Insiders React To The Death of Toronto Fashion Week

Designers, bloggers, mentors and BTS artists have RILL strong feelings about the end of Toronto Fashion Week. We asked a dozen opinionated industry players what this means for Canadian fashion

The Canadian fashion industry sounded a chorus of “Noooooooo!”s yesterday when it was announced that Toronto Fashion Week was no more. It’s rumoured that event sponsor IMG yanked funding due to a lack of additional corporate pennies, leaving the country’s biggest city sans a large-scale sartorial celebration for the first time in almost two decades. We polled industry members closest to the action for their hot take on what went wrong—and the kind of fashion week we really need.

toronto fashion week
(Photo: instagram.com/biddell)

Evan Biddell, designer

“Fashion Week was a bit sterile. The corporate sponsorships got out of hand at times, taking away from the real draw: the clothes. People showing up to the event were generally dressed like they shop at the mall. More attitude than necessary coming from wannabe socialites. Bloggers thinking they’re The Man Repeller and street photographers thinking they’re Bill Cunningham. Girls wearing borrowed Canadian designer dresses and guys wearing way too much makeup. Canadians don’t buy Canadian-made clothing, especially not once you hit designer prices. Canadians would rather have Gucci on their back if they are gonna spend the money. Also, being six months ‘ahead’ doesn’t work. The internet exists now and fashion weeks haven’t caught up. It’s really stupid. I’m showing a fall collection in October because I know people want to buy what they are seeing on the spot, not six months later. Someone is going to step up. It’s going to start small, and, hopefully, doesn’t outgrow itself again. Canadian fashion is a small industry and our fashion week should reflect that.”

toronto fashion week
(Photo: instagram.com/nicholasme)

Nicholas Mellamphy, former Vice-President and Buying Director at The Room and Personal Shopping at Hudson’s Bay

“I always felt like I was going to a nightclub: it never felt serious, it never felt like a place of or for business. It became a chore to attend rather than a celebration of our talent. I wasn’t surprised about the cancellation, but I’m disappointed that IMG would turn away from this challenge after such a short time in control. I have found that the last few seasons of Toronto Fashion Week have been floundering, presenting weeks that lacked focus and energy, and becoming increasingly logistically ineffective. There were challenges in programming a consistently strong full week, maintaining and encouraging a roster of top-level talent, and a lack of ability to develop a buyers market and attract the attendance of international buyers, plus—let’s face it—logistically navigating that tent was a nightmare. It wasn’t fun anymore! The week needs to to be shortened to two to three days, and engage more retailers and become more retail-friendly—less social. People tend to forget that business has to be done to build and sustain a strong industry. Toronto Fashion Week needs avenues to help nurture and develop talent, much in the same way other emerging fashion markets do. The Ontario government can make a significant impact strengthening our industry by allowing those in Fashion to qualify for the available grants within the boundaries of Culture and Arts.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: instagram.com/adamtriarchy/)

Adam Taubenfligel, Triarchy designer

“Initially I was quite sad to hear the news. For anyone that has participated in TFW, you know how much blood, sweat and tears go into every season. It is a fashion family in those tents and everyone is running on no sleep and absolutely loving every minute of it. Safe to say there’s a lot of love in those tents. For Triarchy, Toronto Fashion Week was more about exposure than sales. It fell too late on the calendar for us to use it as a sales vehicle but it benefited us tremendously as a tool for brand exposure both locally and internationally. It helped us open new markets abroad, which was great for us, but if you think about it, a bit strange as it should be about nurturing the local market. It’s becoming quite clear around the world that traditional fashion shows do not work commercially. Honestly, it does us no good anymore to put on shows if what you are seeing on the runway is not immediately buyable. There has to be a shopable element to runway otherwise it defeats the purpose for a brand like ours—the frustrations lay in that there was no evolution to the event to include this shop-able element that would make the event as much about sales as it would exposure. For a market like Canada, even if you get into every account you want to get into, it will still be a limited business. You need to be able to reach consumers directly as well as at the retail level, and Fashion Week could be something to cater to this. If the last 24 hours has shown me anything, it’s that Toronto’s fashion community is strong and supportive. The amount of messages that have been bouncing back and forth between so many wonderful people in this industry has been inspiring. Fashion will always find a way, and Canadian fashion especially. We were fed up being in the shadows and IMG coming to stage TFW was an end to that in a way. Just because they are pulling out doesn’t mean our light gets any dimmer.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: instagram.com/styleblogca)

Nelia Belkova, Styleblog.ca blogger

“I still remember the awe of attending my first fashion show back in 2008, and the excitement of seeing it all go down live and in person: the buzz of backstage prep, meeting designers. It was always an exciting and an inspiring event to attend, but it has certainly lost some of its appeal over the last few seasons. Having attended a few seasons of New York Fashion Week, I couldn’t help but compare the long lines and paper lists/tickets of Toronto Fashion Week to the more technologically advanced ways of New York Fashion Week. Waiting in long lines (unless you had a media pass) was probably the most frustrating. In addition to that, seat stealing, iPads and huge cameras blocking the view, lack of Canadian fashions on attendees, and a terrible media lounge were some of the things that I disliked about Toronto Fashion Week. I wasn’t surprised about the cancellation. It seemed inevitable after MasterCard dropped its sponsorship, and no new main sponsor was announced last season. It always felt that to show at fashion week, designers had to shell out excessive amounts of money without much international media presence/buyers to offer extra sales opportunities and international exposure. I think Canadian media has always been very supportive of Toronto Fashion Week and Canadian designers, but fashion week itself has become more of a vanity fair for various participants rather than a showcase of talent. In terms of the future, short-term, we’ll see a lot of independent shows at various offsite locations. Long-term, I think this is a huge opportunity to revamp and rebuild. Focus on what was working and what wasn’t. The Collections have always had amazing designers on their roster, and I hope that they continue to work with Canadian talent to produce presentations that will elevate and promote homegrown designers in a way that benefits all participants.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: instagram.com/fsncollections)

Brian Richards, show producer and co-founder of The Collections

“When I first joined it, there was more of an effort to promote it. I would see ads everywhere, I would hear radio ads, I would see ads in the newspaper, I saw interviews, broadcast interviews. When it switched over to IMG, I saw a lot of that promotion fall. So when Fashion Week actually showed up, no one really cared outside of lovers of fashion. I feel like it was an event, not promoted as a tourist attraction, which it should be. As a result of it not being promoted as well, there was a lack of pride in Canada, for Canadian fashion. It’s taken for granted. My initial reaction to hearing the news was rage—being told this city isn’t valuable enough to invest in, that’s hurtful. And I know Toronto has so much potential; it’s literally on the bubble, and we’re doing so well as far as international reputation. But then I do look around, and see that there is a lack of support from our province and city and I have to acquiesce to the reality, to ask myself the question, why would an American company like IMG invest in trying to get Canadians to care about Canadian fashion? It’s so important for all these various fashion groups and organizations to unify, and, as a group, determine a common goal, to promote Canadian fashion on an international scale. If we all combine, we could create a really thorough system of supporting fashion. If we could actually work together, then I really do believe we could easily revive a strong fashion week that would thrive. But we also need to actually establish a bit more presence within the overall Canadian culture. Like, I’m not sure that just doing a bi-annual event is enough. Whoever takes the reins has to consider what can we do to permeate the off-season, to inspire people to even care about Canadian fashion—to wear Canadian fashion, for starters. It’s a huge task right now. Huge.”

 

toronto fashion week

Gracie Carroll, FLARE localist-at-large and The Chic Canuck blogger

“To me, it was becoming harder and harder to see what the real benefit was for the designers—especially the small and independent ones—taking part. I really appreciate how much hard work they put into their collections and their shows (not to mention the cost), but I often wondered how Toronto Fashion Week was really helping their brand and business. Toronto Fashion Week always takes place after buying season and didn’t bring in many media outlets beyond the standard handful from Toronto. Canadian designers need more exposure and real sales to survive. It also sometimes felt like a weird balance between very commercial fast fashion from big brands and the much smaller, independent and local designers. Honestly, The Collections and the team behind it have been the only things to make me truly excited about Toronto Fashion Week in recent years. I think they’ve been really smart and creative in how they have showed and supported really great emerging talent in Canada. I am very confident that they will help spearhead something new, and something really amazing and special that will get everyone excited again.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: Luis Mora)

Rita Remark, lead nail artist for Essie at Toronto Fashion Week

“Toronto Fashion Week was instrumental to my career. Like all creatives involved, it was an incredible platform for me to showcase my work both on a national and global scale. My only wish is that Fashion Week could have been recognized on a more international scale. Working at New York Fashion Week made me realize that the talent we have here rivals that of anywhere. This isn’t the first time Toronto Fashion Week has had to reinvent itself. Through social media, the fashion week experience is fast-changing, not just here but globally. I mourn the loss of my beloved Toronto Fashion Week, but I eagerly anticipate the ways in which our community will revive.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: Jeffrey Chan)

Elmer Olsen, Elmer Olsen Model Management owner

“We have an incredible amount of world-class talent in our Canadian fashion industry. Unfortunately, as a smaller market, there has always been a limited amount of opportunities for Canadians in fashion to showcase their work both locally and to a global audience. The cancellation of Toronto Fashion Week is very unfortunate for the entire industry as a whole. It was an excellent opportunity for Canadian designers to showcase their hard work to international press, buyers, editors and magazines.  For Canadian models, Toronto Fashion Week was an excellent training ground and stepping stone. Canadian superstars like Daria Werbowy and Paolo Roldan walked their first shows in Toronto, preparing for them to go on to international runways like Prada and Givenchy. It is a loss that will be felt throughout our industry. The people that make up our Canadian fashion industry are innovative, hard-working, and always seeking to raise the quality and profile of the work we are doing here. I have every confidence that we will come back even stronger than before.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: George Pimentel)

Susan Langdon, Toronto Fashion Incubator executive director

“I have faith it will continue in some way. Maybe it will lapse for one season, maybe not. But too many people love it to let it go. When I heard the news, I thought that it was just history repeating itself. In 2000, the sponsor, [the tobacco product company-backed] Matinee Fashion Foundation, pulled out; the federal government introduced anti-tobacco laws that prohibited it from funding anything anymore. This just led to a lot of collaborative shows; David Dixon and TFI collaborated on an event that season. So I foresee that happening more. There is creativity and connectivity and resourcefulness in this community. Fashion changes every day. And we’re a very adaptable bunch.”

 

David Dixon
(Photo: courtesy David Dixon.)

David Dixon, designer

“There are always logistical challenges when working with so many people, but over the years, we learned how to work with the organizers and its changing title sponsors.  One of my frustrations, as with all Canadian artists, designers, musicians is that we have a significant challenge in promoting patriotism. My initial reaction to Toronto Fashion Week’s cancellation ceasing was disappointment.  Fashion is an international language, and Canada certainly has a voice. Toronto Fashion Week will be created once again, as it has done in many forms in the past. It will find a new voice, as Canada itself is becoming extremely visible on a political, social and economic level. The world is watching Canada—and we will be showing our vision, our ideas and our distinctly Canadian voice.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: Luis Mora)

Grace Lee, Maybelline NY lead makeup artist, Canada, and Toronto Fashion Week head makeup artist

“My frustration was that Toronto was not being recognized as a ‘fashion’ city when we have so many talented designers coming out of Canada. When everyone recovers from the shock, I really believe that designers will come out with a way to showcase their work. I honestly think everything happens for a reason, and I know there is too much talent in Canada to let it all go to waste. I’m not sure to what scale of a fashion week will be revived or what needs to happen for it to revive. I think what we can do is support the designers by wearing it, and buying it.”

 

toronto fashion week
(Photo: George Pimentel)

Anita Clarke, I Want I Got blogger

“I covered Toronto Fashion Week as a blogger since 2006. First for BlogTO, then for my own site. I used to be a regular attendee, but for the last several years I skipped the week or have attended less than three shows. My frustrations were mostly with management and the desire to make it a corporate spectacle at the expense of designers, and the lack of support for the industry outside of the week. When IMG took over, it was pretty apparent they only cared about sponsorship money. People begun to realize the diminishing returns for participating. Few major media outlets covered it and the focus of fashion week moved from the designers to street style outside the tent. That coverage dominated everything else. Support for Canadian fashion isn’t strong in this country. There are some great people in the industry and I’m excited to see what the future brings. Fashion week will be back in some capacity, I believe. It should be smaller, and I hope it moves towards an event that is there to empower designers and support them throughout the year. I’m actually very optimistic about the future and don’t thing IMG pulling out is a bad thing. The industry needs fresh blood and ideas and this is the moment to make that change.”

Related Links:

Toronto Fashion Week Is Cancelled

Street Style Stars: Toronto Fashion Week Fall 2016

TFW Fall 2016 Runway Recap: 15 Must-See Illustrations

Our Five Fave Beauty Looks From Toronto Fashion Week Fall ’16

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