Guests Get Bubbling Drinks, Psychic Readings at Design Exchange Gala

The Design Exchange took advantage of its night-before-Halloween date by filling the annual gala with haunted-house decor, costumed models, and video footage from the old trading floor.

Graffiti artist Mike Echlin painted trees against a black backdrop for a haunted-forest effect.

Photo: George Pimentel

The October 30 date of this year's black-and-white fund-raising gala at the Design Exchange led organizers to invite guests to put on their Halloween costumes a day early. It also enabled the hosts to use haunted-house decor and to play up a longstanding rumor about the Design Exchange building, formerly the Toronto Stock Exchange.

“People have said that the old trading floor is haunted, and I wanted to play up the history of the building,” said the Design Exchange's senior director of special events, Gillian Hoff, who borrowed footage of people working on the floor in the 1930s from the National Film Board, and projected the eight-minute loop on the walls amid dry ice. “The video gave a sense of ghosts from the past,” said Hoff, adding it also drew attention to the gilt and chrome ceiling, one of the architectural highlights of the building.

The gala, now in its fifth year, began with a dinner honoring fashion designers Kimberley Newport-Mimran (Pink Tartan) and Joe Mimran (Joe Fresh Style). The 230 guests who dined in the third floor exhibition hall received metal keys with their table and seat numbers attached, which they returned as they left the event to receive a gift bag.

On the old trading floor (the site of a cocktail party following the V.I.P. dinner) Hoff hired set designer Enrico Campana to construct a large stage—Westbury built the foundation—split into six sections where DJs, 18 dancers, and the band Kush performed. Six caterers, all preferred vendors of the Design Exchange and sponsors of the event, offered dishes, including a foie gras sampler plate from Daniel et Daniel and ice cream made with liquid nitrogen at the Presidential Gourmet station.

The party portion of the evening, which drew an additional 500 guests, also included illusionist Ray Chance performing card tricks, drinks with dry ice made to look like potions, and a large, black vinyl-covered exhibition case with male dancers inside. (Holes in the vinyl allowed people to see in.) Models posed in large glass display cases, and guests had the option of paying to have their fortunes read or participating in a midnight seance.

Proceeds from the gala will go to programs educating youth about technology and design, something Hoff also aims to do with the annual event. “We try to play up the fact that we're a design museum and emphasize how important design is,” she said.

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