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?

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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 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.

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