When I was asked if I wanted to cover Fashion Art Toronto, I thought it was a mistake. Although I’ve had a lifelong love of fashion, fueled in my teen years by watching back-to-back episodes of Fashion Television, it hasn’t translated to me having a distinct sartorial style. Surely, I thought, there must be someone more qualified than me with a better understanding of fashion who could go and cover the show. But not being one to turn down free tickets to an event, I agreed to go.
On the day of the show I joked that I felt like Betty Suarez, the beloved main character of Ugly Betty, showing up to her first day of work at a fashion magazine wearing a garish red poncho because “ponchos are in!” Much like Betty, I’m aware of what’s in style but have trouble translating it to a real life outfit. I put on some clothes I deemed acceptable and made my way to FAT for the first time.
When I arrived at FAT I saw people in all manners of dress. Some gurls were wearing bright pink stockings paired with sky-high platforms and looked like they belonged on the streets of Harajuku in Tokyo, Japan. But for the most part I saw people dressed in outfits that were well put together and had just a little extra oomph that took them to the next level. I saw fascinators, birdcage veils, furry vests and checkerboard patterns. Although I felt slightly underdressed I quickly let go of my self-consciousness.
I headed over to the media table to pick up my pass, where the real fun began. I was escorted past the long line of people waiting to get into the show and taken to a seat saved just for me – in the front row. Soon after the brilliant PR woman in charge of running the show came over and thanked me over and over again for coming. It wasn’t Paris fashion week but being in the front row of a fashion show made me feel just a little bit like Anna Wintour. I sat up a bit straighter, my eyes sharpened and I knew that I was ready to experience what FAT had to offer.
The show was a far cry from the solemn runway experiences I had grown up watching on Fashion Television. It’s 2014 and this means that nearly everyone in the audience was equipped with some kind of technology. As soon as the runway lit up, attendees held their iPhones and iPads aloft hoping to get a shot of the next great designer. Gone are the days of steely-faced editors who observe the models without giving a hint to their opinions on the clothing. The photographers also gave away their thoughts on which pieces mattered most. I delighted at the sound of shutters clicking furiously every time a breakthrough outfit came down the runway. By the first break in the show I felt invigorated.
I had learned a long time ago that fashion isn’t just about clothing; it’s about art. Anyone who’s looking to a runway show for everyday, wearable outfits is likely to be disappointed. And that’s part of the huge appeal of FAT. It’s not just about the art on the runway. The venue featured a number of thought-provoking art installations, short films by some of the designers and live performance art corresponding to the theme of each night of the week.
As the night wore on I started to feel indulgent. Here I was, front row at a fashion show and my job was to do little more than take in everything I saw. With each outlandish outfit I viewed, both on and off the runway, I felt increasingly entranced. I started to think I could get used to this life very quickly. I could see myself attending more shows, watching, judging, writing. The whole thing felt hedonistic and I wanted in.
Sadly I was brought back to reality by a friend. “I like this show more than the other ones,” she explained. “The other shows feel so exclusionary but FAT welcomes everyone.” And that was when I realized the real beauty of Fashion Art Toronto; It really is an inclusive experience; Its dedication to inventive expression means that FAT is an opportunity for up-and-coming designers to have their wares seen by a larger audience.
Unlike the runways at mainstream shows, which often inexplicably feature the same trends, FAT’s runways offer a unique experience and vision from every designer. Whether it’s a makeshift funeral or models who pretend to literally battle for their place on the walk, the designers featured at FAT presented unique takes on fashion shows, bringing back memories of Alexander McQueen’s constant reinvention of the runway via holograms, robotics and life size chess games.
Whether real or imagined, I found myself feeling seduced by the whole experience. I’m not one to deny myself pleasure so I’ll be back at FAT next year enjoying another week of groundbreaking fashion, art and film.