Canadian designers lose style showcase with demise of Toronto Fashion Week

TORONTO – One of the biggest showcases for emerging and established Canadian designers was wiped from the calendar Thursday after organizers said they were pulling the plug on Toronto Fashion Week due to a lack of financial support.

With collections unveiled twice a year in March and October, Toronto had played host to buyers, media, and consumers — and countless others on social media — highlighting designers’ latest creations.

Now it appears Canadian designers will have to find new avenues to feature their work.

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

“We’re sad to be moving on, but think it’s the right decision and the right time to make it.”

IMG Canada had operated Toronto Fashion Week in collaboration with IMG Fashion since 2012, after taking over from the Fashion Design Council of Canada, a non-profit organization that had owned and produced the event for 13 years.

Losing Toronto Fashion Week will impact up-and-coming and newly established designers still trying to carve out their brands, said Susan Langdon, executive of the Toronto Fashion Incubator.

“Showing at Toronto Fashion Week gave them a stamp of credibility and it thrusted them into the media spotlight,” said Langdon, whose non-profit business centre has fostered numerous designers and style entrepreneurs.

“You have …. media from across the country and internationally attend this world-class event, and you have major retail buyers attend.

“If you’re just starting out, would you get that same kind of calibre of audience coming out to your show? Probably not. But because they’re there watching shows back-to-back will they put a little time aside to catch your show? Chances would have been pretty good.”

Canadian womenswear designer David Dixon made his Toronto Fashion Week debut in 1995 and lamented the loss of the showcase for other homegrown talents.

“(Designers) have a voice and we have passion about what we do, and I don’t think people are going to stop that voice. We’re just going to have to be more creative in how we express it,” Dixon said.

“Fashion people are fickle, and the marketing budgets and sponsorship dollars are being cut left, right and centre. And so I think there’s a lot of rebuilding of the industry.”

Toronto Fashion Week was part of a sizable roster of international fashion weeks owned or commercially represented by IMG, including those staged in New York, London, Berlin, Sydney and Tokyo. Fashion week events are also held in Vancouver, Edmonton and Halifax, but on a smaller scale than Toronto’s marquee showcase.

The end comes three years after Montreal had its semi-annual event retooled. In 2013, organizers announced plans to merge the winter edition of Montreal Fashion Week with the city’s summer Fashion and Design Festival.

The Toronto event had undergone a mini-makeover earlier this year following the end of a six-season deal with World MasterCard as the title sponsor. It was rebranded with a new website and social media handles prior to the unveiling of fall-winter collections in March.

At the time, organizers said that while they hoped to find additional sponsor support, they didn’t foresee any impact on staging the Toronto event.

Ultimately, the shortfall proved too much to overcome.

“I think in the market in Toronto we just weren’t seeing the local support for the industry that we do see in some other markets,” said Bennett.

She expressed hope that another group will stage a fashion showcase in Toronto — a sentiment echoed by Canadian fashion editors.

Bernadette Morra, editor-in-chief of Fashion Magazine, said there have already been several incarnations of fashion events in Toronto, including the Festival of Canadian Fashion, and showcases of ready-to-wear collections in hotel ballrooms.

“The fact that IMG — this multinational which was putting a lot of muscle into this — wound up in this situation I think it’s too bad, but I don’t think it means we can’t have a fashion week. We just can’t have a fashion week that IMG envisioned. There’s definitely an appetite from consumers and the industry to have some kind of event.”

Noreen Flanagan, editor-in-chief of Elle Canada, said she’s surprised by the end of Toronto Fashion Week, but added the move isn’t entirely unexpected given the changes being seen in how fashion is promoted and sold.

“Certainly, the Internet and social media have completely disrupted how we approach the business of fashion,” she said.

“Women and men still love fashion and they want to support designers…. But the thing is now they see the clothes and they want to buy it now. So I think the challenge will be — especially for smaller designers — to be able to produce that instant gratification that I think consumers are looking for.”

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