In March, Canada’s Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) celebrated its 30th anniversary with a swanky gala and its annual New Labels fashion show where the county’s top emerging talent compete for a luxe award. Out of the five finalists that were selected, it was the label ZOFF by designer Michael Zoffranieri— at just 22 years old and the youngest in the competition—who took home the top prize, seriously impressing the panel of judges. And the recent Ryerson grad was still buzzing from his win when I sat down with him recently at a quiet coffee shop in Toronto to learn more about the TFI winner and his label.
Growing up with an eye for design (he originally thought he might be an urban planner or architect), Zoffranieri knew he wanted to be a fashion designer after joining the sewing club in grade 10, which then lead him to take an internship at fellow TFI alum and Canadian design house David Dixon. “It was a really big opportunity, and after that, it was just, ‘Okay, I would love to do this, so let’s do this.’ Now I’m a fashion designer full-time,” he says.
After graduating from Ryerson’s Fashion Design Program last June, Zoffranieri began working with a few designers, interviewing for technical design positions and working part-time at the Eaton Centre. Dixon encouraged him to apply for the TFI competition this past October. Fast-forward through long hours and multiple rounds of judging to this March, when Zoffranieri was crowned the winner and awarded the prize, which includes a $30,000 cash reward, among other goodies.
The Mississauga native’s glitzy collection runs the gamut from chic embellished two-piece sets and dramatic floor sweeping coats to sheer silhouette hugging gowns with delicate beadwork. One common thread linking every piece? Exquisite tailoring, which is something the young designer specializes in. “Tailoring is huge and that’s what the ZOFF woman is looking fo,r as well as being able to sparkle and dazzle,” says Zoffranieri.
“The ZOFF woman is into art and she’s also into being able to move wearing different clothes. The key mantra for my brand is ‘art is movement,’” he says.
While the evening-wear designer specializes in custom gowns and show-stopping pieces, he pulls inspiration for his designs from fashion-forward cities, the close knit crew of women in his life (hello, Mom!) and design houses like Delpozo, Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta. “I love what’s going on in Paris and with Italy’s street style; while London I look at to keep it edgy and fresh. But I think it’s most important to tell a story from your perspective,” says Zoffranieri. “Yes, you can understand what trends are going on, but connecting to the women in my client circle, that’s my goal.”
So what’s next? For starters, the designer has a few women he’d like to see sporting his designs. TFI judge Suzanne Rogers, Real Housewives of Toronto star Ann Kaplan and his mom top his must-dress list along with a certain avant garde singer known for taking sartorial risks. “Of course on my bucket list is dressing Lady Gaga and now it’s more accessible, because I’ve seen her wear a few Canadian designers, so I’m like, goals!” It’s safe to say we’ll be watching him closely and we can’t wait to see what’s next for this mega talent.