Most of us probably have a preconceived notion of what a fashion show is like: an exclusive event where the glitterati watch impossibly tall and thin models stomp it out on the catwalk. But here in Toronto, one woman is working to change our concept of what a fashion week can be. Every April, Vanja Vasic and her Fashion Art Toronto team (or FAT, as it’s more commonly known) push the boundaries of what can be seen and done on a Toronto runway.
Vasic founded FAT in 2005, while she was still a fashion design student at Ryerson. In her travels to Europe, she’d been exposed to more avant-garde fashion, an aesthetic that, at the time, didn’t really have much prominence in the Toronto scene. Vasic wanted to expose her hometown to more experimental work, and also create a platform for emerging local designers. But her fashion week was not going to be like all the others; Vasic wanted to “bring a little more fun to fashion, and a little less pretension.” FAT Arts and Fashion Week would also incorporate photography, film, installation art and performance. By placing fashion shows in this context, Vasic makes an argument for fashion design as an art form, rather than simply a commercial venture.
Since the beginning, it’s been crucial for Vasic that FAT reflect the diversity Toronto is so known for and proud of. “When I see a fashion show and it’s the same type of person that’s always consistently walking down the runway, it just becomes almost like a factory to me.” FAT’s catwalk features models of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and also showcases diversity in body type, a major rarity in today’s fashion landscape. “The festival is called ‘FAT’… ‘Fat,’ at the time, was kind of a bad word. It’s almost like using a swear word in fashion.” But models of all types are welcome at FAT castings, where personality and high energy are encouraged. And while international models like Casey Legler and Andrej Pejic have recently been covered extensively in the fashion press for their androgyny and gender-bending work, FAT has been exploring issue of gender and sexuality for years, with male models walking the catwalk in women’s clothing since the early days.
FAT Arts and Fashion Week has a different theme every year, and this year’s is fashion therapy. Each night of programming will explore a different side of the psychology of fashion: drama, craving, crisis, escape, and euphoria. Can’t-miss events will include New-York based House of Diehl’s piece “Style War,” in which designers will battle onstage to create outfits in minutes, and an opening-night fashion show by Toronto’s own Workman Arts, a collaborative company of artists with mental illness and addiction. FAT Arts and Fashion Week runs April 23rd through 27th, and day and week passes are available to the public. Check out fashionarttoronto.ca for purchase details.
In the past eight years, FAT has grown from a two-day event to a full five nights, featuring hundreds of designers and artists, and welcoming thousands of guests. So what’s up next for Vasic? “Recently I’ve been really thinking about returning to design. I think that you need that creative outlet, that creative voice.” And she will continue to expand her annual fashion week, of course. Toronto’s fashion scene has grown edgier, more diverse, and more welcoming for it; whatever’s on the horizon for Vasic, the city’s fashion- and art-lovers will be watching.