I’ve lived in Vancouver for just under three years, but I consider myself a true Vancouverite. I arrived here a month shy of my twentieth birthday, wearing, I’m embarrassed to admit, a “city outfit” of light washed flare jeans, transparent white tank top, and suede wedges, completely impractical for my day one Vancouver task, which was lifting furniture up the stairs into my Commercial Drive walk-up. I was very excited to be here, where I was sure, I would have a boyfriend, a bachelor’s degree, and a poetry manuscript in about five seconds flat.
That is not exactly how things went. In fact, none of those things came together, but in their place I developed an unbreakable bond with this city. I also became keenly aware of the things about Vancouver that are distinctive to this place.
One is its ability to inspire equal parts disdain and protectiveness in its citizens. I will hear people so dissatisfied one minute (the rain, the rent, the disproportionate number of Blundstones) defend the city against detractors the next (the mountains, the music, the ramen, the bike paths). And so it was with Vancouver Fashion Week, the annual showcase that brings designers, fashion buyers, and top media from around the world to our city. Before I had ever attended a single runway show, I had heard VFW spoken of in terms usually reserved for discussions of The Real Housewives franchise. Actual quote: “No one wants anything to do with Vancouver Fashion Week.”
Which, in a way, I understand. There is often something cringe worthy about events that are modeled on larger, more glamorous events—like Great Gatsby birthday parties or “Met Gala” themed proms. But, what I didn’t understand going into Vancouver Fashion Week was that no one there is laboring under any delusions. Vancouver Fashion Week is not designed to emulate Paris or New York; it is something else entirely.
This really hit me on day two, when the show I attended opened with designs by students at LaSalle College. Although participants come from all over the world, VFW is a platform that empowers Vancouverites to make a go of it in a notoriously difficult industry. And that’s what makes Vancouver Fashion Week so, so Vancouver. For seven days, the city becomes a spring board for emerging talent—a warm and supportive space where designers can showcase their work, sometimes for the first time. Doing it here in Vancouver first makes it that much easier to imagine doing it in Toronto, say, or New York.
But wait, the actual clothes.
I’m gonna level with you: quality varied greatly. But that didn’t matter; when the designers emerged after each showing to thank the audience, their pride was all equally palatable.
There was a strangely persistent Game of Thrones aesthetic underscoring a few of the collections, maiden-esque gowns and billowing hoods, that didn’t translate well off screen. Vancouver’s Noctex presented an impressive collection: an effortless, all-weather dream of knotted scarves and distressed leather. Sally Omeme’s knitwear designs were another favourite: scarves, gowns, and capes that looked so luxuriously cozy and covertly sexy I almost mourned the end of winter. Omeme’s final piece, a snow white ball gown that looked like a cloud or a cotton puff, drew applause and a few standing ovations.
One collection totally floored me, so much so that I turned to the almost stranger next to me and made a little cooing noise, like a delighted pigeon. 44511234, by Vancouver’s Zong Peng, was the most cohesive, creative collection I saw all week. The show started with the sound of rain in lieu of music, the kind of soundtrack that is meant to lull insomniacs to sleep. A black and white projection of telephone wires made up the backdrop. Each model wore a dress made from, or modeled on, bedding and mattress covers, and one actually had a delicate pillow strapped to her belly. Only about three dresses were actually “wearable” (whatever that means) but the sheer immersiveness of the collection—everything from the wafting, frothy fabrics to the vaguely sinister bare-footed models—made it a stand out. Best of all was the designer’s “thank-you”; he appeared on the runway wearing a scarf across his face, gave a quick combination bow/wave, then abruptly disappeared. I had the feeling that Peng had watched the first episode of Twin Peaks before starting this collection—the one where a girl wanders across the railway bridge, barefoot and in a fugue state, wearing a dirty white slip.
By the time I staggered out of my last show, I was in a similarly disassociated mental state. People like to scoff when fashion types complain of exhaustion, but I promise you, everyone in the Chinese Cultural Center this week was run off their feet, and those feet were in heels. Over the course of seven days and more than 100 runway shows, Vancouver became the center of the universe for the hard working designers, hair stylists, make-up artists, models, and event co-coordinators who made VFW possible. Now that, I think, is a pretty big deal.
To find out more about Vancouver Fashion Week, visit vanfashionweek.com.