I t's 3 a.m. The average Baltimorean is snug in bed, briefcase by the door ready for the next day's work.
But downtown, in an old warehouse near Camden Yards, the music is blasting and platform shoes are stomping to the pounding beat in a frenzy of fashion fantasy.
Wild young women in metallic hot pants and motorcycle boots dance alongside sweet young things in Woodstock prairie dresses. Their partners range from clean-cut young men in denim shirts and floral ties to long-haired fellows in flannel tartans and jeans. There's even one muscular young man who's naked save for a pair of blue jeans and a multitude of tattoos decorating his torso.
Near the bar, the crowd parts as two agile men face off in a dance contest. Cheering them on is a giant of a man, bald and sleek in a black Spandex unitard and silver platform shoes.
"It's the kind of fashion you'd expect to see in New York, but never in Baltimore," marveled Drew Bartholomew, one party guest who visited this dance club for the first time last week. "You see the kind of clothes here like I saw in clubs like the Tunnel in New York. It's very cutting edge."
The scene for this fashion exhibition is Orbit, a party staged for Baltimore's underground fashion and music crowd about once a month by One World Productions.
The group includes Tony Japzon, a former night club manager and currently a law school graduate preparing for his bar exam; Charles Fields, a co-owner of the Charles Street clothing store Sole Brothers; and Scott Henry, a record company representative.
They don't formally advertise, but word of the event spreads through fliers given out to friends and in funky boutiques and record stores. The cover charge is minimal, usually about $6 a person.
Partygoers plan for weeks just what they will wear. At Le bTC Chateau, a youth-oriented clothing store in the Owings Mills Mall, the salespeople are frequently called upon to assist customers to find dramatic get-ups that will draw attention on the dance floor."There aren't a lot of places in Baltimore where you can really dress up the way you can at Orbit," says Le Chateau's assistant manager Sandi Blackwell. "I went for the first time last week and it was a blast." Her choice of apparel: a pair of hot pants in a black and white check, black thigh-high leggings and a leotard.
Another first-timer last week was photographer Nick Gavrelis. "It was so electric and eclectic," he says. "It was a real melting pot, and all ages were represented.
"I also thought it was a great way to see how Baltimore interprets the different fashion trends and to see the new looks that a lot of creative people just come up with themselves."
Amy Kushner, a production assistant for W. B. Doner advertising company, hasn't missed a single party since it began nearly a year ago. She welcomes the chance to break out of the everyday clothing her career demands. For last week's event she wore a pair of black hot pants she found at Contempo Casual, a floral gauze poet's shirt from The Bead and some funky updated Mary Jane shoes from the shoe store Precis.
While she doesn't go out to many clubs, she always makes the trip to an Orbit party, she says, "because there's a kind of mystique about Orbit that makes it different.
"It's also so free and open and it's a great mix of people. You're free to wear anything you want and to do your hair and makeup any way. And you never see any fights because there's plenty of room for everyone -- people just come to dance and have a good time."
Diversity is something that the producers of the event work very hard to achieve.
A sign outside the door proclaims: "One World Productions established Orbit as an event for people of all races, nationalities, and sexual preferences to socialize, dance, and party. People who may be shocked or offended by this diverse mixture of patrons should not attend this event."
Mr. Japzon, who's managed such area clubs in the past as Metro and Cignel, has staged single-night parties such as these at various times over the past decade, but never in such an organized fashion as the Orbit parties, and none has gathered such a dedicated following.
"We modeled it after clubs in other cities where they hold certain parties on certain nights of the week to cater to different audiences," he says. While the Orbit parties most recently have been held at a club called Paradox, it's also been staged elsewhere at such places as Cignel.
"In Baltimore we felt everything was too segregated, including the nightclubs," he says, "so our production team wanted to holds parties that had a mix of racial and sexual preferences."
He believes that the fashion show that goes on at each party is directly traceable to the variety of people invited.
"Most clubs in Baltimore are always a step behind in fashion because of the lack of diversity," he says. "Since they're so homogenous, they're not as colorful a place."
One World Productions works carefully to come up with a blend of dance-oriented progressive music that's constantly changing to keep up with the cutting edge.
The irregularity of the event and lack of advertising also keeps an aura of desirable mystery about the event.
"If we did it regularly, we couldn't generate this kind of enthusiasm; no club could," Mr. Japzon says.
Reflecting on last week's party, he says, "The percentage of people who've dressed up like this has never been greater. Last Thursday we had 800 people."
Another Orbit party is in the works. For time and place stay tuned to the underground network.