February 20, 2012

Ottawa Fashion Week electrifying and edgy, but wearable (7 PICS)

OTTAWA — Steampunk, bondage, old Hollywood, giant balloons and a pop princess. If Ottawa Fashion Week’s Fall-Winter 2012 show left anything out this weekend, it must have been the kitchen sink.

And judging by the jam-packed program over three days, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“We really want people to get a view of how amazing the industry is, from A to Z,” says OFW producer Hussein Rashid. “It’s a strong variety from haute couture to ready-to-wear. It gets the consumer to feel fashion week is part of their morning struggle when they don’t know what to wear.”

Not that the post-apocalyptic steampunk vision from newcomer And! Nguyen offered any answers. Distinctive and conceptual, the young Montrealer’s dramatic runway show was a highlight of Friday night’s sometimes hit-and-miss offerings. Dark and sensual, his work was arresting not only for his androgynous layering of cotton, PVC and chiffon, but his confronting use of Road Warrior-meets-bondage head gear and gas masks.

It was an electrifying start to 18 designer shows that featured everything from glamorous, red-carpet gowns from Siberian-born designer Elena Hinke to Jana Hanzel and Emilia Torabi’s colourful and feminine separates. As always, the Ottawa duo focused on details such as inset patterned panels and feathered cuffs, this time adding a playful element in hand-blocked vintage-style hats from Saskatchewan milliner Sová. OFW alumni DeMoyo also sizzled with body-hugging satin and ruffles, while young Gatineau talent Elise Bourque (Elizbourk) presented hip club wear with a slightly boyish twist. Serendipity’s work was the opposite: feminine ruffles, pretty organza, Swiss dots and lace abounded.

If organizers were aiming for eclectic, it wasn’t the only new focus. Now at the Westin Hotel and partnered with Winterlude, the show landed major sponsorship from L’Oréal Professionnel, Kérastase Paris and Smashbox Cosmetics, who supplied all makeup for the shows. For Hussein, who also invited Juno Award-winning pop sensation Mia Martina and A Channel’s Erica Wark and TL Rader for a guest appearances, it’s a tactic to attract both commercial buyers and the buying public. “Runway is not about selling off the catwalk,” he admits. “We’re selling a concept and providing knowledge to the consumer about designers they’re not familiar with.”

Certainly that was a big draw for Lisa Drader-Murphy, whose edgy yet decidedly wearable Turbine Design collection hasn’t traipsed down many catwalks, but has been seen in the exclusive celebrity gifting rooms at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Golden Globes and Cannes. “Our strategy is not to wholesale, but in opening stores. Considering that Ottawa has been on our radar as a location for our second store, OFW made sense,” Drader-Murphy said.

Strongly influenced by the French Riviera and Vienna, where she recently sourced much of her unique fabric, Drader-Murphy presented no less than 40 ready-to-wear looks from five collections, which featured dresses in Missoni’s distinctive chevron pattern and wide-belted wraps.

Also seen on celebrities of late is the work of Rachel Sin, whose fall-winter collection featured muted grey, camel, peach and black with dramatic pops of sequins. Notified just last week that E! News was using dresses from her new Los Angeles showroom, Sin says her pieces have also been worn three times by eTalk’s Tanya Kim, while ET Canada’s Rosey Edeh celebrity-modelled her work in the post-OFW Runway for a Reason UNICEF charity show on Sunday night. And, having won a $30,000 branding makeover last year, Sin says her TV exposure is “establishing me as a legitimate designer.”

According to Hussein, balancing new faces with OFW alumni is “the reason why people want to see this. It’s about seeing different concepts of fashion,” he says, “and the artistic form that drives it to people’s closets.”

Nor was there any doubt about the legitimacy of the 50 per cent of new designers who graced the catwalk. Loft 604’s men’s collection from Hong Kong-born Willie Fung was timeless, his leather-accented knits a marriage of Euro casual with North American lifestyle. Also new were Ella Peru’s girl chic dresses, Amanda Emmanuel’s exotic patterns, and Joseph Helmer, who presented multi-textile pieces that nodded to his past work with Thierry Mugler and Chloe. His collection was mesmerizing and concluded with a riveting statement on gay marriage with two brides piped in by a bagpiper and wearing a single veil.

But in the end, it was Ottawa’s beloved Frank Sukhoo who stole hearts, if not the show. His evenly paced collection of ’80s profiles, innovative hemlines and floor-length, sequined tuxedos and tails were over-the-top — and, in the end, exactly what Ottawa Fashion Week was all about.

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