Words by Laura Phillips
Photos by George Pimentel
This year’s debut of FashionCAN marked the departure from Canada’s major longtime platform, Toronto Fashion Week, for designers across the country showing their latest collections. The cancellation in July left industry insiders in an initial frenzy, but with Yorkdale and The Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) stepping in, the freshly minted event would fill the void and incorporate a few slight twists.
The venue, Yorkdale Shopping Centre, provided a commercial backdrop for a more concise reveal, with 16 top designers presented over a two-day span. Between shows, media and industry attendees were free to peruse a pop-up shop of the designers’ current seasons, which shoppers can take advantage of until December.
Among the many labels to show, Jennifer Torosian and UNTTLD are spearheading the Canadian fashion scene with a fresh approach. Both stand firm in designing and manufacturing their lines in Canada.
“Although the fashion industry has changed over the years, it is still possible to design and produce beautiful product here,” says Torosian. “It can be easier for brands with smaller minimums and quality control when made in Canada.”
Torosian designs versatile pieces with a woman’s evermoving lifestyle in mind. Her FashionCAN show featured a parade of relaxed silhouettes accented by tasteful pops of colour, athletic bands and piping, and a clear vision of approachability – beyond the runway.
José Manuel St-Jacques and Simon Bélanger of UNTTLD are a Montreal duo interlacing the masculine with the feminine in ensembles that invoke drama and strength through fine fabrics and cuts. Like Torosian, they also encompass a desire to work and produce in Canada, and thus, pioneer a clear identity to make Canadian fashion its own.
“It’s important for us to have everything made here so that we can have control over quality and who is making the clothes,” says St-Jacques. “It’s also important for us to be hands-on with the product. It makes sense to make everything here.”
Bélanger continues: “If we are planning to build a Canadian fashion scene, it has to represent our culture and society, and FashionCAN is a business venture, a commercial endeavor. There is still a big need for a cultural platform for fashion designers to express themselves, promote a vision and find their voice. It’s something that is lacking right now.”
The more commercial approach of FashionCAN wasn’t without its perks, with designers able to sell merchandise on-site, something that was not a part of the Toronto Fashion Week formula before.
“I think it was great to have a direct consumer public,” says St-Jacques. “Yes, there was a fashion show, but there is also the FashionCAN pop-up, which is doing really well; for us it’s really great to have a retail outlet connected to a show. In the past, fashion shows were great, and, frankly, they’re the part that we like the best because it’s the most exciting, but it was also lacking sales.”
As Canada’s fashion scene continues to flip, unfold and build, designers like Torosian, St-Jacques and Bélanger are crucial to the framework of creating a unified front. The talent and desire to marry business with art certainly exists, though the market does require some work.
“Canada is great for different reasons,” says Bélanger. “It’s a limited market – but it’s a great place to start and have a community.“