It’s official: TFW is back after being scrapped last year—but seemingly countless high-style events have already stepped in to take its place. In this new crowded landscape, Carlene Higgins wonders: What should Fashion Week be, anyway?
Decoding Toronto Fashion Week
Up until the December news that Toronto Fashion Week was being resurrected from the grave, some of us in the industry believed it might never come back. IMG—the production company behind New York, London and Sydney Fashion Week, among others—killed it last July after four years. The reason? A lack of “local support for the industry.” Oh, how the truth burned. You would seldom catch a buyer from any of the country’s major department stores sitting front row, and most editors couldn’t make time for the full week of all-day events. But the big problem, as one insider put it, is you weren’t likely to have FOMO if you didn’t attend.
When the axe fell on Fashion Week, I was a style editor at a major Canadian publication and had a trip booked to attend London Fashion Week, which redefined itself in recent years from a staid afterthought on the international circuit to a destination for cuttingedge fashion. Sure, Simone Rocha and J.W. Anderson stunned, but the off-runway showroom presentations also sparked buzz in the town car
I shared with international journalists and stylists. In the vast, white Brewer Street Car Park (a former parking garage), more than 100 emerging designers displayed their wares as pop-ups, including talented up- and- comers like Rejina Pyo (who’s since debuted on net-aporter.com) and Canadian expat Steven Tai, whom I chatted with casually. With impossibly chic U.K. editors like Caroline Issa in attendance, it felt like a secret after-hours club— like maybe the next Alexander McQueen was somewhere inside among us.
That’s when I started wondering: In the face of nothingness, what should Toronto Fashion Week be, anyway?
FashionCan was the first to swiftly step in last season, supporting Canadian fashion when it needed a champion. A joint effort organized by the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFA), The Collections and Yorkdale Shopping Centre, the runway event coincided with the launch of the mall’s new wing last October. I pushed the limit on my downtown company’s cab expenses to check out top homegrown designers like Pink Tartan, Greta Constantine and Mikhael Kale, whose looks graced the sprawling aisles. Between shows, I noshed on food court butter chicken, and at week’s end, shopped the pop-up shops offering the see-now-buy-now collections (a trend big in New York for the last few seasons). By the time you read this, season two will have just wrapped.
Turns out, IMG’s fateful move encouraged a lot of people to imagine what a new Toronto Fashion Week could look like. One of them is real estate developer Peter Freed. MidDecember, he announced that he was spearheading a group of investors who had purchased Toronto Fashion Week from IMG, and that along with former IMG Canada director Carolyn Quinn and PR maven Suzanne Cohon, Toronto Fashion Week was back on.
So on a Monday morning in January, I ventured to the Hazelton Hotel to hear their plans. “What Fashion Week needs, with Peter’s guidance, is a re-invention,” said Cohon, the official fashion, arts and culture ambassador for Toronto Fashion Week. Their vision, they told me, is to take over the ritzy Yorkville neighbourhood TIFF-style this fall. In short: to create a grand spectacle that draws in the whole city. In addition to runway shows and presentations, they’re planning for in-store activations, packed restaurants, live music (whether celebrities will perform isn’t known yet) and Ted-talks-style learning sessions from fashion heavy-hitters. “Toronto Fashion Week has achieved incredible things and missed out on incredible things,” said Freed. “It’s evolved, but it’s an opportunity to bring it to the next level…to make this thing credible.”
They aren’t the only ones looking to bring TFW into the present. Just two months after IMG announced it was stepping down, TOM founder Jeff Rustia announced that he would expand his threeyear- old Toronto Men’s Fashion Week to include a women’s division. Titled TW, it kicks off March 9. “It will be a modern, hightech, relevant Fashion Week, with runway presentations that are well curated,” Rustia says. “It will have showrooms, buyers’ days and industry talks— all aimed at helping the business of fashion.” Evan Biddell of Project Runway Canada, emerging talent Zoran Dobric and Toronto Fashion Incubator’s annual competition made the edit.
With all the activity around Fashion Week, it’s become an exciting, if confusing, time. Hopefully, one of these initiatives will manage to lure the brightest of our talents to participate in the hometown scene—if only before making it big abroad. Last year, 19-year-old designer Vejas Kruszewski made Vogue headlines after his line of avant-garde streetwear earned him LVMH’s special prize (a huge honour and a cash injec- tion of €150,000); he was a virtual unknown in Canada who never bothered to show a collection here, but nonetheless managed to infiltrate New York’s fashion crowd: Model-of-the-moment Hari Nef wears his clothes and Opening Ceremony now sells them.
Similarly, Mona Koochek and Tania Martins, founders of local label Markoo, have side-stepped TFW for the past few years. Their line had been carried by a few boutiques in Toronto and Vancouver, but it’s now exclusive to Assembly New York, a retailer that focuses on international designers dedicated to handcrafted, slow fashion. The duo presented in Toronto in a “small way” about a year ago, Koochek divulged to me over the phone, but they quickly bailed when they realized that it didn’t exactly jibe with the spare, street-leaning image of their three-year-old brand. “The tent was covered with a lot of advertising,” Koochek recalled. “I remember one time it was all pink lights, and I just felt that wasn’t really us.”
When I meet with Juliana Schiavinatto, stylist and former fashion director of Elle Canada, over a glass of red wine, she agrees that a flashy event for the general public serves a purpose (i. e., to drum up some desire to spend locally) but to earn credibility within the notoriously tough fashion industry, she believes that less is definitely more. “One day is enough,” she tells me, underscoring the “curating” (an oft batted around term) needed to make the cut on a world stage. “It needs to be unexpected. Maybe it’s set up like a tunnel, so you don’t know what you’re going to see next,” she says. “Because if we just do it the same way, trying to be something we’re not, it’s not hitting the moment.”
That’s the kind of restraint I noticed at The Collections’ reimagined presentation in February. The Toronto production agency’s event—aptly titled Re\Set—was in collab with Robin Kay, long-time president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada. “We want to provide designers with marketing and commerce opportunities and rethink the national and global perception of fashion in Canada,” explains Mel Ashcroft, one of the founders of The Collections, over email. Gone are the generic white tents of seasons past. Instead, the invite-only, two-night event took place in a weathered, mansion-like space in the trendy Queen West neighbourhood. Cool kids in navel-grazing ’90s tops and cropped flares seemed legitimately excited to take in the pop-up shop and intimate presentations from the likes of Sid Neigum and Beaufille (both already style-anointed by vogue. com and WWD) in various rooms, complete with cracked walls and chandeliers. Finally, there’s a hint of something different in the atmosphere this season—it feels like we’re ready to take a fresh breath, instead of gasping for air.
With all the activity around fashion week, it’s become an exciting, if confusing time.
Wrkdept presented its unisex collection at Re\ Set in Toronto in February.
With established labels like Pink Tartan and exciting fresh brands like Markoo, there’s no doubt that Canada boasts a wealth of homegrown design talent.