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Fashion winners and sinners

Celebrating the best and worst Victoria trends from our style files of 2009

When this column first appeared in the Times Colonist Life pages nearly three years ago, people asked me what I'd write about, assuming Victoria's love of Gore-Tex and lack of name-brand stores meant we were devoid of style.

On the contrary, our socially conscious consumerism and preference for unique designers over high-priced labels has defined, not limited, our city's fashion character.

In the past three years, we've seen Lower Johnson Street become a strip of trendy boutiques akin to Toronto's Queen Street West and Vancouver's Main Street. Victoria designers such as Shi Studio, Stacey Clark's Odilon and Hayley Gibson's Birds of North America are just a few that have garnered national and international attention. Other wares, such as Kim's eclectic bags (Addiction, 587 Johnson St.), Marcy Ross's Morena line (Regalia, 556B Pandora Ave.) and Dawn Wright's harmonica rosaries (wrighteousdesigns.com) have become must-haves for trendy locals. Shopping centres like Mayfair and Uptown are expanding to bring popular chain boutiques and give more space to local businesses.

The year 2009 has been a turbulent one for many, but full of fashion inspiration and growth here. Let's look back at a few of the winners and sinners of our local fashion scene.

WINNERS

Runways with a cause

From a catwalk stretching the length of Market Square to a Marie Antoinette-themed soirée, Victoria fashion shows have evolved to be the most creative charitable events in the city. The third annual Fall Persuasion fashion show in Market Square featured wares from downtown boutiques and salons, including magnificent wool wigs by stylists at Lab Salon on Johnson Street. The event has raised more than $25,000 for the B.C. Cancer Agency and cancer research. Creative wigs (this time by Hive Hair Lounge) were the centrepiece of another fashion event: Let Them Eat Cake, a fundraiser for the Women's Transition House with clothing by Rebel Rebel, Bernstein & Gold, and Addiction boutiques.

The Man and his Dog fashion show at Outlooks for Men on Yates Street raised $3,200 for Turtle Gardens Animal Rescue using my personal kryptonite: Well-dressed men with cute dogs.

Independent women

The stories that resonated most with readers this year had independent women at the helm. Randi Obenauer's Ora Bags (www.oraearth.com), made from recycled leather jackets, were a hit among those looking for eco-friendly, stylish totes and others looking to donate leathers.

Floating Gold Iceberg, five friends who started a design house and opened a Pandora Avenue store in May, are going strong with their cycling-friendly screen-printed wares.

Jewelry designer Anne Kelly's chain maille works show master craftsmanship and reflect our unique natural surroundings. Check them out at the Avenue Gallery in Oak Bay and at Mattick's Farm.

Jennifer Hill, owner of the Sidney Fashion Exchange (2493 Beacon Ave.), might be the Island's lone supply of clothing for tall and large women now that Tall Girl has closed.

Kudos to Kate Shelton at Tonic Spa-tique in Fernwood Square and Britta Aragon's healthy beauty product blog (blog.cincovidas.com) for alerting us to toxin-free cosmetics, spa treatments and the most important resource of the year, maybe the decade: www.cosmetics

database.com

Fashionable Victorian

Trevor Wingert's nine-year-old daughter Emmelyn was speechless when he finished his makeover as the winner of our Father's Day contest. We had dozens of entries pleading for help for style-challenged dads. Lab Salon owner Matthew Conrad, Mayfair Shopping Centre stylist Bonnie Pollard and I were won over by Emmelyn's letter: "I think my father is very handsome but sadly, he doesn't possess the same fashion sense I do to show off his natural good looks."

Lab stylist Aahmes Deschutter created the most dramatic change in Trevor's look by transforming his locks from shaggy geek to GQ chic.

SINNERS

The faux-Cowichan

Olympic organizers and the Bay blundered big when an imitation Cowichan sweater debuted with the official 2010 clothing line. The faux-Cowichan was a public- and aboriginal-

relations disaster, as the design clearly intended to benefit from the timelessly fashionable and internationally recognized authentic sweater, made by Vancouver Island First Nations knitters. Not only were Cowichan knitters shut out of a contract to make the sweaters themselves, the faux-Cowichans were tagged at almost twice an original sweater's cost. Kudos to the Cowichan knitters for standing up for their brand.

The rebirth of fur

Animal-rights activists have tugged on my heartstrings so long they broke because the reappearance of fur coats among stylish women in town -- even vintage ones -- makes me ill. Real fur is not chic. It is reminiscent of the rich and outdated, of a time when torturing and killing animals for their skin -- and tossing the rest of them -- was considered acceptable and exclusive. Unless you live in a climate that makes fur a necessity, go fake -- the more fake your fur looks, the better -- or send your old coats to Nunavut. Better yet, check out the cruelty-free line Coquette Faux Furriers by Victoria's Bettina May at www.coquettefauxfurriers.com.