As the action was beginning to build inside the gleaming new Holt Renfrew Vancouver, a throng of locals had amassed behind barricades across Granville Street to watch 1,200 invitation-only guests walk a magenta carpet (in keeping with the company's signature colour).
"We want to see Galen Weston," screamed one young woman of Holt Renfrew's chairman, which just goes to show that when you can't be in Cannes drooling over Brad Pitt, you rank the elegant éminence grise right up there with Canadian celebrities.
In fact, scores of international industry insiders - including Leonard Lauder and John Varvatos - made the pilgrimage west on Tuesday to celebrate the luxury retailer's latest wonderland. Jeweller Carlo Antonini and wife Kiki, dressed in a stunning yellow Valentino number, flew from Milan via Las Vegas.
Held on all three levels of the 100,000-square-foot space, the evening was as curiously star-studded as a Robert Altman film. Think Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross, actor Alan Cumming and Rumer Willis (daughter of Mr. Die Hard). Meanwhile, some guests could not help but scratch their heads over the juxtaposition of Dave Navarro as emcee and Patti Labelle as special guest performer.
But in the same way that tattooed guitarist and soul diva represent opposite ends of the music spectrum, they actually offered a parallel for the range of what Vancouverites consider fashionable. Indeed, while the emergence of Tiffany & Co., Hermès and Coach may slowly be turning Burrard Street into a mini-Bloor Street, there's still a good portion of the population that is just as happy to wear fleece.
"This is really good for Vancouver," said Dace Moore, in a blouse with pleated bib from her namesake Canadian line, which is carried at Holts. "When I went to design school, there were not many places to see what was in the magazines."
Friend and local boutique owner Michelle Rizzardo agreed. "The Vancouver fashion scene is totally changing. People are researching fashion more and feeling more creative and energetic."
To be sure, the city is not about to edge out Paris, Milan or Tokyo. But a wintry cranberry satin blazer and picnic-appropriate seersucker - these men apparently dress for all seasons - were balanced by a stunning Vivien Westwood jacket courtesy of Graham Gartside, a former Brit who now works in public relations.
Yeny Oh, one of the finalists for this paper's Canada's Most Stylish contest, defended her hometown. "People have a negative idea of hippie style. But hippie style is very free, as in, 'If I feel like wearing a turban, I will,' " said Oh, who was sporting a cute skullcap.
Her tunic dress was restrained compared with Meg Sintzel and Mary Lou Gazeley, both dressed fittingly in magenta. Though they were standing together, they had just been introduced through a mutual friend. "It's the only thing I own that isn't black," Gazeley said.
Conversely, Rachel Fisher and Lena Marie Millard did not use their identical BCBG black and white dresses as an opportunity to become fast friends. "It's all fun," said Fisher, a lawyer, without a trace of high school embarrassment.
"I'm obviously wearing something appropriate."
Eating in a store inevitably feels awkward and to that extent, more people sipped on the generous supply of Moët than gnawed on lamb chops (or perhaps there were more vegans than carnivores). The Thomas Haas chocolate, on the other hand, proved particularly welcome around 11 p.m.
Earlier in the evening, Holt Renfrew president and chief executive officer Caryn Lerner, wearing a sleeveless ivory dress by Canadian label Ruffian, said, "Our customers travel the world and fashion knows no boundaries."
Which is another way of saying Vancouverites have a unique way of interpreting the merchandise. One of the evening's most eccentric guests, decorator and sometimes-singer Lindsay Wells, topped his relatively tame white suit and black T-shirt with a black wig that channelled Einstein - to hide a bad haircut, he said. Equally noticeable were his accessories, which included an Alexander McQueen skull-patterned scarf, David Yurman necklaces and a Pippo chronograph watch.
When he arrived with his partner, Bill Crozier, the crowd responded as if he was someone famous. "The last time we experienced something like this was probably the Planet Hollywood opening. And we all know that didn't last," he said, referring to the demise of the chain's Vancouver outpost.
Yes, celebrities can add life to a party but the lifeblood of a store depends on loyal customers, especially those as unique, if not deep-pocketed, as Wells. "I'm at the store almost every day," he said, standing near the performance of a Chinese acrobatic troupe. "This will be my second home."