In From the Cold: How Refurbishing a Fur Coat Is the Ultimate in Chic

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A number of years ago, a wealthy girlfriend was cleaning out her well-filled closets when she came across an old fur coat she hadn’t worn in some time. It was ankle-length, made of raccoon and had fox accents. Seeing that it was ragged around the cuffs, she was struck by a touch of noblesse oblige and thoughtfully tossed it my way.

“Wear it when you take the kids to the park,” she said. “It will keep you warm.”

I did, but only once.

My friend is a tall Teutonic blonde, meaning super-broad-shouldered. I, something of a Celtic dwarf, was fairly swimming inside the linebacker-appropriate fox-fur sleeves. It was all very eighties, but I looked and felt ridiculous. For the past few years, that old coat has been gathering dust in my basement.

I almost forgot about it until an army of fur coats marched down the runway at Toronto Fashion Week, each click of the high-heeled boots worn with them signalling fur’s return to the fashion radar.

Sales of fur, in fact, have been skyrocketing, up almost 60 per cent since the end of the 1990s, when every supermodel worth her multimillion-dollar contract declared she’d rather go naked than wear fur. Methinks they’re not saying that now.

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Fur’s new-found cachet lies in its growing status as a “green” material, says Canadian fur designer Paula Lishman, who grew up in Labrador and thinks that fur is a more environmental choice than fake fur, “which is a non-renewable resource.” Wearing real fur “shows that you’re concerned with the environment and shows your support for the trappers who work the land,” argues Lishman, who is also a firm believer in recycling fur. She uses laser cutting and other new technologies to give old furs up-to-the minute looks.

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Which brings me back to the fur in my closet. Looking at it in this light, all it needed, I figured, was a judicious trim here and a bit of restyling there, so I took it to Toronto fashion designer Farley Chatto, whose creations had made such an impression on me at Toronto Fashion Week. Chatto has lately been employing a technique called stripping, whereby he literally shaves old furs down to reduce their bulk, leaving a series of wispy tails he then sews and weaves back into new lighter-weight coats that are the last word in chic.

At least that’s what I feel about mine, post-makeover: My former bear of a coat was cut and reshaped into a fab knee-length fur trench that turns heads every time I wear it. Chatto also managed to create a pair of fur pillows out of the sleeves as well as a matching muff. I got three distinct looks out of one source, all for $1,250.

“Look at you, Miss Reduced, Recycled and Reused,” Chatto said recently as he helped me into my wrap. “The ultimate in fashion.”

Clubland King Peter Gatien: Back in the Limelight

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His new Toronto nightclub is bursting with space, but Peter Gatien has a small cramped office on the fourth floor – and he can’t even call it his own. Unopened boxes of Kidrobot toys are piled in the corners. Leg room has been usurped by Che, his Argentine Dogo, who has laid claim to one of two couches.

Mr. Gatien’s wife, Alessandra Kobayashi, has staked out the other, typing on a laptop and saying, no, she won’t comment on her famous husband. “Soon,” she adds cryptically, “you can read all about it.” A screenwriter, she’s the perfect partner to the man who is a legendary scenester. But she is the pillar Mr. Gatien has leaned on to get through the past difficult decade.

When you talk to him – his voice muffled, his gaze shielded by blue-tinted glasses that hide a missing left eye – Mr. Gatien (thrice-married father of four) speaks of “values” and “the importance of family.”

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This is not the coked-up creep portrayed by Dylan McDermott in Party Monster, the film based on the story of Mr. Gatien’s ex-employee Michael Alig, who brutally murdered a drug dealer. Rather, the lingering impression of Mr. Gatien is one of a genial guy with deep reserves of inner strength.

Dressed in jeans, a red polo shirt and a blue jacket, he speaks civilly to his staff and solicitously to his wife even though the phones are ringing non-stop. In less than two weeks, the double doors of Circa will open – and at long last. More than 3,000 people, including press flown in from New York, representing such hip glossies as Juxtapoz, Paper, Nylon and Time Out, are clamouring to get on the “list.” It’s as if disco never died.

But maybe people just want to see that Circa really is opening. It has endured many false starts since Mr. Gatien first dreamed up the concept for this club, in 2005.

He has had to overcome problems with investors and contractors, opposition from Councillor Adam Vaughan (who feels the neighbourhood is saturated with clubbers) and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which – after 11 months and six days of hearings involving 15 witnesses – finally granted Mr. Gatien his liquor licence in July, only to issue an appeal of its own decision in August.

That appeal will be heard Nov. 15. Till then, a stay has given him the critical licence. So Circa will open on Oct. 4, with the prodigal son back on top of his game. “Once you have a project that you believe in, the doors start opening,” Mr. Gatien says. It could be the motto of a life that played out as a New York fairy tale.

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He was born Aug. 8, 1951, in Cornwall, Ont. The one-time National Hockey League hopeful spent 30 years building a business empire in Manhattan, capping off the 1980s and 90s with the ownership of four legendary discos: Palladium, Tunnel, Club USA and Limelight.

It all spun out of control in the late nineties. Caught in Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s club crackdown, the kingpin was hounded on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges, but the charges didn’t stick. In 1998, Mr. Gatien was acquitted, but the state and the Internal Revenue Service went after him for income-tax evasion. In 1999, he pleaded guilty, paying a $1.3-million fine and serving prison time.

But even after spending two months on Rikers Island, the notorious New York jail, losing his fortune, including his 10,000-square-foot Upper East Side home, after being deported to Canada, his life’s journey (which he has just penned into a book for Random House) was far from over.

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THE COMEBACK

In 2003, he arrived in Toronto friendless, out of pocket to the tune of $5-million in legal bills spent fighting the drug-trafficking and racketeering charges. “I had less than $100 in my bank account,” he said in an interview this week.

But through sheer determination, he has engineered a comeback. With the opening of his newest club, a 55,000-square-foot wonder in the old Playdium/Lucid location on John Street, backing on to Chapters and the rainbow-coloured extravaganza that is the Scotiabank Theatre, Mr. Gatien, 55, is poised to take Toronto after losing New York.

“My crowning achievement? I’m too young to call Circa my crowning achievement,” he scoffs. “It’s one more door on the road to being a pretty gratified person,” he adds, nursing a can of Nestea – the closest thing to a narcotic the former altar boy allows himself. “I am now of the mind that it is what you overcome in life that gives you strength, not what you accomplish.” But his current accomplishment is nothing to sniff at. The new behemoth enterprise costs $6.3-million, according to Ari Kulidjian, Mr. Gatien’s business partner and lawyer, and the only one of Mr. Gatien’s 23 backers who will publicly identify himself.

Circa can hold 3,000 people on its four floors of glitz and gorgeous finishes. At $15 to $20 a head – with higher ticket prices for special events – the club should bring in some major coin if it gets rolling. The City of Toronto estimates that, every year, the restaurants, bars and clubs in the area generate $125-million in economic activity, and Mr. Gatien and his backers want a piece of that action.

Even though there is uncertainty about his club’s future – if he loses the AGCO appeal he will have to close Circa – he may yet have a shot at it. Zark Fatah, the nightlife entrepreneur responsible for Blowfish, Doku 15 and Atelier, says Circa is “huge and it’s ambitious. The reaction I am hearing from DJs, promoters, everyone, is that it’s not just unlike anything in Toronto, it’s unlike anything in the world.”

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More than a club, Mr. Gatien emphasizes, Circa, which includes a recording studio, is a cultural multiplex. The vast club has four separate entrances, an indoor holding pen that will let 100 partying hopefuls stand inside behind the velvet ropes, and an escalator to keep the action flowing from one floor to another. Rooms have been carved inside rooms to create a sense of intimacy – and not just within the VIP room.

Attention has been paid to every detail. Brian Rosevear, Mr. Gatien’s publicist, leans onto a bar counter, where a bright orange light illuminates his every move. “It’s a Sensacell bar,” he says of the touch-sensitive light surface. In two adjacent private booths, touch-sensitive tables also let patrons control light and sound fixtures near them.

Elsewhere, there is the ocean-themed Fathom 22 Bar and the Kidrobot Room, a bar that doubles as a showroom for the pop-art toys. Upstairs, in the art-deco-inspired Ballroom, tiny, sparkling mosaic tile adorns the pillars and elongated light fixtures are suspended from the ceiling. In the ultramodern Skyy Vodka-sponsored bar and screening room, the aesthetic shifts again, to white leather couches with navy blue suede accents.

Throughout, there is a series of gallery-like display cases of art. The sex-fetish photographs of filmmaker Bruce LaBruce provide jolts of graphic colour to the moody entranceway. Native artist Kenny Baird contributed to the club’s futuristic pop-art design.

“If nothing else, I’m good at surrounding myself with talented, creative people,” says Mr. Gatien, surveying the scene from the fourth floor. “It’s why I got into the business. The nightclub is … a collection of talented people assembled to put on a show.”

While that may be why he got into this business, it might not be enough to keep him there. Mr. Gatien is working on a television series with his wife, Ms. Kobayashi, a native New Yorker who is 17 years his junior and mother of his 13-year-old son, Xander. There are also plans to create a movie based, in part, on his experiences among the demi-monde. After Circa is up and running, he wants to start up a Canadian franchise of boutique hotels and bring the Chocolate Bar, a U.S. chain, to Toronto.

There is also talk of him overseeing a project in Las Vegas, “but that’s not foremost on my radar right now.” He can return to the U.S. to do business because his maternal grandmother was Mohawk and, with that heritage, he can cross the U.S. border. But that doesn’t mean he’s rushing back to the country that, with much fanfare, evicted him.

“I love it here,” he says of Toronto. “My family has relocated here. My kids are in school here. It’s my home, even though I am still a Montreal Canadiens fan.

“That, I can’t overcome.”

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Getting a liquor licence

Peter Gatien, who holds the lease on the John Street property, left Hingson Corp., his original backer, to find new sources of funding after the club failed to open in June, 2006.

He discovered that he had to apply anew for a liquor licence through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, because his name wasn’t on the original application. He said the AGCO assured him that the application would take about six weeks. Instead, it took 11 months.

E-mails (now part of the public record) written by Terry Bender, a veteran OPP officer seconded to the AGCO, show that the commission seemed to be trying to find a reason not to give Mr. Gatien his licence.

Writing to a member of the Georgia Department of Revenue (Mr. Gatien had opened a club in Atlanta in the 1980s), Mr. Bender specifically asked for “any reports or violations of a derogatory nature that could assist us in denying his application. … the Alcohol and Gaming Commission is prepared to cover all expenses to have someone from your own department come here and testify at a hearing.”

The reason for the request, Mr. Bender wrote in his e-mail, was because “in Toronto … there is some serious concern about his reputation and character.”

AGCO spokesman Ab Campion said background checks are status quo for any applicant wanting a licence. But, referring to Mr. Bender’s e-mail, he added, “I don’t think that this is a normal process.”

No one from Georgia did come to the Toronto hearing and there was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Gatien had violated Georgia state law.

But at the recent Toronto hearing, Robert Gagne, a New York City undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency who had investigated Mr. Gatien’s conduct in the 1990s, testified against Mr. Gatien’s character at the invitation of the AGCO, which had asked him to help them.

Another e-mail from Mr. Bender (dated February and sent to members of the AGCO) shows that the commission had encouraged Mr. Gagne to help them keep Mr. Gatien from licensing Circa.

Ultimately, the AGCO did grant Mr. Gatien the licence at the end of July. But within three weeks, it announced that it would appeal its own decision in Divisional Court and sought a stay revoking Circa’s right to serve alcohol pending the outcome of the appeal, whose hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15.

In August, Madam Justice Sandra Chapnick refused the request for a stay.

 

Dance On High

 

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In a dark space lit with flickering candles, a tangle of flailing arms, gyrating hips and pogo-ing legs pulse to a rhythmic beat.

“Bliss,” is how Taeji Nedilsky describes it, with a glassy-eyed beatific smile. “You can’t explain it. You have to do it. Just move.”

Whether it’s called trance dance or rave for adults, ecstatic dance that claims to take the participant out of the body and onto a higher plane of consciousness is growing in popularity with classes offered in most major cities across North America.

But is meditative movement really dance?

Former National Ballet of Canada member Kathleen Rea, now an independent dancer and choreographer whose works have been produced by Ballet Jorgen and FFIDA in Toronto, and festivals and companies in Europe, thinks so. She first went to an ecstatic dance session about four years ago, mostly out of curiosity.

“I was awestruck by the beauty of these people who had no training,” she said. “It was beautiful and humiliating at the same time because I thought that I had all this training, that I was a dancer and other people couldn’t be because they didn’t have training.”

 

 

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Marusia Borodacz organizes  “Sweat Your Prayers” dance nights at various downtown Toronto venues, and brings other teachers up from the United States to Toronto to lead spiritual dance workshops.

“I had always wanted to dance,” Borodacz says. “But I could never follow instructions. I always felt klutzy.” Then she went to New York to study with dancer Gabrielle Roth, the author of the 1997 spiritual handbook, Sweat Your Prayers.

Borodacz acknowledges that the idea of spiritual dance, “to free the body to express your innermost self,” is a challenge for professional dancers. “It goes beyond the formulas and allows the intuitive and creative to come forth.”

Rea, on the other hand, finds there is enough inherent structure to give her a direction. Sweat Your Prayers, she says, “is a very good structure to do improvisation in because it represents a flow of emotions — so it’s a way to follow the flow of emotions.”

And she has found artistic rewards in this loosening of her aesthetic process, recently producing a show in Innsbruck, Austria, that mixed two professional dancers with 10 non-professionals. “The only thing we had in common was we wanted to express ourselves in an authentic manner and it was a beautiful show, because it broke down the boundaries of what performance dancing has to be.”

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Erica Ross trained in Russian ballet, but has recently banded together with therapist Nancy Keyser to offer women-only classes in spiritual dance. Like the Sweat Your Prayers sessions, the atmosphere at Transcendance is dark and mysterious. Altars dedicated to goddesses are heavy with beeswax candles, crystals and batik. A sculpture of fleshy women performing a circle dance sits centre-floor. Ross and Keyser, a psychotherapist, move entranced around it. Their arms undulate by their sides and with eyes closed they weave and bob their bodies, making them look like giant butterflies in flight.

“I don’t care what people think of me when they see me dance,” said Ross, resting between barefoot dips and swings. “After years of studying classical ballet, where everything has to be a certain way, that is quite liberating for me.”