image: Jason Hargrove
Toronto Fashion Week is fairly banal post-mortem. Most media outlets will collect their adjective-ridden thoughts and place metropolitan loyalty over thoughtful criticism. Clicks. Impressions. It’s a game that has gone on for years, spanning many seasons. Something doesn’t need to be good, it merely needs to be seen. To escape this fashion ennui (I still don’t completely understand what glam chic means, and I’ve been doing this for a while), I have chosen to disengage from runway review this season to provide my own personal account of what goes on during fashion week, and my objective is to discuss relationships, attitudes and the discourse that goes on that never makes it to the page. While the gossip, in-fighting and society aspects of fashion week are often humourous, it wouldn’t exist without a show to draw an audience.
Last week was pre-Fashion Week, with off-site shows from many worthwhile designers, including Hiroshi Awai, Jeremy Laing, Jean-Pierre Braganza, Sid Neigum and Chloé comme Parris to name a few. Because of this move away from the tents, this year’s schedule is fairly bleak, including a closing show from mega-retailer Express, who is using pop band Dragonette as bait to attend not only the show, but its exclusive after-party. I have to wonder how much money was exchanged for this spot, and this endorsement. I also can’t help but feel that a younger designer might have benefited more from the exposure. I have nothing against the brand itself, it just seems fairly arbitrary to close a Canadian fashion week with an American brand that only currently occupies Fairview Mall and Square One Shopping Centre. It’s unfortunate, considering previous end-of-Fashion Week time slots went to Rad Hourani and the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Dare to Wear Love show (a charity show, no less, that generates funds for a good cause).
Even designers Greta Constantine and David Dixon have made the decision to show outside of pre and Toronto Fashion Week in November, given that buying appointments have already been made and attended. It’s an old argument, but Toronto Fashion Week shows so late in the season. So late in fact that shows take place for media impressions alone, which is why the bold-faced names to attend most shows are society types with last names like Rogers, Weston and Eaton (and even then, it’s at Joe Fresh and Pink Tartan, because, um, they’re all pals). We don’t even really have the same kind of blog power that is peppered throughout Milan, Paris, London and New York. Instead we have bloggers who criticize other attendees for having fat chins. (Of course, there are some good people who can make it through a show without giving stink face at a seat that doesn’t belong to them, but for the most part, Fashion Week appears to be a seat-filling game.)
What’s good about fashion week is the legitimate excitement it drums up from the city. The media are hungry, tired and overrun, but there are people, free of affiliation, who pay money to attend a show or two, and that’s positive reception for a designer who is making clothes for people to wear. And there’s also the theatre element of Toronto Fashion Week that makes a week of running around fairly compelling–people get dressed up, good or bad, because they desperately seek the validation of a street style photographer. Witnessing how badly someone wants to be seen is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures outside of the runway room. As a voyeur, it makes you feel almost human. Add a great or surprising show to the mix, and it’s a popcorn-free alternative to a Monday-to-Friday night out. It’s fun, to be sure, but it isn’t perfect.
I spoke to a friend last night who lives in Slovenia and London, and despite being well-connected in the fashion industry, he had no idea Toronto even had a fashion week. This is someone who, for 20 years, has traveled the globe and counts Erdem Moralioglu among his friends. If Toronto Fashion Week doesn’t reach a global audience, what will compel the young and talented to invest in a system that doesn’t appear to actually work? And when will the institution focus less on generating big business dollars from branding (you can’t say the name out loud without taking a break to breathe: World Mastercard Fashion Week, Beauty by Maybelline New York, etc…) and make the move to foster the young talent of Toronto? Obviously a fashion week needs money, but surely getting one shouldn’t mean ignoring the other. If we help establish our city’s talented, and not just those who can afford to show (not many), then people will come, and those media impressions will come a lot more organically. I didn’t come up with this business strategy, Field of Dreams did.
Kevin Naulls is a Toronto-based writer and former editor of The Goods and The Hype at Torontolife.com. Follow him on Twitter @kevinjn.