Toronto Fashion Week Shows Evolution and Diversification
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Toronto Fashion Week Shows Evolution and Diversification

Toronto Fashion Week comes back to the core with a dizzying array of talent, both inside and outside the tents.

Two looks from Lucian Matis's fall/winter line that unofficially kicked off Toronto Fashion Week. Photos by Jenna Marie Wakani.

Toronto Fashion Week (or World Mastercard Fashion Week, but we’re only saying it once) unofficially kicked off on Monday with a Lucian Matis show, held at the Royal York Hotel. For his fall/winter line, Matis used a combination of crochet, lace, and feathers on a series of black dresses and gowns to evoke moody sophistication. Tarek Al-Azbat, creative director of Nella Bella, told us he found it a “mature collection” and “very exotic.” Kimberly Lyn, a fashion blogger and creator of Soul of My Shoes, piped in to add that she thought the collection “very lady-like.”

Those who have never attended Toronto Fashion Week may find it confusing that many familiar local names are not on the schedule. That’s because it’s not uncommon for many designers to hold independent shows that don’t appear on the official program. Celebrated brand Greta Constantine hosted its at the Arcadian Loft last week. The Lucian Matis show on Monday wasn’t part of the official lineup, either—though they did hold an official show on Tuesday night.

Al-Azbat explained that part of the reason some designers choose to arrange their own venues is that they worry about how their lines will look inside the tents—something he said he does too, for the Nella Bella brand. Sometimes other venues work better. Lucian Matis’s show, held in the Royal York’s upscale ballroom, would have “lost some of its impact” in the tents, Al-Azbat noted.

“What matters is what’s best for your brand,” added Lyn, “what fits your brand and your design, and what experience and impact you are trying to make with your collection.”

Some of the more anticipated shows include well-known names like Sunny Fong’s VAWK (“a mix of Japanese samurai and sci-fi,” says Lyn), Pink Tartan, David Dixon, and Arthur Mendonca. Lyn thinks the Joe Fresh show, to be held tonight, will be good. The brand, she said, “comes up with great fashion that is economical and accessible for everybody.”

Al-Azbat is interested in Line, which is presenting a darker, sinister look in knitware that he finds “exciting and interesting.”

Toronto Fashion Week tends to be a mix of established names and newer talent. Upstarts may prefer the tents, as they provide the advantages of a central location, the efficiency of not having to find and set up a new venue, and potential cost-savings from not having to start from scratch. “I find the tents to be more of an incubator sometimes,” said Juan Carlos Gaona, who previously owned clothing boutique Magnolia. He’s now Sales Director for local designer Philip Sparks.

Existing talent sometimes uses the tents to incubate new lines. While Lucian Matis showed outside of Fashion Week, his more affordable and wearable line, “Matis,” will show in the tents, as will Ezra Constantine, the menswear collection by Greta Constantine. In the past couple of years, new talent hasn’t burst out of the gates the way designers like Matis or Fong did. “Instead,” said Gaona, “we are seeing the older ‘Golden Children’ spawning their new more wearable labels, such as [Fong’s] Vawkkin.”

The more accessible lines are a nod to the fact that practicality is a major necessity for appealing to local buyers. “The shows are amazing but they don’t translate into the real Canadian market,” said Gaona, which is why designers are increasingly partnering with retailers like Danier to bring their visions to the public.

“For Canadians, it’s what’s on a mass-consumable level,” noted Lyn. “They know the brands, such as those designers that were on Project Runway Canada.” (Both Lucian Matis and Sunny Fong were in the show.)

“Partnering with bigger brands helps designers financially and makes them more recognizable to consumers,” Lyn added.

As Toronto designers get more ambitious, Fashion Week will have to follow suit. In previous years, the event was plagued with negative or mixed reviews, but our experts say things are changing. One helpful tweak was bringing the show back into the core: it was once at Nathan Phillips Square, before its organizers essentially exiled it to the Exhibition Hall. Now, it’s at David Pecaut Square. “There’s a maturity now in terms of venue and set-up,” said Lyn, adding that the Week is “much more accessible: there are restaurants around [the tents], which is important to people covering Fashion Week from Monday to Friday.”

Accessibility is also important to Al-Azbat. “Accessibility to everybody is key,” he said. “At other Fashion Weeks, [in other cities around the world] everybody is invited, everybody is welcome. We’re not getting more and more exclusive; we’re becoming more and more open—which is something I like seeing.”