What: Victoria Fashion Week
Where/when: Vic Theatre, 808 Douglas St., tonight, 7 p.m.
Where/when: The Atrium, 800 Yates St., Saturday, 6 p.m.
Tickets, info: VictoriaFashionWeek.com
There’s a reason it took so long for Victoria Fashion Week to arrive on the Canadian couture scene, say industry stakeholders.
It’s not for lack of talent in a city many world-class models, artists and designers call home.
One obstacle, said Sonora Godfrey, a model, University of Victoria psychology student and editor of Victoria Fashion Magazine, is that we don’t shout our potential from the rooftops.
“We’ve been told we’re not fashionable here, but many people here are internationally recognized and just don’t like to make a big deal about ourselves,” said Godfrey, 24.
Another issue, she said, is that on the international stage, models from Vancouver Island are often credited as being from Vancouver, which doesn’t help.
The way the city is perceived is changing, however. Last year, Vogue described Victoria as “America’s capital region of cool.”
Calling Victoria a budding hipster haven with a vibrant culinary and technology scene, the global fashion magazine acknowledged lower Johnson Street’s shopping district, a.k.a. LoJo.
Godfrey said events such as Victoria Fashion Week can help dispel outdated fashion misconceptions, and draw attention to Victoria’s potential as a destination for fashion photo shoots.
“You can make a Vogue-worthy photoshoot here on a day with a local coffee in your hand and sea-spray in your hair,” she said.
Produced by local entrepreneur and social justice advocate Joseph Gonyeau, Victoria Fashion Week is donating profits from launch events to Victoria Sexual Assault Centre.
The showcase began Monday with “flash sales” at local boutiques. It continues tonight at Vic Theatre, 808 Douglas St., with a public screening of Advanced Style. Based on Ari Seth Cohen’s blog of the same name, the documentary explores the lives of several independent, fashionable New York women ages 62 to 95 who challenge conventional ideas about beauty and aging.
There is also an invitation-only launch party Thursday night for local models, designers and fashionistas. The main event takes place Saturday night at the Atrium, a glitzy fashion show on an 80-foot catwalk.
Gonyeau’s previous experience includes producing Fashion Splash events showcasing eco-friendly designers, models and creative businesses in Victoria’s Inner Harbour in 2014 and 2015 for Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.
“For the longest time, our fashion scene was iffy,” he said. “It was all about Gortex, being very green, into casual wear, with hemp fibres, and a lot of men here don’t wear suits to the office.”
It was once Lululemon and other boutiques began opening up on Johnson Street more than a decade ago and the city’s demographics appeared to be changing that a fashion week seemed more feasible.
“A lot of people wanted to, I think, but stopped midterm out of fear and anxiety,” he said. “The minute you call a fashion show a fashion-week event, it increases expectations.”
He said he began to realize how substantial Victoria’s fashion scene was becoming when he found 16 local designers to participate in his Fashion Splash events.
Victoria Fashion Week is a collaborative enterprise, said Gonyeau, whose team includes fashion director Nathalie Down, art directors Christina Robev and Andrew Azzopardi of Studio Robazzo, and hair and makeup director Melodie Reynolds of Elate Clean Cosmetics.
“So now we have the creative culture here in Victoria, and a fashion clientele,” said Gonyeau, whose goal is to cultivate local fashion culture and provide a platform.
“We’ve got places like the Makehouse teaching people how to sew, and the [Pacific] design academy on Wharf street, so we have that education base, and now we have that platform.”
Ideally, Victoria Fashion Week would eventually attract fans in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and other bigger fashion centres, he added.
One thing that sets Victoria Fashion Week apart, he said, is that it cultivates West Coast designs that “the fashion world hasn’t seen, certainly not in London and New York, where it’s all asphalt and concrete.”
Featured local designers include Shannon Munro, Oxford, Wawaha, Migration Boutique, Covet + Keep, Ola Dubois, Teresa Lindsay, Oxford, Sarah Runnells, Nikki Babie, Trista Smith, The Makehouse and Dellis.
Gonyeau recalled his initial encounter with Dee Ellis (Dellis): “He’s an emerging designer and we thought he was making aprons, but we said: ‘We can’t just put aprons in a fashion show. Do you have anything else?’
“He has a line now that is just for the show, with a real New York, Toronto feel to it.”
Laura Cooper, who runs Coultish Talent Management’s model division, said she’s looking forward to watching Saturday main event with her five-year-old daughter Audrey.
“I think it will be more impressive than people might think,” said Cooper. “We’re not big, but we have the most amazing talent in this little city. Lots of outstanding models and talented designers and amazing makeup artists who have such a passion for it live here and up-Island.”
Victoria Fashion Week also gives local talent who achieve recognition on the world stage a welcome chance to talk among themselves, added Godfrey.
“We don’t talk to each other because we’re talking to larger markets,” she said.
“If you live in Victoria, you don’t always have a chance to talk to each other, or even know each other exists.”