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October 30, 2014
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The Pleasantries of Toronto Fashion Week
Kevin Naulls finds the good at David Pecaut Square

I am listening to Selena Gomez’s “Who Says” right now. I need the pre-Spring Breakers Disney queen’s generic, radio-friendly voice to talk me into writing a piece about the pleasantries of Toronto Fashion Week. Because Fashion Week is, in fact, at times, good and fun. But Fashion Week is like a cake that requires frosting to cover up the bad bits–the cracks in the surface that don’t make the cake inedible, just ugly. 

I think it is important that you know why I am even there. My first fashion show was with my friend John, and I had won passes to see the Evan Biddell show just after he had won Project Runway. I was excited, giddy. I sat in the 9th or 10th row, and it was fun and different. I had no plans to write about fashion at the time, but I had enjoyed the opportunity so much that I thought it’d be something fun to critique for a living–fun, because I didn’t aspire to write about fashion under any delusions that I am changing someone’s life. I’m just an interested third party who happens to be at a place at a time to see some things. What followed was a series of challenges, from interning as a PR person for Pat McDonagh to presenting my idea for Smith magazine to a panel of people at a competition called Fashionista’s Den (an irksome title, yes) by YES and the Toronto Fashion Incubator. I did this while working a night job, going to school, producing a blog, writing for blogTO and being in a live-in relationship with a man I loved. I really wanted to be a fashion critic because I found the culture of fashion interesting, and while it is interesting to read good, thoughtful criticism of a collection, I think what is most compelling about Toronto’s fashion culture is its tendency to be bad, or awful, or selfish, or self-destructive. And sometimes good. 
There’s a support system in place at these shows, on and off the runway. In a showy act of we’re-okay camaraderie, Kimberley Newport-Mimran is the only person to stand up, applaud and blow a kiss to Joe Mimran after he takes his walk after the Joe Fresh show. Designer Evan Biddell hands runway coach Stacey McKenzie a card for his party on Sunday night with runway coach Trey, saying “I know I chose the other runway coach for the party, but I hope you can make it.” McKenzie, offering support for the event, said “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I will be there.” She is also the front row patron who will loudly applaud diverse models and encourage models who almost slip to keep going. Then there’s Gabrielle Miller, who, atop her perch in the media lounge, blows kisses down to her adoring public of three. (The fans seemed to get a real kick out of it.) 
But as much as I love reading about or seeing positive, good moments, I find some of the bandied positivity disheartening. Last night, after the Joe Fresh show, I listened in as eLUXE’s Susie Sheffman puttered around the subject of “what do you think?” by saying “It didn’t feel like a regular Joe show, but it was still good.” Still good, I’ve learned, is what people say when there’s nothing good to say. It is like saying “Ugh, I find her really annoying, but she’s a really nice person.” Even former senior publicist for Joe Fresh Alex Thomson was only able to say “it was okay.” It’s not that the collection was so bad that I wanted people to tell me it was bad, it’s that there’s this fear of someone overhearing anyone’s observations that leads them to become quiet, agreeable collection worshippers or fence sitters. It is why people said “quiet, people are around and they might hear you” when I said “that collection was shit.” If we are all interested in fashion, when does the criticism actually start happening? Yes, the gregarious double kiss greetings and the camaraderie all project this idea of a unified whole, but when people are saving their true feelings for the cab ride home, I wonder if you can believe anything you hear in Toronto’s big white circus tent. Sometimes it is important to bite your tongue, and sometimes it is okay to just say something. 


Kevin Naulls is a Toronto-based writer and former editor of The Goods and The Hype at Torontolife.com. Follow him on Twitter @kevinjn.

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