Sketches by AOF 2012 competitors Andrea Kuntz and Charlotte Ghesquiere

Story by Sara Harowitz


It’s the theme of this year’s Art of Fashion (AOF) design competition, and it seems incredibly fitting for the fashion world right now. It’s no secret that niche industries are taking a financial hit, and we seem to be in a constant battle for arts funding in this country. So, people are being forced to reinvent themselves, to strip away all of the excess and get back to what’s real; what is, in essence, raw.

Every year for the past 16 years, the Art of Fashion organization has given 10 Canadian designers the chance to compete for funding, media exposure, and industry support by giving them a theme and asking them to create a collection of six pieces that embody it. And for Art of Fashion founder, Michelle Planche, 2012’s subject was a no-brainer.

“This year really wanted to focus on technique and raw design, on breeding couture from objects of a common origin,” says Planche. “We wanted to give designers a collection that we felt there was room for creativity and their own interpretation in. We never want to lead them in one direction, so our themes are always vague enough that that’s where their creativity comes in: what does ‘raw’ mean to them? It’s amazing, the differences and variety you get in terms of interpretation.”

Taking place during Nuit Blanche (Saturday, September 29th) at Hazelton Lanes in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood, Art of Fashion hopes to emphasize the idea that fashion is, in fact, art, and the evening promises a ton of fun, including cocktails, a DJ, red carpet photos, boutique exhibits, contests (including an Yves Saint Laurent bag!), and, of course, a presentation of the finalist designers’ collections.

This year’s 10 design finalists come from all over the country, indicating the Art of Fashion’s push to become a national foundation. “It’s great because it means we’re expanding beyond Toronto and the GTA’s designers and bringing Canadian designers together,” says Planche, noting that a designer from Halifax and one from Montréal are taking part this year (a complete list of finalists can be found on the AOF website).

Vying for the title of Most Promising Designer (decided by a panel of 14 judges that includes Montréal-based designer Marie Saint Pierre, and The Bay’s Brent Weisgerbe) and People’s Choice (decided by public votes), the finalists will each have an exhibit of five pieces as well as one on display in a rotating fashion show. And as last year’s Most Promising Designer, Albert Yuen, knows, it’s not easy to design six show-worthy pieces in one month (and that’s all the time each designer is allowed).

“It was a good experience to have to make six pieces in a month,” Yuen says. “I had a full-time job so I was working evenings and weekends on my collection. But it’s quite big exposure. Photographers, designers, artists; everyone comes.”

Yuen returns this year as a judge, and is looking forward to helping someone else get his or her start—though the challenge of choosing a winner is not lost on him.

“Everyone has their own style so it’s hard to judge who is the best,” he says. “I want to see how they create the pieces and think about the product, and how they look at the theme, how they interpret it.” He thinks creativity and marketability are two of the most important qualities that the winning collection must posses.

And while winning is obviously the ultimate goal, just being a finalist is a rewarding experience because it provides the designers with practice and exposure. After all, giving up-and-coming Canadian designers a foot in the door is the whole reason Planche started Art of Fashion in the first place. Often it’s only when a Canadian designer makes it big in Europe or the States that we recognize them here, she says, but we should really be distinguishing them at home first and foremost.

“I want to focus our own talent, nurturing own talent,” Planche says. “It’s important for the public to understand the craftsmanship that we have here in Canada.”

Art of Fashion Design Competition 2012: Raw
Saturday, September 29th
Open to the public from 7pm until 1am
Shops at Hazelton Lanes (Oval Square, Lower Level), 87 Avenue Road, Toronto

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