December 3rd, 2023 will forever be consecrated in the annals of Boston’s fashion history. It was the night glass ceilings were shattered on what our city is capable of in one of the world’s most storied industries. Irina Noonan takes us back through the evening through the eyes and words of a model on the runway in Boston’s First Annual Runway Ball at the Hilton Boston Park Plaza Hotel.

Model: Sabrina Ponte | Designer: Zonya Campbell | Image: Andrew Dunne | Cover Design: Jill Donahue

“MODELS line up!,” shouts model coordinator, Liya Kay.  

Sixty models. Seven designers. Five-hundred guests. A sixty-foot runway. And an endless backstage crew.  

A few moments go by as the models rearrange themselves to take their positions backstage, draped in breathtaking and groundbreakingly unique designs by local New England designers.  

“Is everyone in order? How are we all feeling?” 

It’s in this moment, we look to one another, glammed by the best, dressed to the nines by visionaries, and realize that this is IT. The moment we’ve been waiting for. But let me elaborate, because that sounds cliché and this event is anything but. 

Yes, Matt Ribaudo of BostonMan Magazine has hosted incredible events before, from magazine cover reveals at the hippest venues throughout Boston, to runway shows such as the Summer Pink Party, to private art showings for his Legacy Club community; and even to a float in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Southie.  

And yes, Amanda Vargus of Wave + Woven is the fastest rising celebrity stylist in the city, with an unprecedented eye for cutting edge fashion and trends. 

But this event? This grand coalescence of our community, from designers, artists, sponsors, vendors, and guests? This is, undoubtedly, the first of its kind in Boston. This is the start of our ability as a community to reject the nationwide belief that Boston is “an unfashionable city.”  

This is our time. This is our city. This is The Runway Ball.  

Image by John Lee

“This is something I have dreamed of doing since I was a little girl,” co-producer of The Runway Ball, Amanda Vargus said. “To me, fashion is art. And the designers we showcased are some of the best fashion artists in the city.” 

Just as we begin to fully absorb how magical it is to be a part of this night and event, we receive our cue: Rozita Fishta begins to play the electric violin. The first model takes the stage and descends the stairs, hitting the runway with power and grace, matching the tempo of the violin.  

Again, it hits us: No more planning it. No more talking about it. No more waiting. It’s here and now. And with that realization, I receive my own cue. I pick up my yellow ballgown and ascend the stairs… 

Image: Andrew Dunne | Model: Irina Noonan | Designer: Zonya Campbell

BUT before I take you down the runway with me, let’s rewind to the beginning of the evening. You didn’t think the models would be cooped up backstage, while the rest of you partied away at the cocktail reception, did you?  

Of course you didn’t. You know our BostonMan model community better than that and like all of you, we love a party, especially one that A) celebrates our favorite magazine’s five-year anniversary and B) raises proceeds and awareness for a special cause, St. Jude Children and Research Hospital New England.  

Image by Asadus Syed

As we made our way to the cocktail reception from backstage, the high-energy exuding from the ballroom could be felt from miles away. Between the guests filing into the grand room dressed to impress, to the wonderful sounds of music carrying through the hotel air, to the vibrations of red carpet hosts Emmalyn Reid and Gabriella Celona; we knew this was going to be the event of the year. (As it was later named and awarded so by prestigious firm, Regan Communications.) 

“I’ve always had this idea of combining the grace, beauty, and theatre of a fashion show with the quality and entertainment of a BostonMan event,” BostonMan publisher and Runway Ball co-producer Matt Ribaudo said.   

“Why can’t we have a high end cocktail reception with people schmoozing and networking before rolling back the curtains and saying, ‘buckle up, now it’s time for the best show you’ll ever see?’” 

Once we stepped into the historic Grand Ballroom at Boston Park Plaza, the theme of Old Hollywood exuded throughout the air from the vendors and the guests (they really understood the assignment).  

Turning the corner to the right of the entrance, a stage sat in the middle of the room and it was immediately evident where the transportive sounds of harmonic voices were coming from. 

From “Runaround Sue” to “Brown Eyed Girl” to “It’s the Same Old Song,” America’s last standing Doo Wop band, Street Magic, (from Boston’s historic North End) not only brought the ambience, they also brought us back in time – to a night in ‘Old Hollywood’ to be exact.  

Image by Rob Hare

“Everything was purposeful, Street Magic was playing songs that were some of the most classic Hollywood movie soundtracks from an era we all romanticize,” emphasized Ribaudo. 

“We’ve done many shows over the years,” Carmen Federico, lead singer of Street Magic said. “And I can honestly say this one was special. Everything Matt Ribaudo does is top notch, but this show had another level of magic in the air, one you don’t normally feel.” 

As the music continued to transport us, we made our way around the room, to experience every facet it had to offer:  

The crown jewel of the cocktail reception: a custom Sophia Loren portrait donated by renowned Boston artist, Giovanni DeCunto, curated for and dedicated to The Runway Ball.  

The Designer Wall of Recognition by Bogosplit highlighting the work of over 200 designers.  

The red carpet and photobooth, where we captured the beginning of a magical evening.  

The ‘Old Hollywood’ cigar cart, where each attendee received a BostonMan Mag special 5-year anniversary cigar. 

The silent auction, showcasing timeless memorabilia from many classic movies -including signed pieces from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Robert De Niro, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, and of course many of our local sports legends.  

The five iconic magazine covers in honor of the magazine’s 5th year anniversary.  

BostonMan Magazine’s 5-year Anniversary covers: Robert Eugene, Anthony Amicangioli, Yolanda Cellucci, St. Jude New England, and William G. Gross

The ‘St. Jude Lounge’ where we all were able to learn more about the incredible efforts being put forth to end pediatric cancer. 

And finally, we can’t forget the food. From the sushi wheel, to the individual cast iron pasta skillets, and finally dessert: sparkling cotton candy (yes, with edible glitter!).  

Once the clock hit 7:45pm and we had experienced yet another exceptional BostonMan cocktail reception, it was time for us to head backstage and prepare for the show of the year with the help of the incredible backstage crew.  

“Making sure details are perfect, models scrambling to get ready, designers and their beautiful pieces to showcase; it was such an extraordinary experience as an assistant stylist,” said Rielly O’Brien. “Being my first experience in a real fashion show, the energy was chaotic in the best way. Everyone was so supportive of each other, even in times of stress, as we collectively came together to create such a fabulous show.” 

With seven designers set to showcase their designs on the runway throughout the night (broken up by an energetic intermission), -following magnetic opening speeches from Ribaudo and Vargus- we began with the first four: Jacque Label, MPOZE, Ameera, and Phor Popes. 

Dressed by Jackie of Jacque Label in an immaculate silver metallic breastplate, sleek sunglasses, and a long ponytail, model Jasmine Cline-Bailey, will always remember how “beautiful, powerful, and fierce” she felt as she made the runway her own. 

Model: Jasmine Cline-Bailey | Designer: Jacque Label | Image: Andrew Dunne

“From the fitting to the actual show, I knew this walk would be special,” said Cline-Bailey. “It was an honor to be one of the few models selected to showcase the eye catching designs of Jacque Label. I have been a fan of Jackie’s work for quite some time after seeing the likes of Lele Pons wearing one of her amazing breastplates at Coachella.” 

Following such unique and futuristic designs, we witnessed the sustainable, modern, and modest designs of runway second-timer, Ameera Hammouda (aka Ameera). 

“Our brand is pretty minimal I’d say but there’s a lot of bold colors and simple, seamless tailoring,” said Ameera. “Everything’s been done but not everything’s been done in a modest way. For styles and silhouettes, how can we make a modern and modest version of them?” 

Although she had mentally prepared for this magical moment, seeing her designs come to life on stage was more than she could have imagined.  

“It was more emotional than I thought it would be,” Ameera reflected. “You know the story behind each piece and how it came to life. It’s like memory lane, thinking, ‘I remember when that was just a sketch.’ It was like, ‘Ugh, finally! I can see this collection as a story told rather than just ecommerce shots and random photos here and there – it’s the full thing coming together.” 

Not only did Ameera have the opportunity to watch her designs grace the runway for the second time in her career, she also may have unknowingly set the record for the world’s longest hairbow!  

Model: Kya McCarthy | Designer: Ameera | Image: Andrew Dunne

“Sometimes you have dreams and sometimes your dreams come to you,” she said. “I wanted to create a jaw dropping moment on the runway, create something that would really grab their attention and get them excited about. I’ve always wanted my brand to be more than just clothing, like a whole message and to really build a community.” 

WITH the magnificent community at the forefront of The Runway Ball, Ribaudo and Vargus knew an intermission would create the perfect scene for further talented artists to be showcased, (while also giving attendees a chance to grab a refreshment!) 

As the last model exited the stage of the fourth designer, 6x Apollo Theatre award-winning “Hip Hop 50” dancers, the WonderTwins took center stage. The energy was through the roof as the hip hop legends performed choreographed mini-sets from their highly acclaimed show “Love & Happiness.”  

Billy and Bobby McClain of The WonderTwins

Following the WonderTwins, “Boston’s Best DJ” nominee DJ Stamz, went into a fifteen minute ‘Hollywood at Night’ mix he specifically blended for The Runway Ball. 

“The entire evening was incredible,” Billy McClain of the WonderTwins said. “It was an honor to perform and celebrate with BostonMan Magazine on their 5-year anniversary and the fashion show was the best we’ve ever seen in this city. The energy and vibe felt like we were in New York City.” 

As intermission concluded, guests prepared themselves to take in the second installment of captivating designs. We witnessed the inner cranial workings of thought-provoking designers including Graciela Rivas, Zonya Campbell, and Bless by Bless.  

BostonMan advisory board members Zoe Bucuvalas & Andrea Cadigan during DJ Stamz intermission. (Image: Rob Hare)

WHICH brings us right back to where we started…  

“Zonya’s models, it’s almost time!” 

Zip. Straighten. Crouch. Heels. Clasped. Hair. Slicked. Line up. Walk. Stairs. Stage. Showtime. 

As I walked across the mahogany stage, all I could think about was, “kick, kick, kick, kick.” 

A funny thought, you might be thinking since this isn’t a rockette performance. And you’re right, but you see (or actually what you didn’t see), is that there’s much more than just walking down a runway (especially in the gowns Zonya creates). 

As models, it’s about mastering the energy that the designer aspires to exude from their collection.. It’s about the aura they want to surround the room the moment eyes meet the designs. It’s about the pace, the faces, and especially the steps. And in this case, I had to take giant steps (even in five inch heels) in order to not step, tumble, and trip on this magnificent yellow ballgown in front of you all.  

Coming down the stairs from the stage, I held the dress in either hand, opting out of the assistance offered by our wonderful gentleman to the side of the (steep and narrow) stairs. As I stepped down onto the main stage, I threw the dress out in front of me to give myself a head start with the kicks.   

Before I knew it, with the next kick out, my heel was caught up in the skirt of the dress. I stumbled but quickly recovered and laughed it off as I continued toward the end of the runway.  

Did everyone in the audience witness that stumble? Yes. But you know what they did next? They cheered.  

This is said and emphasized for one purpose: to highlight the incredibly warm and encouraging fashion community that we’ve built here in Boston that can be felt by all. The Runway Ball truly is about community, culture, and fashion. 

A community -led by Vargus and Ribaudo- that helped materialize so many dreams for so many of us on this magical evening.

Model: Sarah Reilly | Designer: Graciela Rivas | Image: Andrew Dunne

“Walking for (designer) Graciela Rivas was a dream!” said model Sarah Reilly. “The energy of the crowd was incredible, and the dress was so elegant. It was easy to feel like a superstar on the runway. Thank you to BostonMan Magazine, Wave + Woven and everyone in our community that helped put this together!” 

With countless aspects to appreciate, model Shayda Sales knows it wouldn’t be the same without one thing in particular.   

“How tight knit everyone is; the community is small and we are overlooked by other communities in fashion, but we are constantly pushing each other and working collaboratively to show the world what Boston has!” the model said.   

And, as can be expected, she’s not the only one to feel the remarkable energy of the Boston area.  

“For me it’s simple, my favorite part of the Boston fashion community is the people,” said Cline-Bailey. “I love meeting such talented and passionate individuals. Each person comes from such different backgrounds and I’m always so grateful for how much I learn from others.” 

In emphasizing the warmth of this community, they sure as hell showed out in true spades for our final walk of the night, with a special twist. In representing St. Jude New England, each designer was paired with a model as they took the stage once more each donning a “This Tee Shirt Saves Lives” fit, the national St. Jude campaign endorsed by Jennifer Aniston.  

Model: Shayda Sales | Designer: Ameera | Campaign: ‘St.Jude This Tee Shirt Saves Lives’

The walk was especially close to the heart of Sales who was paired with Ameera. 

“I was so honored to walk alongside Ameera Hammouda in honor of the incredible work of St. Jude New England,” Sales said. “We had previously connected over how special it was to work together as two Middle Eastern women in the space, and it was even more special highlighting the amazing work being done in our communities.” 

The sentiment of the final walk -and entire evening- was felt across the St. Jude family as well, where ‘Toast to St. Jude’ committee members took in the show with a birds-eye-view poached atop  mezzanine:  

“The Runway Ball was like no other event I’ve attended in Boston,” said ‘Toast to St. Jude’ committee chair Caitlin Flaherty. “It was incredible to see all of the amazing desingers and their work while coming together to rally around such an important cause, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.” 

Wave + Woven’s Amanda Vargus receives a standing ovation from the 500+ attendees for her production of Boston’s Runway Ball. (Image by JFP Memories)

WITH The Runway Ball cementing the city of Boston as “the next fashion hub,” we can only imagine what the majestic duo of Ribaudo and Vargus have up their sleeves next… and the anticipation is growing. 

“There are so many opportunities in fashion that can be executed in the city of Boston,” said O’Brien. “Since the Runway Ball was such a success, it created a segue for Boston to immerse itself within the high fashion community. The turnout, the excitement, and the sheer atmosphere of The Runway Ball gave a sense of promise: Boston will become the next major fashion city!”  

Well, as we’ve seen, we can’t argue with that! You already know to keep an eye on this spot, because who knows –  with Matt Ribaudo and Amanda Vargus leading the way, The Second Annual Runway Ball could even top the first!


Bless by Bless takes a bow closing out the 1st Annual Boston’s Runway Ball.