Robin Kay

Toronto through the eyes of Robin Kay

Robin Kay, the president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, has been known to make headlines from time to time. But as Toronto Fashion Week's 22nd season kicks off today, she remains focused on promoting the strength of Canadian fashion, reflected in the event's theme -- The Power of Style.

Assuming her FDCC post in 2000 after running a retail clothing chain for 25 years, Kay's faced her share of public detractors over the years. But she's also been credited with establishing Toronto Fashion Week's prestige, and helping to launch the careers of numerous up and coming designers.

Thousands will visit the Allstream Centre at Exhibition Place this week as designers unveil their fall 2010 collections. As Kay reveals what to look out for, she exudes confidence in the strength of Canada's fashion industry, and its potential to grow at home and in global markets.

Where do you live in Toronto?

Right now I'm wandering the city. I have lived in Parkdale...moved to the Financial District, and currently I'm living on the edge of Boystown. I am currently waiting and looking forward to moving into the King Street West neighbourhood at the Thompson Residences.

What are some of your favourite shops and restaurants to take friends when visiting from out of town?

I love vintage. I love vintage because designers can see the future. It is thrilling to run my fingers down a rack of coats and know which [one] is right. The vintage stores on Queen West are at the top of my list. I love beautiful stores and those that carry a large Canadian contingent of designers; the Room at the Bay is gorgeous with presence from Pink Tartan. Barbie by David Dixon is also great -- I've already bought pieces and will be wearing them at LG Fashion Week.

Why did you choose to base your offices in Liberty Village?

In 1981, I took 100,000 square feet at Liberty and Mowat Avenue for the Robin Kay Clothing Co. headquarters. I designed, manufactured and exported from that location to 18 stores and 600 plus wholesale accounts across North America. I'm drawn to the area for the beautiful historic buildings. Currently Liberty Village is experiencing a huge surge in prime business enterprise growth, with graphic designers, film companies, broadcasters, and a vortex of creative energy.

The location for this year's Fashion Week was originally announced as 30 Ordnance. What appealed to you about this venue, and why did you change it at the last minute to the Allstream Centre?

It is incredible how the growing size of the event has made it exciting to grow with and find the right canvas.

The romantic, stunning, sky-high warehouse was a great idea -- however after looking at the designs, it was not adequate for the size of the event.

This will be the third different location in a row for Fashion Week. Is moving to a new location every season sustainable? How important is it to find a new, permanent home?

You must look at our history to accurately report that we've [only] had 5 locations in 22 seasons. It is our goal to find a permanent or quasi permanent home. Our needs for two and half weeks in pre-build and with the event that requires a minimum of 40,000 square feet must be balanced with our use of the building during the other weeks of the year.

Will Fashion Week ever return to City Hall?

If we can make the space work within our growing needs, then its high on my list for next season; however, it is currently under renovation. If Nathan Phillips Square would allow us to increase our footprint on the square, we would be there in a second. The planning committee did come to speak with me and Joe Mimran, Chair of the FDCC, for input into the new layout, so we will see about the possibility of future seasons there.

robin kay fashion week toronto

Which new designer are you most excited to be welcoming to this season's Fashion Week?

Naana Yankey of Coccolily -- I am dying to see her work. She has arrived from Montreal and rented a loft space in Toronto to be immersed in the city and LG Fashion Week planning.

What is it going to take to convince Philip Sparks and Greta Constantine to stop doing their renegade shows and present at Fashion Week instead?

10 years ago, Fashion Week was unheard of in Canada. I am thrilled that there are designers that are showing. I would love to have them all show together under the tent where the massive media are happy to report. The success of any Canadian designer is satisfying to the FDCC mandate, branding the fashion industry in Canada. The boys started at MUZIK with front page coverage, and they are on their way.

How many different Fashion Weeks around the world do you go to every year to look for inspiration?

Countless. The most inspiring visit I went on was to Fashion Week in Columbia -- and from that a selection of the Columbian designers came to show in Toronto. They went on to Milan.

Where does Toronto's Fashion Week rank on a global scale and what will it take to get it to rival New York, Paris, London and Milan?

Ah! The question I've been waiting for. In 1999, at the same minute that I said "Fashion Week," the internet blossomed, and everyone everywhere could see everything at exactly the same time on the fashion global network. The intention of the FDCC is to brand the fashion industry in Canada on an international scale. This is promoting our domestic designers in our own markets and in global markets as well as encouraging international designers to export to Canada to enrich the retail landscape in this country, further promoting and creating a cohesive, sustainable, and success industry in this country.

Today there are designers at LG Fashion Week whose names are internationally known. However looking at New York, their fashion industry had been growing since 1962 when the CFDA was founded.

What is the one thing that will surprise and delight attendees of the upcoming Fashion Week?

The theme this season is The Power of Style -- it manifests the empowerment of every guest and this energy and excitement will be evident at every moment of the week.

How does this theme reflect Canadian fashion today?

The Canadian Olympic team empowered our nation...and watching the athletic champions take to the hills in the Bay uniforms and the casual Canadian chic at base camp [was great]. I think that LG Fashion Week Beauty by L'Oreal Paris has empowered designers and consumers to take pride in the idea of Made in Canada, Canadian Designed. Buy it, Wear it.

Photos by George Pimentel.

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