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    ICA finds winning nightlife formula

    Models on the runway at the ICA First Fridays fashion show.
    Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
    Models on the runway at the ICA First Fridays fashion show.

    It was a stampede of stilettos at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the stylish swarm was starting to get cranky.

    “What do you mean the fashion show is full?” asked an indignant woman in a dangerously tight black minidress. “I came here to see a fashion show!”

    While the crowd grew inside the ICA theater, Gary Croteau of Salon Mario Russo was backstage using stencils to spray-paint designs into elaborate puffs of teased-up wigs on models who would soon walk the runway.


    Decked out in fashions from local stores — all inspired by the work of the Brazilian street artists Os Gemeos, on display at the ICA — the short fashion show was a blend of modern art, pure party, and eye candy. The clothes, a mix of Proenza Schouler sweaters, Commes des Garcon jacquard coats, and Marni platform shoes, felt as creative as the paintings upstairs.

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    Blurring the line between art institution and nightlife destination is a formula that the ICA has been perfecting since its move to the South Boston waterfront in 2006. And the parties have increased in number since July, when the ICA introduced First Fridays. The museum turns into a den of culture and cocktails the first Friday of each month. About 900 people have been attending the Friday soirees, according to Colette Randall, an ICA spokeswoman and one of the organizers of the parties. In August, a crowd of more than 1,600 turned up for a First Fridays Brazilian street party.

    Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
    Gary Croteau does the hair of model Jessica Clements.

    “I’d say I like coming here more than I like hanging out in a lot of clubs in Boston,” said 36-year-old Jennifer Powell as she waited in line for a pear martini. “I like the vibe, I like the space, and I like the crowd.”

    The fashion show was so popular that a second, impromptu show was added later that night. Finally, the indignant woman in the tight black dress was pleased.

    In addition to these monthly gatherings, the museum has become a destination for national and international DJs, avant-garde concerts — such as Peaches’s one-woman tour de force “Jesus Christ Superstar” in December 2010 ­— and even cliff diving.


    At the Oct. 5 fashion show, models showed off ensembles curated from local stores such as Uniform, Turtle, and Louis in the theater. Downstairs, videos from local designers Daniela Corte, Michael De Paulo, and Tonya Mezrich were projected on a large screen. In the top-floor galleries, patrons toured the art of Os Gemeos. The party was a celebration of the end of Boston Fashion Week, but Michael Silver, 24, who had come with a small entourage of friends, confessed in a low voice that he had no interest in fashion, or even art.

    “Do you think they’re onto me?” he asked with a smile.

    Attendees, who varied widely in age, said that aside from the fashion, the party offered a break from an average Friday night.

    “I tell people I’m coming to a museum,” Powell says. “What I don’t tell them is that I’m coming here and getting tipsy.”

    Christopher Muther can be reached at