In fashion–moreso than in product design, less so than in architecture–it’s difficult to pin down “the Canadian aesthetic.” I’m not even sure there’s a point. Style everywhere has become stratified, not regionalized, so that people across Toronto and New York, or Toronto and Berlin, dress more similarly than people in Toronto and Thunder Bay. Still, when you are in New York during Fashion Week and you’re only going to see three Canadian designers, out of a patriotism you didn’t know you had, you try to draw out the samenesses. Three makes a trend, as the axiom goes, but I’m looking for a feeling.
On Saturday at Milk Studios, Calla Haynes showed her hand for the fall ahead. It’s a light hand, but steady. I first met her in her first season, six seasons ago, in Paris. That is the most incredible and difficult place to be a young designer, and especially a young foreign designer, although Haynes looks as Parisian as a Gainsbourg. She has that garcon manque thing down. Hoodies and jeans: that’s how her style was described in a piece written by her fellow Canadian expat John Ortved for the New York Times (one good thing about our country is that everybody who leaves–and isn’t Tyler Brule–helps everybody else). I wish it translated more to the styling of her by-now-signature watercolour prints and prim, trim silhouettes. How cool would it be to see these peachy-pale tea dresses and almost-pajama pants worn with old Converse, instead of those bromide high-’60s accessories? There was one coat in a sort of deconstructed plaid–I don’t know how else to describe it, and I love when that happens–that’ll be perfect for when the snow falls at last, in August.
Haynes often works for Jeremy Laing on the side, helping to digitally manipulate the bits of murky-hued, abstracted geometry that make up his prints. You can see why they’re good collaborators and friends: both work in quiet fugues, not trend cycles. Laing especially excels at this. Fall 2012, which he showed in Chelsea on Sunday, is probably my favourite of all his collections, and I say that as someone who never doesn’t like Laing–it’s a tough call, but I feel good about it. He traded spring’s organic, off-kilter draping for a clean, mathematical look; it’s new for him and so smart. Exacting silhouettes generally give the impression of self-assurance, and in working new angles, Laing reached nearly Japanese heights of fuck-the-trends radness. All the Toronto intelligentsialites will want boxy jackets over straight sheaths over high-slit underskirts, mostly in sombre solids, or oval-shouldered thick knits with crisp wool trousers. Front-rowers Terence Koh and Hanneli Mustaparta, both clad all in ivory, will have to fight over a couple of white-sand, texturally intriguing ensembles (I thought of Tattoine warriors). And in a rare (but still smart) concession to fads, Laing did a few pieces in bleached, deep-dark velvet. I assure you I wasn’t the only jaded little critic who left mentally tallying up pre-orders, and sighing hopelessly over the tab.
A couple hours later, I missed the Juma presentation, but sibling designers Alia and Jamil Juma were kind enough to let me visit their showroom this morning. I preferred that, anyway; what they do isn’t necessarily directional, i.e. runway-worthy, but it’s very interesting from a business (and ethics) perspective. For one, they actually travel to get their inspirations and photo-prints instead of just Google-imaging. For two, they sell their exuberantly decorative basics, scarves, and accessories better in China than they do here (I don’t know if you know this, but China’s a pretty big country) and, in a part happenstance, part well-calculated move, they now produce everything (conscientiously) in the Dalian factory they part-own. In April, they’ll open a standalone store in that near-Beijing city (pop. 8,000,000) and expand their online offerings, too. Now that Juma’s doing outerwear–in dark colours and kinda-Belgian cuts that offset their hyperactive prints–the label’s price range is $100 to $800. A humble ethos with international influences, and in turn, influence: I guess that’s as Canadian as it gets.
Sarah Nicole Prickett is the style editor at Toronto Standard. You can follow her on Twitter at @xoxSNP.