Toronto was invaded by the Brits. Again.
The view from these eyes has always been a little bit British – having grown up with musical influences from across the pond and with crushes on Bri’ish boys.
However, I do believe there has been an inherent love of Ing-lund here in the Homeland, whether it is the crowd knowing all the words to That’s Entertainment (which made Paul Weller smile proudly at the Palais Royale show a few years back) or Mini Cooper hosting a recent Brit weekend capping off with a show by The Beat (that’s the English Beat, to North American natives). And really, could you think of fashion without mentioning a Brit brand? Burberry, Westwood, Paul Smith, the tailors of Saville Row. McQueen. But alas, they are considered the old guard.
The new army of hip designers from the Queen’s country were invited to invade Toronto (politely please, we are Canadian) by none other than, retail royalty Bonnie Brooks, President and Chief Executive Officer at The Bay.
The Brits (and a few former Canucks), namely Erdem Moralioglu, Mark Fast, Charlotte Olympia Dellal, Giles Deacon, Marios Schwab, Mary Katrantzou, Tom Binns, Nicholas Kirkwood and Jonathan Saunders, recently took over The Room at The Bay for a few days with events ranging from private dinners with media, an invite-only God Save the Queen Gala, as well as a panel discussion and trunk shows, open to the public.
I attended the ‘gala’ where media, socialites, Room patrons and the locally fabulous were out in full force.
The champagne was flowing, the designers were mingling and in the case of Deacon, spinning turntables.
It’s not my usual schtick – covering parties. I attended because I have a distinct interest in British fashion. Interesting though, that I was not on The Room’s client list after having been a customer for over a dozen years. I guess much got tossed with the old decor.
It was at The (old) Room that I first discovered Liberty of London. I wanted to wear my properly eccentric Liberty tweed suit to the event, but it’s made to keep you warm on a cold wintery walk in the English countryside in the middle of December…and well, might have been a little too cozy for cocktails.
I opted instead, for a mix of Brit and Canadian: a red and white lipstick-print shirt by Auntie Viv bought in Paris, a high-waisted ankle-length black skirt bought in an indie designer Kensington Market shop (on this side of the pond) in the ’90s, a Ports 1961 grey pinstriped tweed cape, my Gothentic pointy Victorian lace up boots bought on Queen West before it turned into a mall, red Danier granny clutch, topped with the McQueen hat, from his Pre-Fall 09 collection. It was my homage to British design sensibilities as I understand them.
I was surprised (or was I?) to find many dressed in the Toronto party uniform of LBD and platform pumps. Gala is a funny word in Toronto circles. I have yet to attend one that lives up to the implied dress code. The few exceptions and the ones that stood out to me are featured in this post.
Well, at least the items on the racks did not disappoint. Brooks and her mod squad did a wonderful job in presenting each designer’s pieces.
The Room, for those two days, became an art gallery, where one could actually touch the luxe fabrics, see the intricacies of embroidered lace up close, pick up the shoe sculptures. While some of these designers may be known to those of us who adore fashion and follow it like some do the Footie, it was a huge risk for Brooks and Nicholas Mellamphy, The Room’s Creative Director, to bring relatively unknown names to the attention of Toronto’s prospective fashion customers. Kudos to them for that.
The event had a classy air about it, to be sure. In addition to the clothing display, there was a gin bar, a Lula pop-up shop (which will remain in The Room until mid-November) and an avatar of the famed lounge at The Savoy.
One could easily approach the designers, whom were all very down to earth and in many cases, slightly shy. In this day and age of PR hype, it was nice to have a chat with regular people who weren’t necessarily given sound bytes or media training.
I think, though, that this is the true essence of London coming through. There is a certain nonchalance about fashion in London. A close friend who lives there has told me that fashion is like any other industry there, it is part of the fabric of the city (pardon the pun). It’s the norm.
And after my visit to London a day or two after these events (posts to follow), I can see exactly what she means. What we call Brit eccentricity is worn by regular people on Oxford Street.
Fast and Erdem are ex-pat Canucks who flew over for the event, but they weren’t the only Canadian creative contingent that evening.
I ran into Joyce Gunhouse and Judy Cornish of Comrags as well, telling them that I still remembered theirs was the first fashion show I had ever seen – at the Festival of Canadian Fashion. I remember that Swamp Thing was playing – those fashion and music memories never leave you.
I wanted to go over to say hello to Tu Ly, to chat with him about his time at Ports.
He was standing over by the champagne bar. However, by the time I got to the spot and tapped whom I thought was Ly from behind, I realized it was another familiar face – David from Holt Renfrew’s World Design Lab, who also happened to be wearing black and white (like Ly!). We had a lovely chat about Mr. McQueen.
Dare I say it, but it is quite possible that the men that evening were outshining the women in the room.
Despite these few fashion daredevils, most Canadians play it safe when it comes to style.
This new wave of Brit designers will work better than the Westwoods and McQueens for this market because the collections are infinitely easier to wear. I say this, not with disrespect for any of the designers. Their clothes are gorgeous and each collection has a distinct personality.
There is immense craftsmanship in Christopher Kane’s embroidered leathers (Kane didn’t attend but his clothes were on view), Erdem’s grey lace frocks and in Charlotte Olympia platforms.
However, they are safer than a bias-cut, twisted, blossoming bosom dress by Westwood or even the plainest of accessories by McQueen. After all, this is the new wave of Brits. While the former lot of designers were all about rebellion, it seems these men and women are rebelling against the notion of what British fashion is supposed to be.
Like the designers, these clothes were unique, yet approachable. So, for Toronto, they should work. And maybe, just maybe, more of the masses will not wear a little black dress at the next party, but a laser-cut Saunders or a printed Deacon or a Kirkwood shoe sculpture paired with one of the above?
Ms. Brooks, Mr. Mellamphy, I raise my glass and tip my McQueen hat to you, for that.
All photos marked with * are by Yours Truly. All others are courtesy of The Bay.
[I also attended the panel discussion the following day and will have more on that and the individual designers in an upcoming post. My 'To Write' list is longer than my FW10 shopping list. Thanks for your patience, my dear readers. It's been a whirlwind few days/weeks/months with many new adventures. I have some great London stories to share very soon, too.]