The End of Toronto Fashion Week

Illustration by Hannah Stinson

“Holy…” Minnie curses under her breath. “I haven’t fully processed the fact that I’ll never see another fashion week in Toronto.”

She tucks a string of platinum blond hair behind her ear and traces the freckles across her face, her index finger eventually ending its path on her bottom lip. Minnie Luangkham studied fashion a decade ago at George Brown College and has watched the industry evolve over the course of many years. She works at Nordstrom, a department store that carries all the luxury brands you can dream of, including some Toronto-born designers.

Designers that will no longer show on a Toronto runway.

Minnie sweeps her trench coat up away from the pavement and shrugs it over her shoulders, sending orange leaves spiraling across the road. As summer becomes autumn and leaves somersault from even the tallest, oldest trees, it seems Toronto itself is changing colours, too.

Toronto Fashion Week, singlehandedly the most anticipated sartorial affair of the entire year, has been completely scrapped. Organizers have discarded the semiannual event like an old childhood doll, pulling all funding due to “lack of local support.”

Gone are the long, crimson carpets and the nervous hearts beating against the ribcages of chiseled models. Toronto Fashion Week has been reduced to nothing more than a memory, stacked into dusty mental boxes in the brains of fashion insiders.

“We really felt that our Canadian fashion footprint was not generating the local commercial funding that we…required in order for us to continue producing the event to the highest standard that the industry deserves and the designers in Toronto deserve,” Catherine Bennett, senior vice-president and managing director of IMG Fashion Events and Properties, told the Canadian Press.

IMG also pulled out of the Mercedes-Benz Startup Program, an incentive created for budding fashion designers where the prize is $30,000 and a fully produced Toronto runway show.

“I have to admit that I am not surprised by the cancellation [of fashion week],” says Ingrid Mida, fashion research collection co-ordinator at Ryerson University.  “There are so many fashion weeks and events around the world that the effect of any single runway show or event has been substantially diluted.”

Ingrid is not the only person who feels this way.  The impression that fashion week has become antiquated is a sentiment shared by so many fashion influencers, bloggers, designers and enthusiasts.  But this doesn’t diminish the effect this could have on the culture of local fashion.  It isn’t a secret that Toronto’s fashion industry faces challenges to propagate and sustain itself.

“The current scenario is particularly troubling to me because at least since the 1900s, the garment industry had a substantial presence in the Toronto economic landscape,” says Henry Navarro, assistant professor at the Ryerson School of Fashion.  “In a way, the cancellation of Toronto Fashion Week may serve as the detonator for government and community support of local fashion.”

Although fashion hubs like New York, Milan and Paris have had insurmountable economic success through their fashion week showings, it seems this model just doesn’t work the same way on the Toronto runway. Mida believes many fashion insiders have begun to question the enormous costs of the event.

Junior designers pay an estimated $3,500 each for a fashion week showing.  Retail brands forgo a monstrous sum of $25,000 for their showings. This is not to mention the cost of actually creating the garments, paying the models, hair and makeup artists, and all the other things that go into making a fashion presentation successful.  Combined with a seemingly truncated level of local support, the condition of the industry has left fashion connoisseurs confused.

On a local scale, this sad ending of a popular event has changed the experiences of many fashion personalities in the city.  Bloggers, fashion students and designers all share this collective pain.  

“Obviously there are much larger runway events around the world,” says Cassandra Daines, a fourth-year fashion design student at Ryerson. “[But] I can’t exactly get on a plane to New York for their fashion week.”

“It was always such a great experience for students to go because it was an excuse for many of us to put our skills to use. Whether it was photographing designs, doing written pieces on the shows, or even just making connections, fashion students especially, always benefited. It was a way for us to apply knowledge we learned in the classroom, and also be inspired by many influential people in the fashion industry.”

Daines doesn’t believe this should impact the industry in Toronto too much.  She believes with everything going on in Toronto, it’s unlikely that the flame will be completely doused.  

Many students at Ryerson used Toronto Fashion Week as an opportunity to intern.  And although those doors have slammed shut, many others have creaked open.

“For Ryerson fashion students, it is important to find a distinctive voice or to identify an underserved market. There are so many ways to reach target markets today. There are also many opportunities to find support for new and innovative ideas such as The Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation at Ryerson as well as The Toronto Fashion Incubator,” says Mida.

Though the industry’s effervescent past is clear as Swarovski crystals, its future is much less defined.  But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—change can be good.  Perhaps a fresh start and new perspective is just what the local industry is dying for.

Social media has inevitably revolutionized the way the world works.  Businesses and large corporations have realized they cannot thrive without social media presence.

Designers like Olivier Rousteing and Marc Jacobs have fully illustrated their lives on social media profiles, marketing their personalities and the values and designs from their brands as one single package.  We live in an age where people want more—they want to see the glamour and the no filters, the complexities and challenges of everyone’s lives.  They want to know everyone is as human as they are.

“In the recent fall shows, design houses like Burberry, Tom Ford, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren staged runway presentations where the product was immediately available in stores,” says Mida. “This represents a radical shift in what has been the traditional model of showing clothing where the garments would not be available in the stores until months later.  Only time will tell whether this will become a widespread industry practice.”

Fast fashion’s appropriation of high fashion has significantly impacted the industry, sending knockoff collections right onto store racks quicker than the six months it takes for a Fall/Winter collection from Chanel to make its way into department stores.  This tension has forced these brands to quicken their pace.  If they want customers to buy their collections, they need to understand the contemporary model of fashion—which is the impatient “see-now-buy-now” phenomenon.  

Even online shopping contributes to this craze.  People no longer want to wait for things.  The age of patience as a virtue are dissipating.  The click of a button can send a pair of Topshop black pumps that look exactly like the Spring/Summer Valentino ones right to your front door; it’s all about speed.

The exclusivity of fashion week is gone with the week itself.  Perhaps this is a step towards a more accessible fashion world.  At a glance, it is easy to mistake the industry to be failing.  But at another inspection, one can see a new age, a movement of vibrant youth brimming with new ideas and approaches to an ever-shifting sartorial world.  

Henry Navarro doesn’t believe this is the end.

“[Ryerson students] are the best positioned to change the behaviors and attitudes that are preventing the Toronto fashion industry from fully realizing its economic and cultural potential,” he says. “They could use their knowledge and perspective to educate the local consumers and the local government on why their support of Toronto designed and made fashion makes sense for the social, economic and cultural health of the Toronto community.”