Designer Zaid Affas Debuts Collection at Toronto Benefit

The British designer traveled all the way from his home in L.A. to present his latest collection in Toronto at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre benefit

Lisa Corbo, Zaid Affas, and Emmanuelle Gattuso Slaight at last night's benefit

Lisa Corbo, Zaid Affas, and Emmanuelle Gattuso Slaight (Photo: George Pimentel)

 Prepping for a runway show is no calm affair, and for Zaid Affas, his very first runway show came with a little extra pressure. The runway debut of his Spring 2016 collection was the main event at the George Takes Margaret to Dinner benefit’s fifth anniversary in Toronto last week. The annual benefit, hosted and curated by the owner of George C Boutique in Toronto, Lisa Corbo, raises funds for the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Each year, Corbo chooses an up-and-coming designer to headline the benefit, and this year, Affas was her pick. Not only did he show his collection, but he also donated a made-to-measure piece as a raffle prize. We caught up with the L.A.-based, U.K.-born designer amongst the hustle and bustle of readying for the show to talk about his collection, his past with big-name labels, and some helpful advice for newbie designers.
How do you stay organized and relaxed on a day like today?
I mean, we just take it as it goes. We have to be as organized as possible prior, and on the day, just do all the last minute things that need to get done. The craziest thing is the models, just going over the looks, the shoes, making sure everything is fine. On the inside, I’m not relaxed! Outside, I am. In the end, whatever happens happens. But you have to try your best and make it work.

You’re British and based in L.A. How did you end up here in Toronto?
A friend of mine in the industry introduced me to Lisa Corbo who owns George C, and for this year’s event, as she has done in the last four years, she was looking for a new designer. We were introduced about four months ago, and we hit it off. That’s how it really all started.

This event has really been a launching pad for other great designers, like Derek Lam. Do you hope for the same success other designers who have done this event in the past?
I’m much newer at this point than maybe Derek and some of the other designers who did this event previously. I hope to get a lot of exposure in Canada, because it’s a growing market, and Toronto itself is a growing market. Even though it’s my first show, it’s really about the whole event, and raising money for the cancer research and special projects. I’m really proud to be part of this cause.

A look from Zaid Affas's S/S16 runway

A look from Zaid Affas’s SS ’16 collection (Photo: George Pimentel)

What inspired your spring/summer 2016 collection?
When I started my collections, I decided to base my work to evolve season over season, to move on in that sense. So it’s not really a completely different concept this season. But my basic concept is the purity of design and form and shape, and the design is really focused on material and construction and shape and line. For spring/summer 16, I really got into studying grid systems, which developed into being inspired and interested in a really classic fabric that is also based on a grid: gingham. I developed gingham in different ways as a fabrication, and mixed it in with other fabrics that represent the natural forms and materials, and then man made materials. I wanted the colour palette to be simple, and concentrate more on the design as opposed to a lot of colour. It’s based on whites, off-whites, slate and black, with a colour I call raw shakudo, which is a metal from japan that’s like a coppery rose gold.

You’ve worked with other labels, like Ports 1961 and Ralph Lauren, but this is your first runway show for your eponymous brand. What’s different?
The pressure is still the same when you’re working, and you’re backstage. Of course, it’s personal, and it’s your own line and your own aesthetic. You’re responsible and you’re more aware what people think because it’s more personal. And obviously, when you’re working with those big brands, there are whole teams that deal with everything, and the workload is shared more.

You are just wrapping up your second year with your label, and your fourth season. What have you learned?
A lot. You learn as much about what you should do as about what you shouldn’t do. But of course, running a business is different from when you work for other brands. When you have your own business, you’re really aware of everything. The finances, the people who work for you. Finding people to work for you is not easy. And also, how to develop a brand from the beginning. Having said that, it comes naturally, because that’s who you are. It’s a lot of work, and you ave to be really genuinely dedicated, because it becomes your number one thing.

Do you have any advice for burgeoning designers?

Having a good business partner is important. I think in fashion, you can’t do it all yourself, because at the end of the day, the whole point of the company is your creativity and what you can produce, and you need to focus on that. Make sure you have enough finances to start, too, and take time to confirm with yourself what your aesthetic will and be really comfortable with it.

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