Everybody wants to sit in the front row of a fashion show. Along with staring in a music video and accepting an Academy Award, it’s a fabulous pop culture moment we’ve all imagined for ourselves. Silly as it may seem, people take seating dead serious here at fashion week, and skin is as thin as chiffon. As someone who detests snobbery and elitism, I thought I was immune to the front row’s seduction, partly because I assumed I would never get there.
That is until I showed up just in time for the MATIS collection by Lucian Matis in the airily white studio space at the David Pecaut tent. Just before a show starts, the organizers scurry about, suddenly throwing out their detailed seating plans and moving people closer to the runway, like campaign managers trying to fill up space behind a politician during a photo-op.
“Where should I sit?” I asked in my unassuming, Canadian way. I worried that all the ‘Designer Guest’ seats, which is where most non-credited media are seated, were filled.
“Um,” the young organizer said, scanning the room. “Here!” She indicted a seat in the front row, near the top of the runway and the battalion of cameras. The seat was labeled ‘Gail.’
“Front row? Really?”
“Yes. Gail is running the show, so it’s not like she’s going to be sitting down.” Then she gave me a look that said, ‘Just take what I’m offering you and sit already!’
I was happy to see someone I knew seated right behind me: Dylan Uscher, the knitwear designer, who I just interviewed for this site. Then I saw another friend, Haley Mlotek, publisher of WORN Fashion Journal (where I also write), across the room. I left my bag on my seat and headed over to say hi to Haley. She had brought two co-op students to their very first fashion show.
When I came back a minute later, in the rush of pre-show musical chairs, Dylan and his friend had moved up to the front row, and I couldn’t see my bag.
“Did you take my seat?” I asked, my voice coming out shockingly shrill.
Who have I become?
“No, your seat’s right there,” Dylan said. My eyes scanned left to catch two young women, on either side of my tote bag, encroaching on my space like the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe.
“Excuse me. I’m sitting here,” I said, squeezing in between them. There wasn’t a lot of room: we were all touching shoulders, and some of us had to sit sort of sideways. But we were in the front row, so who the heck cares?
The Romanian-born Matis has been one of my favourite designers for years. This was his ‘diffusion’ line (the ready-to-wear equivalent of his couture-like ‘black label’), and having seen presentations of both lines in the past, I had previously enjoyed the romance and extravagance of the latter to the practicality of the former. This year, I was blown away by the beauty of the diffusion line and liked it just as much as the black label, which showed later that evening.
The show started with a floor length, long sleeved white dress with a bold, colourful pattern of flowers and birds. Like the collection over all, these pieces evoke the elegance of the past while still appearing modern. Sharp tailored jackets were paired with formal shorts. A coral suit with Capri-length pants was just the kind of outfit if I would wear if I were a certain kind of woman on vacation with a bit of money to spend.
The patterns continued, with some resembling 1960’s Op art and others water colours. A flamboyant jumpsuit emblazoned with daisies (or were they fire works?) provoked the woman beside me to whisper, “That just happened.”
But my favourite of the line was an intricate Baroque pattern with effervescent shades of jewel tones: emerald green, sapphire, ruby. They reminded me of early 1990’s Versace, but softer.
Matis also constructed entire outfits (a t-shirt and shorts combo, a slouchy suit) out of a silver sequined fabric that resembled Medieval chain mail.
It came as no surprise, when I ducked backstage to talk to him, that he described the collection as armor mixed with feminine touches. He really liked the tough, rigid forms he was exploring for his other label, but wanted to make them wearable for his diffusion line.
“So I’ve taken those silhouettes and softened them, using sequins and soft chiffon.”
And clothing that looks like armor might prove useful when elbowing usurpers at the front row of a fashion show.
I asked him what inspires him first of shape, colour or texture.
“I don’t design on paper and then put it into fabric,” he explained. “I go and get my fabrics, and they tell me what they want to become. I let them speak for themselves. And that’s the beauty of the garments, I think, when you let the fabrics speak for themselves, it’s when it looks natural and effortless.”
I continue to enjoy the drama of Matis’s black label, but I’ve become increasingly grateful that he has managed to successfully distill the same ideas into an everyday line. As he put it, the black label is “the dream;” the diffusion line “is for parties.”All images by George Pimentel.
There’s an old adage about not sitting in the front row of the ballet: hearing the thumping of the dancers’ feet reminds you they are not weightless fairies and ruins the illusion. (This analogy makes me seem sophisticated, but I heard it first on an episode of Blossom.) I might have worried that sitting so close to the designs I would see the flaws, or about meeting the designer and getting a bad impression. I don’t know, maybe I’m still on a proximity high from all those colourful patterns, but from where I’m sitting, front row is still pretty nice.
This post was sponsored by Stoneleigh wines. Please enjoy our products responsibly.
Max Mosher writes about style for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @max_mosher_.