Ask around and it seems Fashion Art Toronto may have officially grown up this year. A former FAT model is now competing on America’s Next Top Model, and the list of established industry folk who’ve been involved during the event’s formative years continues to grow. But if you ask me, FAT retains its scrappy indie cred; the five-day style, culture and nightlife orgy is nowhere near being mainstream. Even with a new venue (Regent Park’s Daniels Spectrum) and ever-expanding programming, organizer Vanja Vasic is keeping a balance between alternative artistic expression and organizational maturity.
That goal is reflected in this year’s theme of In Fashion/Un-Fashion. Vasic promises that local fashionistas will see grit versus glamour, earth versus industry, and masculine versus feminine collections writ large on the runway, guaranteeing that the event will maintain its distance from the other big fashion game in town. FAT will never be World MasterCard Fashion Week, but at the same time, Fashion Week could never be FAT — and that’s a very good thing. Don’t believe me? Just ask this year’s designers.
First-timer Michael Zoffranieri worked for six months on his collection, titled Queen, which is “all about encompassing royalty and a modern idea of power: strong, soft, beautiful. I’m playing with structured woven fabrics mixed with softer knits and chiffons, stiff silk with rabbit fur.” The Ryerson fashion student has two years left in his program but is impressively ambitious with his work. “The community that comes out of FAT is a warm one. Everyone who shows comes out a little bit changed, so I want that. I want to change and share that experience of changing with other people,” he says, adding that he feels no pressure about showing his collection on the runway.
At the other end of the nerves spectrum is returning designer Mic Carter. “Trying to be innovative and have a concept and aesthetic that is authentic and not reductive? I absolutely get nervous!” By day, Carter is a Grade 5/6 elementary school teacher, but by night he’s the designer behind L’uomo Strano. He studied fashion at Britain’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and is a head-turning local nightlife fixture. His FAT show last year damn near shut down the runway and featured the kind of clothes both fashion writers and connoisseurs dream about. To say he exploded onto the scene would be an understatement; Carter displayed such a rare blend of editorial vision, impeccable craftsmanship and to-die-for design skill that a year later people are still talking about his collection.
He’s well aware that living up to that isn’t going to be easy. “I ended up taking an entrepreneur class, and now I have a viable business instead of just a passion project,” he says. “Design allows me to put something on someone so without them even engaging anybody, they’re communicating and sending a message. That has a huge appeal!”
When I ask him what we can expect to see in his runway show this year, his answer reveals the philosophy behind L’uomo Strano: “I started looking past gender, enquiring what clothing will look like when gender isn’t an issue. It’s not specifically menswear . . . it’s more about elegance overlaid on the body in ways that prioritize innovation and functionality. You can wear these clothes practically and not just for a gala. I’m in love with leather; I’m in love with leather culture, and I think it’s fascinating how we interact and bond with leather. You’ll see lots of leather, satin, sheerness and tulle along with dynamism and Afro-futurism.”
Much like Zoffranieri, Carter wears his ambitions on his sleeve. Although he’s got both age and experience on the younger designers, he has great respect for what FAT brings to the city. “Vanja runs a tight ship,” he says, laughing. “FAT is accessible in ways that other fashion experiences — both in Toronto and internationally — are not, which allows for fashion artists to engage in community building and dialogue. It’s unique, and there’s a massive difference in how creativity works here versus other cities.”
There’s that word “versus” again! If you expect nothing else, expect contrast to be the name of the game this year. Whether it’s a debuting designer mixing structure with softness or last year’s champ pitting leather against satin, FAT will do what it does better than any other fashion event in the city: blaze a path and point the way forward for designers and consumers alike.