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As afternoon light fades, we take note that the sun is aging as we bide our time. At a rustic location outside the city, it seems our stylish friends have lost their way. “So quick bright things come to confusion,” I think. The bending, twisting boughs around us are so very A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Eventually, they emerge in formal dress: Justin Jones, Mana Moini, Brandon McCray, Brian Trinh, and Ty Rice. It’s an unseasonably hot early fall day and each are impeccably suited for our photo shoot.
Leading the pack is Justin Jones, co-founder of Modish Nights and Lavender columnist. Despite the heat, Jones never sports so much as a drop of perspiration nor a hair out of place. In between shots, I had the opportunity to discuss their monthly dinner parties, sprite-sized galas.
“We started in November,” Jones explained. “Our first party was in April. It took us that long to get it pulled together. I had originally called it ‘Bliss and Dish,’ but…we decided on Modish. It has ‘dish’ in the name and it has the feeling we were going for: posh, exclusive, but our organization is not exclusive–it’s just the fantasy.”
When Jones moved to the area from North Carolina, he discovered that people in the Twin Cities be insular. Knowing other transplants felt similarly, the seed was planted. They would hold events with only one rule: that you had to sit next to someone you didn’t know.
Glamorous venues with lux food and wine are bountiful, the guests are eager to be swept away for a Modish Night. The inaugural event was held at Seven in downtown Minneapolis. The room was accented with lavender touches–a color and style theme is chosen for each evening. The restaurant created a signature cocktail, offering it to guests for only $5. Naturally, that idea caught on and now each venue crafts a special beverage for the group.
Their motto went to work, “Cocktail as strangers, dine as acquaintances, leave as friends.”
“We have so much fun seeing people connect,” explained Jones.
“The feedback has been great,” adds Ty, grinning. Ty Rice is incapable of not smiling. His positive energy is infectious. While everyone else would strike a pose, affecting chiseled Model Face, there would be Rice, with a wide smile. “You leave knowing names instead of saying, ‘Oh, great to see….you.’”
“It’s all about getting dressed up, that fantasy you create,” adds Mana, the Persian beauty. In this case, it’s orchestrated fantasy. Mana’s keen eye and smart demeanor gives away the breadth and depth of their versatility. Each of the Modish Nights players has a background in business, marketing, and—formally or informally—how to conceptualize an event that ties together interpersonal relationships in a group setting. Knowing your demographic, getting what will click, shaking, and stirring. Taking a little longer to get ready, knowing that attention is paid to every detail.
“I think people here have the perception we should always be humble and modest,” adds Brandon McCray, pausing for a moment. Constantly checking lighting, angles, conferring with the photographer, his media experience was evident and his refined features practically devoured the camera. He lambasted modesty: “Be glamorous! Play!”
Most of the group is media savvy, including Brian Trinh, who also happens to sport another set of impossibly high cheekbones. He is part to blame for Rice’s constant grin. Trihn hardly lets a word pass by without an acerbic and hilarious zinger. His ease and charisma makes it easy to see why he would be an ideal candidate to mingle at a party, sharing his sly wit with the kind of one-liners that conjures of feelings of being invited to sit at the cool kid’s table.
To ward off moments of awkwardness at a Modish Night event, the hosts begin the conversation for the guests. A card is placed at each setting with five questions guests must ask the person next to them. As the evening progresses, questions are asked, until they reach the fifth and final question: ”What do you like most about me?”
Jones explains, “The answers can be quite profound, depending on how many cocktails-“
“-or glasses of wine,” Trinh interjects,
“-people have had. Some people laugh their heads off and sometimes it can be a really emotional. It’s really amazing to see.” They smile, slyly.
And just like that, they were done. Floating off to the next new spot, following glittery breadcrumbs back to the relative safety of the city as we’re left wondering if all that really happened, or if it was just a brief dream.
Produced by: Andy Lien
Photography by: Mike Hnida
Location: Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, www.arboretum.umn.edu
Styled by: Brandon McCray
Gown by: Bloomingdale’s, www.bloomingdales.com
Tuxes by: Savvi Formalwear, www.savviformalwear.com
Chandeliers by: Covet Consign & Design, www.covetconsignanddesign.com