Sunday, October 25, 2009

an unforgettable look at Toronto Fashion Week

It was Monday morning. Four days before the listening post assignment was due in Journalism class and I still didn't have an idea I actually liked. My mom suggested the school radio, a doctor's office, a park bench; my housemate suggested a sex shop, Starbucks or the subway station, meanwhile my peers were going to homeless shelters, Hindu temples and army bases. But none of that interested me. In Journalism class, I have always tried to tie in all the assignments with my future aspiration of working in fashion. Knowing that it was Fashion week in Toronto October 19 to 23, I was just dying to do something Fashion Week related for the assignment. My mom suggested that I talk to someone at my internship and get their advice on perhaps some hot-spot that all the hip fashion people hang out at. So on Monday, I went into Glow, and when I finally worked up the courage (I was very nervous for some reason) I went and asked the Managing Editor if she had any ideas in regards to this project for me. She didn't, but she told me to ask the Associate Beauty and Style editor, Tania. I shot off an email to Tania, telling her about this assignment and asking her if it was possible to hang outside the Fashion Week tents and just observe people as they left the shows. She called me over to her desk and opened up the Fashion Week schedule. She said that she could RSVP me to a show and I should be able to attend, no problem. Having already looked through the schedule myself, I knew which shows I could do and really wanted to go to. I mentioned that the David Dixon show, Tuesday at 6pm, would work for me and she said that she would let them know I was coming! I was very excited! I had never anticipated that I would be able to go to a real Fashion show! Back in August when I found out I had the internship, I had looked up when Toronto Fashion Week would be and had marked it on my calendar in hopes that I would get to go see something, anything. And now here I was with that tiny dream coming true! That night I could hardly sleep due to my excitement. I was over the moon. To make things even better, I also had the privilege to attend the Paul Hardy show the following day with a media pass of my own! I have loyally watched Fashion Television and the hundreds of Style.com video podcasts over the years and since I would love to work in fashion, it only seems right to experience a fashion show – or two – some time in my young life. The opportunity to see these shows was truly a unique experience and I look forward to the possibility of being able to attend many more in the future.

    After a long day of doing various chores at my internship, Tuesday evening finally came for us to make our way over to the Toronto Fashion Week tent relocated as of this year to an old Chrysler dealership at King and Shaw. I took a taxi with two editors, Tania and the Beauty Editor, Jill. I sat in the front, while the two women chatted in the back about cosmetics, mutual friends and the show at hand. I was very excited, and kept to myself, choosing instead to take in my surroundings as is required for this project. The ride took a lot longer than I expected as that the streets were rather busy and that we were driving to the far side of town. Having left the office around 5:30pm, we arrived 20 minutes later at the tents. Tania and Jill thought I would have to check in completely separate from them and possibly sit far away all alone, but it ended up that I was on the same guest list as them, we all received seat cards and the two editors, with their press passes, took off to the media room prior to the show, leaving me to take in everything in the main tent on my own.

The entrance to the tent is tall walkway proclaiming "LG Fashion Week" under which one walked down the faux grass path, lined with small white stones to the glass walls and doors of the main tent. At the doors stand at least two very serious looking security guards who stare at the chests of every person who enters to see if they have a pass or not. Upon entering the tent, there are tons of young girls (and couple boys as well but not in the same attire) wearing cute pink tights, black skirts and white t-shirts saying "Wear Love". It is with them that you check in with for the show. There is a table to the left with Enroute and several other magazines, as well as some promotional cards that you can take. There is a large wall with a long desk in front of it, past the entrance, with cash registers and lots of workers getting people organized for the show. After Tania and Jill leave, I go to line up in the "General Consumers" line with many other people and here I have the opportunity to really take in my surroundings.

From the ceiling of the tent there are two massive chandeliers hanging over two separate bars that look to be serving the sponsored Peroni Italy beer as well as other fancy drinks. Boxy black leather sofas line the outer walls, as well as those around the bars. Inside the bar area there is more seating and many people are socializing with colourful drinks and fancy goblets in hand. In line I stand beside a well-dressed man and a woman with her lips so injected that they nearly reach her forehead on my left and a group of stylish 30-somethings to my right. I hear one of the young girl's mention how David Dixon's show is "the busiest show [she's] seen all day". After this comment, the group proceeds to debate what Dixon's relationship with Barbie and Mattel is that has granted him the opportunity to design a whole line of clothing inspired by Barbie herself. Around the whole of the tent, there are different booths for different sponsors. These sponsors include Quattro, Rowenta, L'Oreal, Lincoln and LG. At the back left of the hall, there is a booth set up for Fashion television. I later learn that after the show, Glen Baxtor, host of "In Fashion", interviews the designer in the booth for all to see.

The place is packed. Although the weather outside is rather nice compared to what it has been and the place is blasting cool air, I am sweating! I see people around me fanning themselves with the many flyers that are handed out at the door. The techno music is pumping and if people were dancing one might think we were at a very chic club where only the very, very well dressed go. I look around at all the people and I notice that most of them are wearing black. But not boring black! The most fabulous black clothing, with studs and sequins, and accented by a great pair of boots, fancy heels and beautiful bags. There are also a lot of women donning patterned tights. Some with simple, cut-out designs, others with full on illustrations and stories depicted on the stretchy fabric around their legs. I see Flare's editor-in-chief Lisa Tant come in with four girls that look like robots, all tapping away on their Blackberry's. It makes me think that Lisa Tant must be Canada's equivalent to Anna Wintour. (Just as a side note, in the three days around the Fashion Shows, I had crossed paths with Tant on four occasions, including once in an elevator. To me she came off somewhat unapproachable, but I have vowed to say something to her next time I see her. And now we have common ground because we both went to the David Dixon show.)

It is finally time for the "General Consumers" – aka all non-media people – to take our seats. We move into the room where the show will be held slowly, everyone shuffling along, pushing together, trying to find where they are seated. The room is long and lit with colourful lights of mainly pinks and purples. People are walking all over the white, slippery catwalk situated in the middle in order to get to their designated seats. As you walk into the room you are blocked by a large group of photographers and cameramen and must choose to go right or left. I choose to go right, but find out soon after that I have gone to the wrong side, so I walk across the catwalk and see Tania and Jill looking for me in the crowd from their seats. They wave me over and point to the empty spot behind them where I will be seated. It's in the third row and right in the middle, I couldn't imagine anything better for a first time fashion-show-goer and merely an intern at not even a primarily fashion magazine. On my seat I find several different booklets about David Dixon, Barbie and a Tetrapak of water. I have such a large bag and jacket, I feel like I am hitting everyone as I try to clear my seat so that I can actually sit on it. The voice of the MC tells people repeatedly over the speakers to take their seats as soon as possible, "the show cannot start until everyone is seated". People are chatting and continue to fan themselves with their booklets. I am sitting right behind my editors and the editors of Chatelaine and beside me on my left is what I believe to be a transvestite, or transsexual. I notice that this person who is built and sounds like a man has perfectly curled brown hair with red highlights, long, manicured red nails, a lot of makeup on and women's clothing. I'm not going to lie, being the naive person I am, I was pretty excited about this observation.

The show was set to start at 6pm but at this point, it is 6:22 and people are still getting seated. Jeanne Beker and Rick Mercer appear ahead of me on the catwalk, and a man asks two women to vacate their seats for Beker and Mercer. They are now sitting front row, a mere two rows ahead, and directly in front of me. People walk by and take their pictures. They sit close together and a camera man films them from the opposite side of the runway. Jeanne Beker is someone I am very inspired by and Rick Mercer is just a hilarious man, so their presence is very exciting to me. David Nixon, I believe, comes out from backstage in a very interesting jacket to welcome Jeanne with a big hug and kisses. He quickly retreats backstage again and Beker resumes her seat.

At 6:28 precisely, the show begins with the lights dimming and on the wall the story and theme of the show is projected. It tells us that a King wanted to make his Persian wife feel less homesick about her homeland of Persia, so he built her one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. A colourful background illuminates the wall with the name David Dixon in the middle and the first model appears and the show begins.

The first model comes out in a short yellow dress with half-moon-shape chiffon pieces positioned around the hips to the end of the dress creating a cute skirt effect. The show proceeds with a variety of dresses, blouses, pants, shorts and jackets in different shades of lemon meringue yellow, fruit punch pink, electric blue, clean white and perfect black. My first impression of watching models walk down the runway is that it is very awkward. Especially when the first model came out and she was on the catwalk completely alone, I felt like I shouldn't watch her in such an intense way. I quickly rationalized my thoughts by reminding myself that this is their job and they should be used to it by now. The models walked –for the most part – confidently to the end of the catwalk where the many photographers gathered, paused, struck a pose (or two). At this time another model would emerge from the back to make her way down the catwalk and the other would make her way to the back again. The models seem to be about sixteen years old but I noted that there is great diversity among them. The show opened with three "black" models making their way down the runway. Also present were a few Asian models, a red-haired model, brunettes, a few that looked to be from India or the Middle East and of course a couple blondes. I was very impressed by this and I think it worked really well not just to display Dixon's collection but it also helped the consumer to better picture themselves in his work no matter what their colour. Except for a few models who I recognize from international fashion shows, for the most part the modelling is just painful. They walk at a very awkward angle where they lean far back and sort of stumble around in their high heels. I do feel sympathetic for them though as I can't walk in heels myself, but then again I don't even try! Their hair is pulled back into tight braided ponytails; they don red lips and some are wearing chunky silver coiled necklaces. Every article of clothing inspires me and the collection seems to offer many options for retail and the consumer.

Two minutes in, the lights dim again and the theme changes. The music sounds like a sword-fight and out come models wearing clothing made up of thin metallic silver pieces – it reminds me of the tassels on a flapper dress, except shinier and probably plastic! I see Jeanne whispering animatedly to Rick Mercer about these clothes. She seems to be excited and pleased with Dixon's collection as she and Mercer have been discussing the whole show. I am surprised Beker is not tweeting everything as she normally does but it makes sense seeing as she is playing fashion host to Mercer. On the other hand, the blonde woman to my right, who I think may be from Chatelaine or Flare, is tweeting up a storm on her Blackberry. I wish I knew who she was because then I would go back and follow her on Twitter and see what she had to say.

At 6:44pm, the lights fade again and the MC tells the audience to remain in their seats as the Barbie by David Dixon show will take place shortly thereafter. The Fashion Week helpers, in their black skirts and pink tights, carry out silver platters of Petroni beer and goblets of red and white wine and offer it to the audience. The Glow editors sip on their white wine and talk with the other Rogers editors around them. At this time, I give attention to the man/woman seated to my left. Seeing that she has a large and desirable camera in her lap, I decide that that will be my conversation opener. I ask her if she is here as a photographer. She tells me that she is and we begin discussing what she writes for, how she got the job, what she thinks of the show and who I should make nice with. I find out that her name is Enza and she writes a party column for the Metro newspaper. She is covering the Dixon show for a small segment in the following day's entertainment section. I tell her all about where I am going to school, the listening post assignment, how I got the chance to be there and what I hope to do in the future. I tell her about how Jeanne Beker has inspired me and Enza encourages me to go up and meet her after, saying that she is very approachable. She tells me about Robin Kay, the president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, who has put herself in quite a few embarrassing situations including rambling drunkenly at last year's Fashion Week. She also points out the head of Mattel who is seated on the opposite side in the front row, taking pictures on her iPhone. Enza seems to know everyone (I found out later everyone knows her, even my mom who is not very in the "loop"!) and is very encouraging towards me and my future endeavours in fashion.

At 7pm exactly, the lights fade again and the Barbie by David Dixon show begins. People have loosened up a bit thanks to the alcohol and breathing break and more shouts and noise emanates from the crowd as the models make their way down the catwalk. The show starts with a perfect Barbie-look-a-like model, with the perfect walk that I totally believed it was Barbie in the flesh! "Think Pink" is the main theme and this is evident in the clothing as it appears down the catwalk with sexy pink suits, dresses and jackets, accentuated by black and white patterned essentials. All the models in this show are new from the previous show. Their hair is long and straight, some with curls in the ends, and bobby-pinned on the sides to stay out of their faces. Some of the models are wearing think black rimmed glasses that are all the rage nowadays. This collection is adorable and makes me want to play with my dolls again! Meghan, the winner of the second season of Canada's Next Top Model, walks confidently as one of the Barbie dolls and in the crowd, I see one of the CNTM judges, Stacey, looking very impressed by Meghan and singing along to Madonna's Vogue that blares over the speakers. Another model I recognize in the show, Andrea, I had just met earlier that day when she had come into the Glow offices to meet with the Beauty Editor for a potential cover shoot. There are also sexy Ken-doll models wearing the preppy glasses, bow ties and business suits with shorts as opposed to the usual dress pants. One model walks down the catwalk and both Enza and I comment on how horrible her walk is until we realize that her foot is hanging out of the shoe she is supposed to be wearing. In front of me I hear two women say, "I don't want to buy the shoes if the models can't walk in them". This is disappointing for Dixon but a valid point nonetheless.

The Barbie show ends and the MC announces, "Your designer, David Dixon!!" The crowd stands and the models begin to make their way out from the back, the line of David Dixon models on the left and the Barbie models on the right. David Dixon himself runs out in the middle, waves to the crowd giving him a standing ovation and retreats backstage once again. After all the models have disappeared as well, everyone gathers their things quickly and makes their way out. The woman I am following out on the right is taking her sweet time and I am wanting to bee-line for Ms. Beker. I see another one of my classmates get the opportunity to meet her and I wish I could be there too! By the time I make it down from my seat Jeanne has left and Mercer is standing on the catwalk being interviewed by a woman sporting a Fashion television microphone. The editors have gone into the back media room so I am on my own to go home. I linger in the main tent for a while people watching and planning how to get home. People stay drinking and socializing in the tent. Outside is dark now and I am on cloud nine having just attended my first Fashion show. I go across the street to the Starbucks. I want to order a drink but they don't have vanilla so I can't get the first drink that I want. Then I order a caramel macchiato, forgetting it has vanilla in it too, so they ask me if I want it made with caramel syrup instead. Stupidly, I saw yes. The drink was disgusting. If I hadn't paid $4 for it I would have ditched it. But I did get instructions on how to get home and that was ultimately my motive for being in there in the first place.

    I couldn't sleep that night as I mentioned before. Resounding in my head was another proposal Tania has sort of made the day before that I decided I wanted to take her up on. She had said I could go to the Paul Hardy show on Wednesday afternoon WITH her press pass! At the time, we had just brushed it off and instead chose to go see Dixon instead but I really wanted this other opportunity as well. The next morning at my internship I boldly went and asked her if I could attend Hardy as well. She told me that neither her nor Jill were going so I could take their place and maybe take pictures for them. This was perfect! So I was all prepared to go to Fashion Week again and I was happy about it.

    Wednesday I went into the internship with my big camera and snacks and my work clothes for later and all ready to go as Media to Fashion Week. I talked to Tania and she told me that if I took her Media Pass, that would mean I would have to TTC all the way back to the office to drop it off and then get back on the bus to to go to work in Scarbs. I didn't like this idea as it then required me to use more tokens which I am not too keen to get rid of, ever. We decided that I would either just settle as a regular viewer of the show or I would try to convince them to give me a new Pass under Tania's name. The latter idea was the one I was keener about.

My day at the internship ended at 12:30, after which I went to get some food at Subway and then made my way over to the Fashion tents the same way I had come home the night before. This was a mistake. Reasoning that since I get lost a LOT in the city, even when I know where I'm going, I thought that if I just went the same way I got home then that would be a sure-fire deal. But it ended up taking forever and during the ride I realized that there were so many other options I could have taken!

    I arrived at the Fashion tent at 5 minutes after the 2pm start of the show. It hadn't begin yet, of course. I had decided to at least try to get them to issue me a pass, so I walked up the table and said, "I forgot my Media Pass on my desk! Can I please have a new one?" They asked for my name and I said I was Tania and a couple mins later – no ID checking required – and I had my very own Press Pass!! I wore that badboy with pride.

I was seated beside the Style editor from another magazine and we talked about her education and her co-op experience working for some news organization in Ireland during University. We watched the Paul Hardy show with a mostly empty crowd. Jeanne didn't turn up to this show although it was very good. Everything was white and inspired by Hardy's trip to Uganda. There were more recognizable models in the show like Tegan Dearing.

After the show, I went into the media room which was sort of boring because it was just people sitting around chatting on sofas or tapping away on computers. I did get a lollipop though which I still have yet to eat. I wanted one of the swag bags I saw that everyone had so I went up to the desk and asked for one. The woman was like, I gave you one. I said, nope, I never got one. She looked in her book and said, ya, you signed for it right here. I said, I don't know how that happened coz I didn't get one. She said, I gave you one this morning. That's when it dawned on me that I was not who I said I was as it was under Tania's name so I was like...OH right, thanks. She was totally on to me though but I had to leave and had a good laugh about that on my ride back home.

All-in-all, it was pretty much what I expected, if not more. After having watched so many different fashion shows, I had a pretty good general idea of what to expect. I just had never imagined having such good seats and being able to actually go with my internship. Also, it felt really good to hear encouragement from Enza and to see Jeanne Beker in the flesh. I very much enjoyed myself and it was great to gain insight into the Canadian fashion industry. An industry I surely hope to plan a bigger part in sometime in the near future!

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