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Photos by Stefania Yarhi: Rita Liefhebber

Toronto Fashion Week S/S 10 Roundup

We look at the cream of the crop of designers at the Canadian fashion week

Ten years young now, Toronto’s LG Fashion Week is still finding itself. It’s not easy here. The fashion market is small or small-minded—jury’s still out—and conservative. Designers struggle to sell original ideas, or even just... ideas. And the talent drain is relentless. Mark Fast, Todd Lynn, and Jean-Pierre Braganza were Londoners, you thought? No, just Canadians on the move. So’s Erdem. And Jeremy Laing. And newer names, like Rad Hourani and Calla Haynes.

So it’s easy to see Fashion Week in Toronto as a half-hearted celebration of what’s left here. It’s also counterproductive. Because, in truth, the decade-long efforts of the FDCC—that’s the Fashion Design Council of Canada—have raised Canadian fashion to a new consciousness. And slowly, surely, the standard of new (undrained) talent is rising with it.

The awesome irony of Fashion Week? Its biggest accomplishment: becoming a mainstay for designing strivers to rebel against. Of the best and most beloved shows, less than half appeared on the official schedule. Young designers—keep on, and you won’t be reading about anyone over 30—showed off in boutiques, galleries, even a charcuterie restaurant. Gentswear designer Philip Sparks turned sprawling loft space into an intimate catwalk. (Want to see Fantastic Man-hood in action, Canuck style? Watch the show video.) On a frigid Thursday night prior, label du jour Greta Constantine dragged a fashion crowd of 500 to a car dealership on the wrong side of town. And they loved it. The clothes? No, the spectacle.

When it did come to the clothes, the truly spectacular moments were few and far between in this long week-and-then-some of largely predictable shows. But doesn’t that just make them all the more special? Here, for your consideration, are a half-dozen highlighted names from a week of frantic note-taking. Some are the true patriot sweethearts of Canadian fashion. Others love Toronto, but would leave in a heartbeat for still-higher places. All are talents to watch.

Mikhael Kale
Holt Renfrew, the Bloor Street bastion of luxury, hails each Toronto Fashion Week with an in-store cinq-a-sept for stylish media and their darlings (socialites, model types, TV personalities). There’s a toast, too, for the top Canadian designers they sell. This year, in order of appearance on the store’s mini-runway: Jeremy Laing, Greta Constantine (and their new mens line, Ezra), Pink Tartan, Lida Baday, Smythe, Denis Gagnon, and Mikhael Kale.
Last wasn’t least: Kale shook up the ceremonies, quite literally, by sending his mannequins out shimmying in showgirlish minidresses. Purple gloss and dove grey tulle, remixed and draped, then swathed in chain detailing? Acid-green snake print with a deep sweetheart plunge, all quivering in fringe? Let the audience be the judge; Kale won the unofficial applause-o-meter handily. The 28-year-old Toronto native and CSM grad calls these “look-at-me dresses,” so no wonder they’re fought over by some of the world’s most looked-at shes—Madonna, Rihanna, Beyonce. (Matter of fact, Kale’s probably whipping up costumes for the latter’s “Diva” video as you read this.) But he swears you don’t need to be boldfaced to look beautiful in his stuff. “They’re layered with fringe and interesting details,” Kale says, “but when you take them apart, they’re just heart-shaped, draped, structured little dresses. I don’t consider myself experimental, but I think I’m challenging today’s woman.”

Travis Taddeo
When Montreal sends one of their own to show at Toronto Fashion Week, Toronto pays attention. After all, the Quebec capital has birthed expats like Erdem and resident stars like Rad Hourani. Could it be Travis Taddeo’s turn next? The 26-year-old designer has a couple seasons under his belt, an easy way with leather, and club-kid appeal in spades. (Worked for Christopher Kane, you know.) But this season, he chillaxed, pulling inspiration from 80s baseball gear, "Beverly Hills 90210", and the French Revolution. Result: a racy mix of spray-painted tees, colourblocked dresses and drawstring shorts in tri-coloured jersey and mesh—or black leather. Critical consensus? Swing and a miss. But as Ice-T would say, don’t hate the player; Taddeo’s still a major one to watch.

Rita Liefhebber
The week’s boldest headline was Rita Liefhebber and the hometown debut of her eponymous line. (It was first shown during New York Fashion Week.) Liefhebber, who never went to fashion school, has learned by doing it all: she was a model, then a sought-after stylist, then an editor at Flare magazine. Now, who could know better what the modern girl wants? Liefhebber’s twenty S/ S 10 looks—shown way off-schedule in the back room of her boyfriend’s charcuterie nosh-spot—simply nail it. There are scuba leggings and sheaths, finely pleated skirts and shirt-tails, boyfriend jackets and chain-link knits. Unbuttoned overthings come in a wash of greyscale silk; sweatshorts and rompers look elegant and cool. It’s all in black, white, and shimmer. Instant fan favourite? “Everyone really seems to love the Shattered Glass dress,” Liefhebber says, referring to a black bodycon number, sheer-sleeved and mosaic’d in gleaming-like-onyx shards. Breaking news, indeed.

Pink Cobra by Tania Martins
Toronto’s too-cool kids loiter in a little Queen Street West boutique named Carte Blanche, though Carte Noir would be more accurate. Alongside the darkly draped racks of Pugh, Braganza, and on-trend streetwear, co-owner Tania Martins flaunts her private label, Pink Cobra. Again, that’s a misnomer: Pink Cobra is reliably black, save for a few pieces in Martins’ own barbed-wire print, and pretty killer. (See: the S/S 10 collection-interpreting video starring Darling Nikki. Recognize her? She’s also smoking—not literally—in the current Purple Magazine’s Bruce LaBruce shoot.)
“Toronto was never meant to be a big city, which is why if you were a creative hungry type you had to leave elsewhere to get recognition,” Martins says. “But there is hope! Having Carte Blanche has helped me realize this city is filled with talent. In the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with some of Toronto's most creative and talented young artists, photographers, writers, and beautiful people.” Martins should know: all of the above elbowed breathlessly into Carte Blanche on Wednesday night, the peak of Fashion Week, to fete Pink Cobra (and pre-order that zippy leather skirt).

Heidi Ackerman
Brilliant young thing Heidi Ackerman didn’t—couldn’t afford to—show at Fashion Week the season after showing her grad collection (along with other top Ryerson Fashion School kids) on its catwalk. Instead, she was invited to show a rack of her super-structured, inventive knitwear at one of the week’s official afterparties. Shame more didn’t visit: they’re missing the future. Ackerman is visionary, crafting sometimes outré, always brave experiments from entirely sustainable materials. Like her latest creation:  a body-armour sheath, “vented” down the side with pads of inky pressed cork, for the eco warrior babe.

Lucian Matis
At last, a showstopper! Lucian Matis lost to Evan Biddell in the first season of Project Runway Canada, but he’s been making up for it ever since—and on the Friday eve of Fashion Week, he finally astounded. Billed as a big-top circus spectacular, Matis S/S 10 was more like a march of sad clowns. And beautiful ones. After an opening sally of micro-sequined joker faces under chiffon, the mood fell into muted grace. It was an inverse shock. Matis made his name as an unrepentant maximalist, gobbing his work in ruffles, fussy details, explosions of colour. But no more. Perhaps, having just won the first-ever FDCC Designer Development Fund, he felt compelled to prove he’d earned it?

And so there was gorgeousness, but also restraint. There were tea-stain chiffons and dusty-rose or faded-violet silks, all bias-draped and layered long, and every now and then, a subdued flash of silvery microsequins. Studs were all over, but not the studs you’re sick of. These were bronze and silver together, with obsidian crystals too, scattered over hems and constellated in details. Utility-grade grey ribbons harnessed featherlight gowns and braced each models’ head, adorned too with mixed-metallic clusters of studding.