (see link in panel on right) if you’d like any more information.
I feel Montreal has welcomed us into its heart. Despite its size, it’s a more accessible, friendly and inclusive affair than many London events