If there is strength in numbers, then the latest edition of LG Fashion Week, which wrapped last Friday in Toronto, was the strongest yet.
Thanks to a new, centrally located venue in the city's long-overlooked David Pecaut Square, the biannual event's spring/summer lineup of 36 shows over five days played to unprecedented packed houses of up to 700 at a time and drew onlookers from the street.
It was a sign that Fashion Week has reached a new plateau.
After 11 years of searching for a sense of unity, the event, as spearheaded by Fashion Design Council of Canada president Robin Kay in consultation with global event producer IMG, has finally found it.
The theme was "Canada Cool" and the coolest thing about Fashion Week this season was its ability to bring together diverse interests and constituents from across the country: young and old, French and English, commercially oriented and flagrantly artistic.
Established industry veterans like Montreal's Marie Saint-Pierre and Toronto's David Dixon presented alongside rookies such as 23-year-old Calgary native Caitlin Powers, 27-year-old Golnaz Ashtiani (winner of the Toronto Fashion Incubator's New Labels competition this year), 23-year-old Albertan Sid Neigum and 21-year-old Adrian Wu from Burlington, Ont.
"I think there's a Canadian fashion history and I'm honoured to be part of it," Wu said backstage at his show, which featured fantastical gowns inspired by quantum physics and the French Enlightenment.
"Canadian fashion is hugely underrated, but there's so much talent here."
Indeed, the spring shows, true to their seasonal thrust, exuded a feeling of renewal and youth. An abundance of happy clothes bursting with pops of bright, sunny colour and nature imagery seemed to echo Fashion Week's own spring-like awakening.
Both David Dixon and VAWK, the label designed by former Project Runway winner Sunny Fong, showed feminine looks emblazoned with butterflies, while Sarah Stevenson and Anu Raina – each of whom create their own prints – presented streamlined modernist dresses alive with vibrant blooms and ivy shapes. Colourwise, Joe Fresh, Joeffer Caoc, Pink Tartan and Arthur Mendonça all highlighted bright orange as a key shade for next season, while men's-wear label Bustle focused on blues, showing warm-weather blazers and pants inspired by the sea.
Wesley Badjanak, the designer behind the LOVAS label, embraced earth tones for his impeccably tailored collection of embroidered skirts and 1960s mod dresses; Jeremy Laing, included in the Holt Renfrew group show on Monday night, went in the opposite direction, showing pared-down ankle-skimming wrap dresses as pale and light as clouds.
The season's emphasis on new growth was also reflected in the debut of Mercedes-Benz Start Up, a national competition focused on fledgling designers.
The inaugural runway presentation was judged by a panel of fashion experts including Canadian supermodel Jessica Stam and featured five new labels: Triarchy and Cassie Dee (both of Vancouver) and Unttld, Travis Taddeo and Martin Lin (all from Montreal); Lim was the winner and will present a full fall collection at Fashion Week in March.
But the event also made room for returning prodigies like Mendonça and Caoc, who both showed assured collections after a few seasons' absence from the runway. There was also an enlarged contingent of Quebeckers this season, led by audience favourite Denis Gagnon, whose Laura Ashley-meets-Leslie Caron spring collection of floral prints and tuxedo-chic hot pants capped the event.
Newcomers to Toronto from Quebec included actress-turned-jeweller Caroline Néron, Montreal label Judith & Charles (formerly Teenflo), fine-jewellery brand MICALLA and Paris-trained women'swear designer Mélissa Nepton, a past winner of La Collection, French Canada's version of Project Runway.
A big emphasis this season was on selling Canadian fashion to the world – in attendance at Fashion Week shows were international buyers from markets as far flung as Spain and Dubai, who directed their attentions on the sold-out Pink Tartan and Joe Fresh shows on Wednesday night.
Also new to the event were foreign designers, among them New York-based Cynthia Rowley (who teamed with Kellogg's to present red dresses she created for the three winners of the national Start Something Fabulous Contest) and Germany's Leyla Piedayesh (whose Lala Berlin label had its Canadian runway premiere on opening night).
"Toronto Fashion Week is the gateway to North America," said Piedayesh said after her jam-packed show. Strength in numbers, indeed.