Though a dizzying array of events and happenings including lavish meals, receptions, panel discussions and after parties now surround the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards, known as the CAFAs, the glitz-heavy award ceremony, the fourth edition of which was held this year on April 7 in Toronto, remains the social highlight of the programming. The evening sees industry members, sponsors and enthusiasts come together to laud the stars of Canadian fashion and experience some of the best people watching of the spring social calendar.
Prior to the evening’s festivities, Hudson’s Bay and Globe Style joined forces for an early morning breakfast and discussion with Imran Amed, the Calgary-born founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion, and Hudson’s Bay Company president Liz Rodbell. Globe Style fashion editor Odessa Paloma Parker lead a relaxed chat with the two, touching on timely topics including the changing retail and media landscapes and Amed’s humble start in Western Canada. Among those out for the early morning gathering was Toronto Fashion Incubator’s Susan Langdon, Dwayne Kennedy and Mel Ashcroft of The Collections, stylist Susie Sheffman, and Robert Ott, chair of Ryerson University’s School of Fashion. (Later, at the day’s big event, Amed was dressed in black-tie to receive the night’s vanguard award, presented by Rodbell.)
Hours later, the industry gathered for pre-ceremony cocktails in a ballroom at the Fairmont Royal York hotel. The focus at the pre-show preen-fest was not the painted-by-hand ceilings or quiet traces of Canadian iconography formed in plaster, but the big red carpet, an accompanying logo-laden step-and-repeat and bright lights that loomed over a gaggle of cameramen and mic-in-hand reporters all vying for sound bites from the evening’s guests, which included retailer Richard Simons of Simons, nominated designers including Chloé and Parris Gordon of Beaufille – who would later pick up the women’s-wear designer of the year award – and CAFA co-founders Vicky Milner and Brittney Kuczynski.
Inside the Canadian Room for the awards, a sea of tables were positioned around the main stage. I was a guest of Holt Renfrew, who was hosting Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe, co-designers of Smythe and nominees for women’s-wear designer of the year. Seated in-between, and dressed by the two, was Holt Renfrew’s director of brand and creative strategy, Alexandra Weston.
Tasked with handing out the CAFA for international designer of the year was event sponsor Suzanne Rogers and her daughter Chloe; the pair wore fresh-from-the-runway dresses by Erdem Moralioglu, one of the three designers nominated for the award. Chloe is set to intern in Moralioglu’s London studio and Suzanne, a long-time client, hosted a lunch at Hudson’s Bay in his honour earlier in the day. The award went to Moralioglu (his fellow nominees were Tanya Taylor and Vejas Kruszewski).
For the most part, the winners of the awards were expected; a highlight, though, were the few that seemed truly surprised to have been recognized, such as an emotion-filled David Dixon, a long-time presence on the Canadian fashion scene, who took home the fashion impact award, and Xiaoyi Li, who received the fashion design student award and sweetly expressed thanks to her design teachers during her acceptance speech in front of the 700 guests in attendance.
The after-dinner party featured go-go dancers, with chests concealed by little more than gold body paint, dancing on platforms. They made for an amusing contrast to guests in their Canadian-made gala finery. Among the throng at the post-award party was J. Crew’s new chief design officer, Oshawa, Ont.-raised Somsack Sikhounmuong; photographer Caitlin Cronenberg, who took home the image maker of the year award; her close friend, actor Sarah Gadon, who presented her with the prize; and last year’s winners for women’s-wear designer of the year, Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong of Greta Constantine. As I made my way out of the social swirl, Li was making her way in, her statuette in hand, looking out of sorts, yet emitting an air of excitement. I took her photo and then took myself home.