Full Steam Ahead: The Future of Toronto Fashion Week

A model walks the runway during the Christopher Paunil show at Toronto Fashion Week in Toronto, Monday, March 14, 2016. Photo Credit: Mark Blinch/AP

A model walks the runway during the Christopher Paunil show at Toronto Fashion Week in Toronto, Monday, March 14, 2016. Photo Credit: Mark Blinch/AP

[By: Odessa Paloma Parker] [The Globe and Mail] [Read More]

When news broke that event management company IMG would no longer organize Toronto Fashion Week, the announcement was met with dismay, indifference and hope. Odessa Paloma Parker polls some of the country’s top design talent for their wildest desires about what should happen now.

From social media debuts to open-to-the-public runway shows, our industry insiders can find inspiration and assurance that, though Toronto Fashion Week is shuttered for now, Canadian fashion can be as strong as ever.

To capture the attention of a worldwide audience, our local industry would do well to look at cases of governance in the U.S. and U.K. The Council of Fashion Designers of America and the British Fashion Council are leading examples of how, when a group of designers, media, retailers and other industry forces come together with the singular goal of promoting their homegrown talent, they succeed. These groups – both not-for-profit – helm fashion weeks and awards ceremonies, facilitate funding programs, and liaise with different levels of government and professional organizations to ensure that their designers are front-facing to the world in a collective and cohesive way. The BFC, with the help of the Mayor’s Office of London, is able to sponsor international media during London Fashion Week with hotel accommodations and car service between shows – a boon to journalists facing tight budgets. They’re also proof that non-profit factions such as Fashion Group International (a worldwide group with over 30 localized chapters that hosts forums and events for fashion professionals) and the Toronto Fashion Incubator (which provides mentorship, work space and business development programming) can work together under one guiding body. If the industry expects Canadian and international audiences to take our designers seriously, singular and passionate leadership is required.

Debbie Zakaib, the executive director of mmode, an organization that includes designers and executives at major Quebec-based fashion brands and aims to strengthen the province’s fashion industry through marketing, manufacturing and branding initiatives, agrees. “Our motto,” she says, is ‘Alone, you go faster. Together, we go further.’”

There’s also the issue of connecting designers and their varied audiences (media, retailers and fans). The indefinite cancellation of TFW doesn’t mean designers aren’t able to put on their own presentations, of course, which these days run the gamut from high-end productions held at lavish homes around the city to intimate affairs at art galleries. And ever more often, designers are looking to social media to pitch new collections at a nominal cost – not to mention use it as a way to let customers know immediately what’s in the works for upcoming seasons. New York-based women’s-wear designer Misha Nonoo launched her spring 2016 collection via Instagram, as did Wes Gordon for his fall collection this year. Regardless of the manner in which they choose to present their new lines, what’s important is that designers are supported in their decisions to not be a part of an “official” fashion week calendar should another one be devised. The organizers of TFW were generally unwilling to include off-site shows as part of the official event schedule, hindering attendance and coverage at these independently produced shows. Embracing the various ways in which designers choose to make a statement is a must. Case in point: The announcement of Gordon’s digital launch was sent by invitation along with other NYFW tickets to more traditionally produced shows.

But it’s the lack of awareness by Canadian consumers to invest in locally designed and manufactured fashion that speaks most loudly about the inner failings of the industry. The Montreal-based Groupe Sensation Mode devised a way to interface with the public directly during the city’s Festival Mode & Design, which runs each August and attracts crowds of thousands.

So what does, or rather should, Toronto’s future hold? Designers at five labels share their thoughts and wishes below.

How six Canadian fashion designers would reimagine Toronto fashion week

ERAN ELFASSY AND ELISA DAHAN are the designers behind Montreal-based brand Mackage, which presented during TFW for many years, and last season closed the week with an off-site presentation: “One of the things we felt about TFW was that they stopped screening the brands that were showing. The best thing that could arise from developing a new fashion week would be to curate real talent and have it be less about commercialism. It became more of a business, which is unfortunate, because the whole goal of fashion week to us is to show how amazing our talent is. It should be something that’s motivating, refreshing and innovative. Also, showing off-site allowed us to do what we wanted – it was very hard to be creative in the official TFW environment because of all the rules and regulations.”

PATRICIA WONG is a jewellery designer who was featured as part of the Toronto Fashion Incubator’s Press & Buyers Brunch, a two-day trade show style event that took place during TFW: “I think this is a great opportunity to give our shows a more intimate setting and to take them out of that larger format. A group of designers could collaborate on a more formal event, like the days of salon shows in the 1940s. It would be great for social media to have images not of runway shots, but of invited guests – including editors – wearing the garments and accessories. I also think an event like the TFI Press and Buyers Brunch would be good to continue; it was a great way for me to not only meet editors, but other designers."

JENNIFER TOROSIAN is a women’s-wear designer who made her TFW runway debut this past March with her fall 2016 collection: “Having the shows presented earlier in the season would be helpful. I do understand that TFW had to run later than the main international shows, but it’s difficult to grow as a designer when you’re showing collections to the media, consumers and retailers so much later. And I’d like to see importance placed on inviting key international journalists to attend the shows like they do in other cities. I’d also like see the government show more support and consider fashion part of our arts and culture, and put an emphasis on the fact that our fashion industry is important. I think Canadian consumers would take what we do more seriously.”

HAYLEY ELSAESSER is a Toronto-based designer who participated in her first TFW in October 2014: “As a designer, it’s been difficult at times to portray what I want to do on the runway; for example, I really wanted to do an interactive carnival experience for my last collection. This could definitely be a good way for the industry here to take this as a learning experience. I know that in the past, Toronto has always followed suit with what has been done, and was not really innovating. This is an opportunity for us to be more technologically advanced in the way we do fashion shows. Perhaps a technology company can take over so that we can do something new and different.”

ANDREW COIMBRA is a men’s-wear designer who has participated in Toronto Men’s Fashion week. He presented his most recent collection at an independent off-site location: “It would be really nice to see increased funding from the government. Independent designers should be funded to a degree because fashion can be such a great cultural engine, and of course, events [should be funded] as well. Another helpful thing would be to have a buying week, or have a bridge that links Canadian designers to international buying weeks. The way that Toronto Fashion Week worked didn’t help anyone except Toronto Fashion Week – by the time the shows were presented, retailers didn’t have budgets left. It also conflicted with Seoul’s fashion week, and many international media outlets and buyers would rather go there."