Toronto Fashion Week x RE\SET returned to its new home at Yorkville Village in February to celebrate and feature some of Canada’s most talented and promising designers.
The bi-annual showcase has undergone many makeovers over the years but seems to be finally finding its footing with its new model: a three-day showcase featuring runway shows, special presentations and speaker series to celebrate Canadian fashion and present fall/winter 2019 collections to buyers, media and consumers. This season’s TFW x RE\SET schedule was jam-packed with events attended by the city’s fashion elite. Highlights includeda live recording of the Fashion Talks podcast which saw host, Donna Bishop, and trend forecaster, Carly Stojsic, discussing the relationship between fashion and cannabis and the debut of Style Night, a dynamic retail event for consumers and fashion week attendees, which included fashion presentations by MICHI x Equinox, Andrews x Greta Constantine and ELAMA x The house of Brand, a skincare presentation by Victoria Radford of Radford Studio and trunk shows at TNT and Judith & Charles x Dean Davidson. Additionally, Style Plate, TFW’s dining initiative made its return, with Chef Mark McEwan and Toronto Life publisher, Ken Hunt, joining forces to discuss the intersection between food, art and style.
Then, of course, there were the runway shows. Featured designers this season included regulars such as David Dixon, Christopher Bates, Mikhael Kale
Head to any of Toronto’s biggest social events, and you’re bound to see a woman or two in NARCES.
Over the past few years, the Toronto-based brand, which is designed by Nikki Wirthensohn Yassemi, has quickly become the Canadian fashion crowd’s go-to label for elegant eveningwear and bespoke bridal gowns, with notable individuals like Schitt’s Creek star, Anne Frances, YouTube personality, Lilly Singh and ET Canada’s Sangita Patel sporting its designs.
Though Wirthensohn Yassemi has no formal training in design (she’s an MBA graduate), she was surrounded by fashion at an early age, as her mother worked with esteemed.
British tailor to the Royal Family, Victor Edlestein, who is renowned for creating some of Princess Diana’s most iconic gowns. Since launching her collection in 2011, Wirthensohn Yassemi has established NARCES’ signature aesthetic of feminine cuts, sheer silhouettes, flirty embellishments and, of course, lots and lots of glamour.
“I want to show that eveningwear doesn’t have to look matronly,” she explains. “I feel like eveningwear could be so incredibly flirty and sexy and glamorous, it can have all those things in it.”
And, indeed, the NARCES fall/winter 2019 collection was anything but matronly. For the collection, Wirthensohn Yassemi took inspiration from Sophia Loren’s looks from the late ‘50s and ‘60s and took a bit of a different direction than usual, opting for less lace embellishments and more focus on structured tailoring. And while the nods to Old Hollywood glamour were obvious, it was clear that the collection was made for the modern-day woman (just look to the puffy-sleeved jumpsuit or the show-stopping finale look complete with a white floppy hat for proof).
“I wanted to interpret [Loren’s] look with that NARCES aesthetic, and basically make it relevant for today,” she explains.
Christopher Bates describes his decision to pursue a career in fashion as a “eureka moment.”
Though he fostered a love for fashion at an early age and was “always sketching,” the Canadian menswear designer, who hails from Vancouver, B.C., initially started out in marketing and advertising. But travels to Northern Europe inspired Bates to quit his job, sell his apartment and move to Italy to study design at the internationally-renowned Art and Design Institute, Maragoni, whose alumni include Domenico Dolce, Franco Moschino and Alessandra Facchinetti.
“It was crazy… I didn’t actually have a lot of practical skills like sewing, pattern making — even illustration I wasn’t very strong in,” the designer, who now spends his time between Toronto and Milan, recalls. “It was a shock, but it was also very stimulating and exciting.”
It’s for this reason Bates keeps his ties to Italy intact, with his eponymous label proudly made in the fashion capital.
“[It sets us apart] because we’re using really world-class materials and artisanal-level craftsmanship to create a product that is on paror superior to some of the best brands in the world,” he says.
Bates visits Milan twice a year to source fabrics, and once he chooses his materials, he begins to conceptualize his collections. (“Once I source fabrics I really like, a story starts to emerge in my mind,” he says). For Bates’ fall/winter 2019 collection, the navy, black and grey colour palette evoked the idea of the night sky.
“The colours, patterns and textures spoke to me like space…lunar landscapes, shooting stars, things like that,” he explains. “There’s also a bit of alpine skiing mixed in, which is something I touched on last fall. That fits well because I like to blend the contemporary tailored style with athletic influences and skiing is kind of the perfect fall/winter sport.”
Mani Jassal’s eponymous label may only be five years old, but it’s already making waves in the Canadian fashion industry.
Her 2013 graduation collection for Ryerson School of Fashion’s Mass Exodus fashion show was an instant hit, with orders flooding in for Jassal’s unique take on traditional South Asian bridal and eveningwear. Flash forward to 2019, and Jassal now has a namesake boutique and showroom in Yorkville, and celebrity fans such as poet Rupi Kaur, singers Bebe Rexha and Madison Beer, and New Girl actress Hannah Simone.
Jassal’s one-of-kind aesthetic is what has contributed to her success. She has a knack for bridging the gap between contemporary and traditional and marries both her Indian heritage and Canadian upbringing. Though many of her pieces take inspiration from traditional South Asian garments, they have a rebellious twist and can be worn by women of any ethnicity. It’s for this reason Jassal makes it a point to hire a diverse cast of models for her runway shows.
“It’s 2019. We live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world – why would I not want to reflect that in my shows?” she says. “This is a representation of our city and the people I’m surrounded by. This is a reflection of my clientele. I don’t see it any other way – this is the norm for us.”
Jassal’s spring/summer 2019 collection, “With Love,” featured a more romantic and ethereal take on her designs. Inspired by the feeling of falling in love and the song “So Into You” by Tamia, the garments featured floral motifs with a soft colour palette and intricate beaded embellishments. Even the fabrics used were softer and more lightweight than her previous collections.
There is no other designer quite like Mikhael Kale.
The student of London’s Central Saint Martins (whose alumni includes Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney) launched his eponymous label in 2007 and quickly became known for his conceptual approach to fashion and his exceptional craftsmanship. His talent earned him international recognition with celebrity fans such as Beyoncé, Gigi Hadid, Priyanka Chopra and Winnie Harlow.
Kale’s love for constructing wearable art for the female form developed at a young age. At six, he started to play around with his mother’s sewing machine – initially it was just to figure out the mechanics, but shortly after, he began to teach himself how to sew.
“I didn’t grow up with a TV or cable…so I started playing on the machine, simply out of boredom,” Kale recalls. “So, when I was indoors, that’s what I would do, just hang out by the sewing machine.”
Since he was surrounded by women, Kale began to study how garments looked on them, and how they were constructed.
“I wasn’t even completely conscious of it,” he says, “but that’s kind of where [my love for design] stemmed from.”
The construction of garments was key for Kale’s fall/winter 2019 collection. After receiving “crazy amounts” of pastel tulle from a fabric supplier, the designer was faced with the challenge of creating looks that would fit his streetwear-meets-high fashion aesthetic.
“At first it was like… ‘How do I make this pretty?’” Kale recalls with a laugh, referring to the “pasty yellow” tulle he was provided. “How do we make pastel sexy and hard, but soft at the same time?”
The solution? Constructing simple tulle shapes with boning and corseting and juxtaposing it with edgier materials like latex layered underneath. The overarching theme was Victorian-inspired, but it definitely had a Mikhael Kale twist to it.
“It was such a refreshing way of building a collection,” says Kale. “I hadn’t done it like that before.”
Without a doubt, David Dixon is one of the most respected fashion designers in the country.
Despite the challenging Canadian retail landscape, the Toronto-based designer’s namesake label has enjoyed a 24-year run, and his looks have been seen on celebrities such as Meg Ryan, Pamela Anderson, Jennifer Love Hewitt and more.
Over the past few years, Dixon has used his platform to bring awareness to important causes such as ovarian cancer, a disease that claimed his sister’s life in 2015.
“I love to raise awareness for a pervasive issue using the medium I love most: fashion,” says Dixon. “I believe fashion designers and public fi gures should do their part in creating awareness for causes they care about. One of the things that ignites and inspires me is the invisible, that is; things that are unseen to the human eye, but you know are there.”
For Toronto Fashion Week, the designer partnered with Osteoporosis Canada to debut his Bübl x David Dixon collection which is inspired by the two million Canadians impacted by the incurable bone disease.
“I’ve always believed that fashion is a language and a conduit for conversation, and after hearing about some of the staggering statistics in Canada on Osteoporosis, I was keen to help. Like most of us, how often do we consider our bones?” he says.
To convey the message, Dixon used bubble wrap (a universal symbol of protection) to highlight areas of the body where osteoporosis tends to be most prevalent, such as the hips, wrists and spine, and used photo prints of bone x-rays as the patterns on certain garments.
“We don’t ever see our bones, but we do need to protect them,” he continues. “Part of protecting them is knowing our risk and a big part of this campaign is raising awareness for the fact that we can start to assess our risk in our thirties.”