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November 24, 2017
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Andrej Pejic prepares to walk at Arthur Mendonca's S/S 2012 show during Toronto fashion week. (Source: Andrej Pejic Blog. Photographers: Carlos Osorio & Bernard Weil/Toronto Star, http://thestar.blogs.com)

In March of this year, as Toronto was gearing up to showcase designer collections for fall/winter 2011, I questioned whether or not there's still excitement in the air when fashion week rolls around. It's that time of year again, and while I'm asking myself the same question, the answer is decidedly different. It's not that I'm excited, per se, but I'm hopeful. There's a change happening in Toronto's style scene right now - not among the editors, or retailers, or bloggers - but among the designers themselves, and, as any budding fashion capital knows, that's where change really begins. 

By the time you're reading this, it will be day three into our week-long celebration of Canadian design. It's the 25th season (or twelfth anniversary) for Toronto's fashion week, formally known as LG Fashion Week Beauty by L'Oreal Paris (LGFW for short), and it's run by the Fashion Design Council of Canada (FDCC), an organization strongly supported by key players in the country's fashion industry. Last week, in advance of LGFW, a group of shows popped up as part of the city's unofficially dubbed "Rogue Fashion Week" that sees designers not on the official schedule, showing their own collections in their own ways. From a converted nightclub, to the top of an office building, to a gym's event space, nothing was off-limits. What was most inspiring, and exciting, for pretty much anyone in Toronto, was the newest rogue thing of them all: a two-day event known simply as The ShOws, organized by a local event planning pro and sponsored by beauty giants P&G - a direct competitor to LGFW's L'Oreal. The Shows (because I won't keep upper-casing that "O") was conceived with the goal of bringing expat Canadian designers back home for a showing of their own spring/summer 2012 collections that they had already presented during their new cities' own fashion week proper. There was Paris based Calla Haynes, with lucid and lovely digital prints, and Londoners Jean Pierre Braganza, Todd Lynn, and Thomas Tait (New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn's crush-du-jour) held their ground, too.

Much like the industrial revolution produced an entire new generation of workers, the Canadian industry is finally beginning to see the emergence of designers who have been busy cutting their teeth after graduation or working abroad or finally taking that leap of going into actual production.

It was here, at the newly-minted Shows, that I met a journalist from Vice magazine. She's from Toronto, but had somehow ended up at the publication while living, working and just having fun in New York. When she told me she was covering select shows for Vice, I was shocked. Immediately, I thought she couldn't have picked a better crop to cover for American audiences. I mean, I know it's just select shows featuring designers that don't really live here, but so what? At least someone, somewhere outside of this place is interested in Toronto - and I knew these designers, specifically selected and flown home by big money, wouldn't disappoint. It all makes sense, though. Vice is developing a tradition for going all-in on foreign fashion weeks with their new video series "Fashion Week Internationale." Just last week, even before I met Ms. Vice, I watched the mag's coverage of Islamabad Fashion Week (IFW) in Pakistan. Aside from the satirical efforts on Vice's part, the whole concept is intriguing and part of my why-didn't-I-think-of-that list. The characters, the venue, the fashion itself were all fascinating. Sure, much of it isn't anything, and the whole event feels/seems so forced, yet I can't help but draw parallels between IFW and LGFW.

So then I asked myself whether or not Vice should actually cover all of our Toronto shows (or, you know, the very good ones). Since I had so much faith in those expat designers, why couldn't I have faith in our current group of homegrown talents? No, really - why not?  The Shows seemed to have indicated that our industry, and the designers it's turning out, is finally beginning to mature. Currently, as this piece hits editing, day one of the our official fashion week has wrapped, and, on the runway, there was much of the same quality and talent that impressed me so at The Shows. We've also got star power. On opening night, model superstars like Tara Gill and androgynous animal Andrej Pejic walked in Arthur Mendonca's brilliant show. I would have been silently proud if this Day 1 made it into a Vice video, to say the very least. Much like the industrial revolution produced an entire new generation of workers, the Canadian industry is finally beginning to see the emergence of designers who have been busy cutting their teeth after graduation or working abroad or finally taking that leap of going into actual production. Established professionals have begun schooling other emerging talents on how to actually sell Canadian clothing, and young talents are going abroad in spades to get noticed and spread our goodwill. And that, I hope, will translate into what will turn up on Toronto's runways.

And the same is happening across the globe, from Islamabad to Istanbul's Istancool and beyond. Berlin and London come to mind as the strongest examples; both fashion weeks have grown and shape-shifted to emerge as serious contenders alongside New York, Paris and Milan. In 2007, when Mercedes-Benz took over the branding and sponsorship behind Berlin's fashion week (as it does in New York as well), the city became a tiny hub for emerging talents to showcase and grow with a quiet buzz. In four short years, Berlin is now on the cusp of taking London's place as the next fashion week in line for regular coverage on a global scale. Maybe it's money, maybe it's the name behind the money, or maybe it's the money behind the name, but it's usually about the talent at the core of it all. This season in Toronto also marks the beginning of a Mercedes-Benz partnership with the FDCC for a new start-up program aimed at mentoring and supporting young labels. Surely, the new initiative and sponsorship opportunities can only be a sign of good things (and good shows) to come.

Meanwhile, London - a city that once played bridesmaid to its contemporary cosmopolitans each season - has become the fashion week to watch when Mary Katrantzou and Christopher Kane started doing great things and getting noticed elsewhere, and Burberry became beloved by Britain again, and Canadians-gone-abroad like Mark Fast and Erdem made waves as newcomers and veritable rising stars. Now, as cliché as this may sound, London is the place to be again. If Sarah Burton and the Alexander McQueen label return home (as they should), then London will be even that much more official, and unavoidable.

As for Toronto? Slow and steady wins the race, but we're halfway there.

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