Toronto Fashion Week

How IMG brought Fashion Week under one roof

The folks waiting for the streetcar or stopping at the convenience store at Queen and Broadview seem a little perplexed by the capes, heels and loud prints appearing in their neighbourhood, a fair distance away from the Fashion Week tents.

The feeling is mutual. A fellow writer, heading to the area for Mikhael Kale's spring/summer 2014 show, said her first thought after reading the invite was: "That's definitely across from Jilly's."

"Mikhael chose the venue because it's really an extension of his collection," Carly Ostroff, Kale's rep, told me over email. "Once you see the show, you'll know exactly what I mean."

That space turned out to be an unfinished office or condo building, all exposed steel piping and concrete bones. A snaking runway wound across the vast floor, lined with a single file of clear plastic Ghost chairs. It was, indeed, the perfect counterpoint to Kale's collection of slim-cut, structured leather-and-knit pieces.

The show felt secret, exclusive, underground - yet the Friday night event was also the first show on the calendar for IMG Fashion's massive World Mastercard Fashion Week.

When IMG took over the Toronto shows last spring, the city's fashion industry was segmented and scattered, with presentations and events spread over a three-week period across the city. The company's mandate, at the time, was to reduce what IMG's Jarrad Clark then called "fashion fatigue" - making the show circuit easier on industry members and media while forging connections and giving a bigger stage to smaller designers.

Since then, Clark says, editors, buyers and guests have responded well to the move. "It frees them up from running around town, and designers are seeing that the attention they get from industry that descends upon David Pecaut Square is much more significant than if they showed off-site or at different times of the year."

However, the fact that off-site events aren't out of the question can make for a breath of fresh air throughout Fashion Week. Gail McInnes, who's represented brands like Lucian Matis and newcomer Hilary MacMillan, says while the vast majority of shows are still happening under the tents, "having IMG support a designer like Mikhael Kale on the official schedule does show a shift in support for off-site shows, while still (keeping them) under the World MasterCard Fashion Week umbrella - a shift I absolutely welcome."

McInnes adds that "it still is a brand choice each label needs to make for themselves whether to show on site, off-site or not at all," and that some designers prefer the extra control over the location, atmosphere, and sponsors at their show.

In addition to runway shows, several previously unaffiliated events have either been brought under the tents (TFI Press and Buyers Brunch and the Collections' DIScONNECT film festival) or kept off-site but added to the schedule (the CAFA awards, which were held at the Ritz-Carlton).

Having a few outside events scattered around can actually be beneficial, Clark says, though they keep it to events that add something "fresh and valuable" to the week, and make a point to never schedule outside events that interfere with the shows. "Using a variety of locations across the city also shows off the fashionable and sophisticated sites Toronto has to offer, ensuring visitors to this city see more than just the tents."

Among the designers brought into the fold are those under the banner of Toronto-based firm the Collections, who previously showed independent of Fashion Week. Mel Ashcroft, one-third of the partnership behind The Collections, says the collaboration with IMG allows their small team to focus on developing their roster of designers - 11 of whom are showing this week - instead of planning events.

"We were pretty successful, but it also took six months out of our lives to set stuff up," Ashcroft says of running everything in-house. "I would rather have a pre-party in a cool location and leave it up to the professionals to have cool lighting and a photo pit and get a bunch of publications to cover it."

In addition to the ready-made location and access to WMCFW's fleet of volunteers, the partnership also allows them to tap into the huge IMG social media engine and spread their brands around the globe. "Just because they've been doing this for so many years in various cities like Milan or Tokyo, they can be seen by a larger audience."

Fashion Week also stands to benefit from the shake-up - McInnes says the addition of The Collections' edgier lines has "infused a youthful spirit" into the calendar.

There are other events and groups that elect to stay separate -- the shOws, which includes Jeremy Laing and Jean-Pierre Braganza, remains off-site. "We will always have an open dialogue with other organizers," Clark says. "The shOws appear to be happy doing as they do, and that is their choice right now, our door remains open."

It's not a strategy that's right for everyone, but Ashcroft hopes the partnership will keep growing.

"If you can dial into those big companies while still remaining small, that's a good sweet spot to be in."

YOUR PHOTOS AT FASHION WEEK: Whether you're Instagramming or have your DSLR in hand, we want to see your photos from Fashion Week. Add them to our Fashion Week stream by tagging them #FWblogTO in Instagram or by uploading them via this page.

Photo by Jason Cook in the blogTO Flickr pool

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