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Canada: How Toronto Men抯 Fashion week plans to shape the menswear landscapeWednesday, August 06, 2014 > 10:07:32
The first Toronto Men’s Fashion week is set to shake up fashion’s mainstream with parades of models of all ages, races, and body types outfitted in 20 established and emerging Canadian menswear designers.
A teaser on human billboards at Pride week read: Who Is TOM? The question, posed across the bodies of a broad array of Canadian male models, was part of the slick, black-and-white, Young & Rubicam-designed social media campaign I AM TOM.
The TOM in question is not a person, but Toronto Men’s Fashion Week, which just happens to have an easy-to-remember human nickname. The premiere of the TOMFW Spring-Summer 2015, from Aug. 12 to 15 at the Fairmont Royal York hotel, comes at a time when interest in menswear is at an all-time high.
The global menswear market has been wildly outpacing womenswear, the traditionally dominant portion of the industry. The most oft-cited study is from 2013 by Bain & Company, and it shows menswear growing between 9 and 13 per cent a year, globally, since 2009. This is no small potatoes, since the U.S. menswear market alone is estimated to be worth $60 billion. Internationally that figure is $400 billion.
Since 1998, the overall menswear market has grown a whopping 70 per cent. The impetus for such growth is a pop cultural mashup. First, the schlumpy uniform of dot-com casual khakis and button-downs was wiped out by the 2008 recession. Modern men now dress up to stand out: skinny pants, dapper shoes, French cuffs, vests and Mad Men pocket squares caught the attention of a new generation of millennials (or Yummies, for young urban men), who have a bottomless well of Instagram selfies to feed with fresh looks.
At Pitti Uomo, the revitalized menswear trade fair held in Florence this past June, New York Times reporter Guy Trebay named this the age of the natty fellow. “The inexorable march of heritage brands and artisanal everything has had an unexpectedly affirmative effect on men’s dressing.”
Retailers have seized on this effect. Holt Renfrew Men is the much-anticipated three-storey emporium set to open on Bloor St. this fall right beside Harry Rosen headquarters. Along with the imminent arrival of menswear giants Saks and Nordstrom, we also have the homegrown success of boutique menswear chain (and social club) GotStyle, where the model is one-stop outfitting and intensive service.
“Our business has more than doubled in the last 10 years,” says Larry Rosen, chairman and CEO of Harry Rosen. “We are building and expanding right across Canada. Men today are different, eclectic. And this new generation likes to spoil themselves.”
Fashion for men today is neither gay nor straight. “These days, fashion is not about sexuality,” says Jeff Rustia, founder of TOMFW. “If you want to wear pink pants, it doesn’t mean you are a homosexual. Menswear is no longer a tagalong to womenswear, and it is not longer boring.”
No longer boring indeed.
Take the recent collection of Craig Green, a neophyte designer who stole the show in June at the menswear collections in London. Green clad his models in blue padded robes, inspired by a viral video of a patron attacking a McDonald’s cashier. At Dries van Noten’s Paris spring/summer 2015 show, he offered snug bodysuits that have been dubbed “manitards” with harnesses. And closer to home, Belgian-trained Toronto designer Benji WZW screened larger-than-life space babies on his biker coats, and sent his models down the runway in Great Gazoo helmets.
Fashion itself may move fast, but a new set of shows on the calendar is a massive undertaking. It will be exactly a year from conception to execution for TOMFW. Rustia is also the founder of the Canadian Philippine Fashion Week (CPFW) which took place for its second year last month. “I woke up in a sweat last August with an epiphany. It has become a living, breathing thing now. When I dream, I dream fast.”
Rustia, host of Club Fashion on BPM: TV, Canada’s 24-hour Dance Music Channel, began his career in the ’90s in Hong Kong at MTV Asia, hosting a version of Fashion Police. Later, he went on to HBO Singapore and in between, was creative director at his network branding agency, FRONT TV. But it was the death of his severely disabled teenage son, Kol, two years ago that encouraged Rustia to think big, and that means fashion week scale.
He signed on 20 Canadian designers for TOMFW, a mix of established and emerging names. The headliners are Christopher Bates, Benji WZW, Pedram Karimi, Sons of Odin and HD Homme. Plus there is a slate of New Lab presentations. And the $10,000 Emerging Menswear Designer Awards for designers with less than three years in business will take place on closing night.
Rustia has wrangled a number of people of influence to stand beside in him and help pay the bills. His passion for the project spread among his media and corporate connections and his advisory board includes former premier Mike Harris, Kevin Pennant of Pennant Media Group, Israel Diaz CCO of Young and Rubicam (the agency did the ad campaign pro-bono), and Eric Wetlaufer, SVP of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
Reporters from Women’s Wear Daily have committed to attending the collections and Rustia is not paying their way, which sometimes happens with newer events. The fashion industry’s trade paper of record contacted Rustia when the shows were announced and published a story detailing the upcoming event.
TOMFW held open casting calls to develop a pool of 120 local male models, professionals and ingenues, whose services will be free to designers at the show, the costs covered by the event itself.
“All ages, all races, all body types.” says Rustia. “Diversity is the most important thing for me. And promoting local male models is part of our core advocacy.”
More significantly on the cost side, TOMFW is not charging designers a fee to show. Runway fees at events such as World MasterCard Fashion Week start at about $7,000, and can cost upwards of $30,000 for headliners.
“Nurturing designers and the fashion industry as a whole is our mandate, that is where the sponsorship money is going,” says Rustia. He is “pooling resources from sponsors,” including the title sponsor, Audi Downtown Toronto, plus funds from “patrons, friends, donors and partners to fund runway production.”
Starting these shows from scratch can garner the right kind of attention, says Ben Barry, the assistant professor of equity, diversity and inclusion at Ryerson University’s School of Fashion. He says the question the fashion industry should be asking is what Toronto can do to stand out of the world stage with this new menswear spotlight?
“Menswear is a great opportunity for many of our designers to say diversity is part of the DNA of this city.”
Barry runs a modelling agency focused on diversity. He and his collaborator in research, Daniel Drak, have just released a paper “Expanding the Male Ideal” for the U.K. journal Critical Studies in Men’s Fashion. Drak, a master’s candidate at Parsons School of Design, the New School University in New York, is a past producer of Ryerson’s Mass Exodus, the largest student fashion show in the world.
The paper looks at how men “are pressured to achieve a hypermasculine esthetic, as well as a hyper-thin one.” It concludes that menswear brands can sell more clothes if they foster body confidence by employing models that reflect real-life diversity.
To that end the researchers also shot a fashion editorial for the summer issue of Herringbone magazine to challenge the existing (and opposite) cliched male ideals of muscle-bound gods versus toy-boy waifs. It is “a call to the fashion industry,” says Barry, of using real people as the models, deliberately selected from a range of ages and backgrounds. “Fashion is an opportunity to connect with men in a way that resonates.”
That resonance has to be strong enough to drive men to the cash register. TOMFW Spring Summer 2015 is the first menswear-only showcase in this town (and only the eighth in the world).
“It is capturing a lot of interest,” says Susan Langdon, director of the Toronto Fashion Incubator, who is a member of the TOM advisory board and is collaborating with the shows on the EMDA awards. “I’m pretty sure the industry buzz is going to translate to the broader city.”
But Langdon wonders “if there is a market for that in Canada. This is a fledgling event, and there is going to be a learning curve. Menswear has always been a challenging market, especially in Canada, and I still think it is today.”
Talent isn’t Canada’s problem, says Langdon. “It is the same in womenswear. You have to get through the gatekeepers, the retailers, who are brand and price conscious. The typical Canadian male consumer is very conservative. He is influenced by salespeople, by what colleagues are wearing, and he gravitates to known brands, to Boss or Zegna. You need salespeople on the floor pushing new ideas.”
Getting local designers’ clothes into closets is the ultimate goal, but Rustia says meantime that Torontonians have a proven hunger for fashion events: his CPFW event attracted 10,000 unique visitors. And he boasts the event brought $5.5 million into the city in broader spending, according to Enigma research and Festival Events Ontario.
The TOMFW events will be open to the public, another part of Rustia’s democratic vision. “I want to be accessible to everyone, to the enthusiast, to the consumer.”