March 23, 2009
just a thought – exotic, elsewhere
After Philip Sparks‘ show, Anita and I got to chat with him backstage a bit. I asked him about his recent sales trips to Las Vegas and New York. Did he have any comments on the differences in the kind of buyers he encountered?
To paraphrase from memory, Philip told us that everyone loved the collection (take a look to see why), and that in particular, buyers from Asia, Europe and the States loved the “Canadian” feel of the collection. If they had any reservations about working with a Canadian designer, it was for logistical reasons – high end buyers like to make an order over multiple appointments, which is easier for them if a designer’s showroom is located in a major fashion center. The style and heritage of Canadian design – including furs, tailored wools, and a certain rugged practicality – are very attractive to international buyers.
T Magazine recently quoted Carl Wilson describing Toronto as a city with “elsewhere” syndrome. For some reason we have this false self-perception that everything that happens here is a second-rate version of what happens elsewhere. I would like to say this is utter crap, but there is a circular self-fulfilling prophecy at work here. Our runways have an inordinate population of faux “Parisians” and others. Why?
To take inspiration from another place is hardly a sin – but even the great YSL’s weakest collections were the slavishly exotic ones. The ones he is most revered for are the ones that draw upon his own life in Morocco and Paris. If fashion’s own favourite son struggles with drawing inspiration from elsewhere, you can bet that almost every designer does. It isn’t that inspiration should never be gathered from around the world – it is just that doing so deftly, with authenticity and respect, takes the highest level of skill. Like that old advice for aspiring writers – “write what you know”.
Toronto’s audiences reserve their highest praise for designers from Montreal – this season Travis Taddeo and Complex Geometries, last season Denis Gagnon and Renata Morales. I would credit this to Toronto’s elsewhere syndrome, but when I talk to the Montrealers, they tell me that at Montreal fashion week the local designers have a hard time outshining the outsiders too. It is not that Montreal designers are better than their Toronto counterparts, or vice versa. It is just that each city has its own signature style, however subtle, and the impression a designer can create is that much greater when their audience is not inoculated by familiarity.
What we need to remind ourselves, as creative Canadians, is that we are incredibly exotic, elsewhere. That our own innate identity is not just good enough, it is fascinating. When we do what comes naturally – taking inspiration from our own heritage and surroundings, our work is more genuine and more interesting, and we are more successful.