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Q & A

Robin Kay Is Already Eyeing Another New Home for Toronto Fashion Week

FDCC president Robin Kay

Photo: Courtesy of the Fashion Design Council of Canada

The Fashion Design Council of Canada (FDCC), which launched L'Oréal Fashion Week eight years ago, is set to present the spring 2009 collections from October 20 through 25 in the tents at Nathan Phillips Square. This season's shows, being held over six days, will be Toronto's biggest presentation yet.

“It’s growing in every way—in awareness and attendance, in designers and sponsorship,” said FDCC president Robin Kay, who noted that more than 35 sponsors have signed on to support Fashion Week, during which more than 70 designers will showcase their work in 38 shows on two runways (a first for L'Oréal Fashion Week). We asked Kay how the event has evolved and how she envisions its future.

You have implemented some major changes within the past year. What's your goal?
To be a really great Fashion Week that designers want to come to and show at and sell product. Fashion Week is a calling card for the industry, for designers to sell clothes, for reporters and writers and photographers, and retailers and buyers. It’s a huge, huge industry that was absent in Canada…I came to realize it because I was a designer, and when I stopped and looked up and saw there was nothing happening in this country, I really thought a Fashion Week would be the best attention grabber. It’s been inspirational for the city. It’s wonderful to link art and commerce, to link sponsors with the event and to build our country’s fashion economy. That’s what’s exciting for me.

Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years?
It’s been very, very difficult...I thought the government should help us, but that was really a stretch because fashion designers had not been recognized as a pillar of culture in Canada. And Fashion Week costs us in excess of $1 million each week. We get $7,500 from the City of Toronto each season. So do we get support? No. Now we certainly get support from Mayor David Miller [in that] we’re allowed to have our public event in a public space—but it’s not paid for, so I’ve relied on corporate sponsorship. I think that’s healthy business.

There are a number of new sponsors involved with the upcoming shows, including LG Canada. How did that partnership come about and how will it impact the event?
Well LG likes fashion because LG likes design. And where is there going to be the most obvious and newest design but on a runway? So it’s a natural fit. Our challenge and desire is to incorporate the LG intelligence electronically with fashion so more people can see my designers and more people can see LG’s phones. We’re going to have a great time this season, particularly at the closing night gala [LG Fashion Fusion]. There’s a concert with Maroon 5, and we have secured some interesting designers. There’s some very, very good fashion happening that’s not strictly runway. That will be exciting.

You’re launching a second runway this year in a space called the Studio. Can you tell us a bit about that?
We were hoping that designers would play it up a bit and do something interesting in there. If it just comes out as an elegant perfect second runway room that functions, then O.K.

How do you measure the success of the event?
I really love speaking to students at the high school and university level. In the first few years...I’d ask the students to name their favourite brands and I would get everybody from Europe and America—Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Armani, Prada, etc. But in the last two years I get a lot of Canadian designers, so that says to me we must be making a difference.

This is your third season in the tents at Nathan Phillips Square. How has that move from Exhibition Place impacted the event?
It’s been a bloody nightmare. It’s like going to Algonquin Park. It’s not like you can turn on the lights—there’s no switch. There’s no bathroom. There’s nothing. It’s been a huge undertaking, extremely costly. But having our own house of fashion? Fabulous.

Then why not stay at Exhibition Place?
Well Nathan Phillips Square is much more accessible for our industry and it of course affords more visibility for our industry. Even though Muzik and the Liberty Grand [are not far from the FDCC offices], it’s way too far [from the downtown core]. What I noticed right away is that the industry networks now between shows, and before they would come out and go back to work...But [the tents are] too small for us, which is a real problem. The layout is really too small.

Is there any way to expand it?
No. We’re at a few limits. There is a weight limit [on the Square] and also because it’s a public space there has to be access for the public to get through into City Hall.

So what do you see happening as the event continues to grow?

Well, I’d like to have a building that we would have Fashion Week in and where we would have other fashion things happening. I’d like to have a building on the water; I think it’s really inspirational down there.

When might that happen?
Within a maximum of three years. You’ve got to have a dream, so you might as well dream big. We’re all writing the book here as we go along…the more successful this week's event is, the more successful the industry and the designers will be.