Impressions from Toronto Fashion Week:

Wandering in to the revamped, rebranded Yorkville Village, where Toronto’s new fashion week just wrapped its second season, I was struck by the familiar.

Montreal retailers Jean-Paul Fortin, Judith & Charles and Sarah Pacini as well as the fabulous Galerie de Bellefeuille have moved into the luxury retail space, formerly called Hazelton Lanes. Gauzy curtains hung from the ceiling during the event, along with dress sculptures by Sophie DeFrancesca. The curtain cordoned off a lounge with plush sofas where the fashion crowd could imbibe and revive between shows. Of course, TNT still dominates the mall with 25,000 square feet of cool luxury brands. If you’re not into fashion, Whole Foods might be a draw. (I had the yummiest salad from the salad bar.)

David Dreben and Sophie DeFrancesca at Galerie de Bellefeuille Toronto.

The scene at Toronto Fashion Week.

On the Toronto Fashion Week lineup, familiar names from Montreal included UNTTLD, Pedram Karimi and WRKDEPT. But as usual with Canadian fashion weeks, most big names from Montreal, Toronto and beyond were elsewhere or simply not showing.

The runway show model is being questioned in this age of see now, want now, buy now. Yet buying now – just after a runway show – is impractical: a designer would have to produce garments without orders, a risk few can take.

Even New York Fashion Week – where Toronto labels Beaufille, Greta Constantine and Sid Neigum are showing this season – is under pressure for losing big names. And one of the biggest names, Tom Ford, bombed. “Tom Ford loses his cool,” the New York Times wrote of the gaudy, lurid show featuring legging, shine and animal print, plus a sweatshirt emblazoned with Tom Ford Beverly Hills. Really, Mr. Ford?

But I digress.

Toronto Fashion Week scored a coup in December by partnering with the Collections and RE\SET, an alternative platform for design talent. Another Toronto platform for men’s and women’s fashion is being held in March, under the TOM banner. Montreal has its ninth edition of Fashion Preview in March, while Vancouver Fashion Week has premiered the Global Fashion Collective in New York. The Toronto Fashion Incubator is taking a contingent of designers to London, while mmode, the Montreal metropolitan fashion cluster, is at the giant MAGIC trade show in Las Vegas with more than 60 brands from Montreal this week.

The Toronto shows took place in a traditional runway tent as well as at the atmospheric raw Studio space for emerging talent.

A showroom where the public and media could look and buy and a series of talks sponsored by CAFA, the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards, augmented the calendar. In the showroom, Alan Anderson’s Hollywood-inspired jewels and kitschy crowns attracted attention. On a more practical note,  covetable silks from Laura Siegel for the flou in you and cool, sharp tailoring from new label Grayes.

There were about 16 labels showing over three days. Spacey Hayley Elsaesser, Hendrixroe (rock inspired), contemporary Hillary MacMillan and evening line Narces stood out in the crowd, and emerging labels Nonie and Tara Rivas impressed. Not that luxury menswear lines Mayer Man or Christopher Bates were too shabby.

UNTTLD. George Pimentel for TFW

UNTTLD. George Pimentel for TFW

But it was the UNTTLD duo of Jose Manuel St-Jacques and Simon Bélanger who provided the frisson that fashion editors hope for.

From the moment the first model walked out in haze of dry ice smoke, wearing a dramatic red gown with gloves to match, it was clear that the pair were taking craft and their vision to a new level.

They worked many of their themes – Asian inspiration, fringe, sophisticated jersey dresses, shimmering pant suits – but also referenced the flapper era. Rich toned velvets were beautifully draped, and Poiret cocoon silhouettes evoked a Downton Abbey aesthetic for today. The crowd loved it and followed the models and designers to the TNT store in Yorkville Village for a closer look and for a buying session of the spring collection.

Also on the Montreal lineup, WRKDEPT’s Tinashe Musara and Andy Long Hoang put on an exuberant show with coats of many colours, plus denim, embellished with couturier Helmer’s lavish tulle wraps and wings.

WRKDEPT. George Pimentel for TFW

WRKDEPT. Photo George Pimentel for TFW

Narces. George Pimentel for TFW

Hayley Elsaesser at TFW. George Pimentel for TFW

Hendrixroe. George Pimentel for TFW

Kardinal Offishall at Hendrixroe. George Pimentel for TFW

Hilary MacMillan. George Pimentel for TFW

Hayley Elsaesser’s show was titled Cosmic Dread, inspired by “space horror” and featuring shiny prints of flying saucers or zappy stars –on models of all shapes and ethnicities. Hendrixroe mixed and mashed brocades, sequins and tweeds – with a hit of leopard print – for a rock and raucous show, with Kardinal Offishall performing.

Designers made eco-statements. After all, green is the new black.

Hilary MacMillan didn’t sacrifice sophistication for her cruelty-free vegan philosophy. The contemporary line, featuring pastels and shine this season, is one I’d like to feel and see up close – especially those iridescent jackets and slinky silver lamés.

Pedram Karimi made a statement about overconsumption with a text projected on the catwalk screen before the show. There was something sad about the atmosphere and the garments – oversize unisex cloaks, although a few items were actually quite chic and wearable.

Pedram Karimi at TFW. George Pimentel for TFW

Triarchy. George Pimentel for TFW

Triarchy, a sustainable denim brand from Vancouver, highlighted denim’s “horrifying” ecological impact, and has come up with a clean ozone bleaching process. The vintage-inspired denim featured sequin insets for jackets and pants and was paired with silver booties.

So.  ….. If one trend emerged during the week, it was shine – in silver boots, silver lamé, sequins, and flashy brocades – and that’s a trend that seems coming on strong everywhere for next fall and winter. Detail: silver boots were  seen on and off the runway, particularly that shiny mirrored patent that must be killer painful to wear.

Silver booties everywhere and on the Triarchy catwalk.

Those silver booties. George Pimentel for TFW