Maybe it was because I’m a writer and I had a notebook in my hand, but everything at last night’s Vancouver Fashion Week Opening Gala seemed like a metaphor for the city itself.
Diversity is a word that people, advertising executives, and politicians, especially, seem incapable of not using in the same sentence as “Vancouver.” But as corny as it is, it is also true; we live in a diverse city (even for 2016) and the outfits seen on and off the runway reflected this diversity. In the rows of seats that bordered the crisp white runway, I saw everything from an un-ironic scrunchie to an Ed Hardy T-shirt paired with a Bill Cunningham-esque blazer and gold chain. I saw plenty of red soles trotting past me and literally got whopped in the back of the head with a lovely pink Dior bag. People looked great, people looked like they didn’t care (which also, in my opinion, looks great), and people looked at each other. But, most Vancouver-ey of all, no one looked the same.
On the runway (which, allegedly, is what I should have been paying attention to) designers each sent out a single model. There were three small showcases of about twelve designers, separated by ten-minute breaks. During the show, I chatted with Laura Warkentin of So Martha So Mary, a former winner of the Gabriel Levy scholarship and a VFW alum. She says the format of the opening gala is what she loves the most: “It gives you just a taste of each designer.” It’s true that seeing a single design keeps the audience intrigued, but it also heightens the stakes. With one chance to win over the crowd, there is a lot riding on the minute or so each design spends on the runway.
Vancouver Fashion Week, now in it’s 27th season, prides itself on the international programming of the event. Designers were announced along with their country of origin. At times the Gala felt like a Miss Universe Pageant (“Rabia Dastgir from Pakistan!”). But, as diverse as the showings are, Vancouver Fashion Week is deeply committed to showcasing young Canadian talent. The Canadian contingent had a lovely continuity; many took their inspiration from stereotypical Canadiana. Long has the much-maligned “Canadian Tuxedo” been a staple of the fashion set, and Canadian designers like Olivia Rubens and Brunette Showroom used this spirit of irreverence to inform their playfully northern designs. Lumberjack plaids, rough looking fur, and knitwear reconstituted as fashion all made their way onto the runway.
As the Opening Gala wound down, attendees trickled out of the Chinese Cultural Centre, setting the scene for another Vancouver metaphor. It seems apt that Vancouver Fashion Week will be headquartered in Chinatown, where the well-dressed attendees are just a few blocks over from the infamous intersection of Main and Hastings. As touted as the city is for it’s diverse population, it is also the site of rapid gentrification, and what is gentrification but an uncomfortable and fleeting brand of diversity? In a drizzle of rain, against a background of construction sites and SRO hotels, impeccably groomed Vancouverites rubbed shoulders with their fellow city dwellers who call Chinatown home. Can anything look more Vancouver than that?
Vancouver Fashion Week takes place from March 14 to 20, 2016, at the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver (50 East Pender Street). For tickets and information, visit vanfashionweek.com.