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Vicky Milner surprised a skeptical industry when she launched CAFA six years ago

Vicky Milner.

May Truong/The Globe and Mail

In Canada’s fashion industry, where everybody seems to know everybody, very few people knew much about Vicky Milner, the woman who, in 2013, became president of the nascent Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFA).

By all reports she was hard-working, smart, poised and well-intentioned, but people wondered if she’d be able to pull off what seemed like a pretty grandiose plan: To mount a splashy awards gala that would bring hundreds of Canada’s top designers, stylists, makeup artists, models, photographers and buyers under roof to celebrate one another for the first time.

“There is always a level of nervousness when people don’t know what to expect,” Milner says of the skepticism she faced six years ago prior to the first annual CAFA soirée at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

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“Lots of people didn’t know me because I didn’t have a long-time career in fashion,” says the mom of three girls who worked briefly in the industry before moving onto a career in music, and later, not-for-profit with the Sick Kids Foundation. “But I think people saw the passion we felt for the industry and they saw that we wanted to create something that mattered to them.”

Today Milner and her CAFA co-founders, Brittney Kelleher and Susan Hart, are credited with making the event a Canadian fashion industry tour de force. In addition to the May 30 gala – now in its sixth year – the organization has evolved into an important networking platform for creative artists in fashion and beauty who often work in isolation from one another.

“We all work independently so it can be lonely at times,” says Jenny Bird, whose eponymous jewellery line is carried in 600 stores around the world. “Vicky came in and promised she was going to do something to really raise us all up,” says Bird, who was a CAFA recipient in 2017.

"I knew immediately that CAFA wasn’t going to be a Mickey Mouse operation. The energy at the Royal York that first night was palpable. I thought, this is incredible and anyone who will dedicate themselves to such a massive program is awesome.”

In additional to the gala, CAFA also runs programs and initiatives throughout the year designed to build closer relationships between the myriad players. “I still remember the rush of love and pride that was in the room that evening,” says Kirk Pickersgill, who operates Toronto women’s-wear label Greta Constantine along with Stephen Wong. “Recognition from your peers is often a reminder that our community is so much stronger when we’re celebrating one another’s successes.”

While she’s made great strides bolstering the industry here at home, Milner readily admits she’s got work to do internationally. “It’s a real challenge. One of my goals, right out of the gate, was to get people to know us globally," she says. "But people only knew a few names, like Roots and Canada Goose. They had no idea, on a grander scale, how many great talents we have in this country.”

“I have to change that, and my message is simple," she continues. "These are the brands. This is where you can find them. And this is why you should be paying attention.”

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At the 2019 gala next week, more winners will walk off the stage at the Fairmont Royal York with CAFAs. Milner anticipates, as per usual, there will be tears and everyone will leave at the end of the night with an extra spring in their step.

“We all want to be appreciated. We all work hard. Little moments like this – especially if you’ve been stressed or questioning things – give us the confidence to keep going,” says Milner. “It’s not just an award, or a pat on the back, it’s a lot deeper than that.” - GAYLE MACDONALD

Thierry-Maxime Loriot transitioned from modelling to become an international designer authority

Thierry-Maxime Loriot.

Max Abadian/Handout

The hottest fashion curator in the world right now is not from London, Paris or New York. Thierry-Maxime Loriot grew up in Quebec City in what he describes as “a very normal French Canadian family.” His life today is anything but normal.

In February, he shared the red carpet with Kim Kardashian at the opening of Thierry Mugler: Couturissime at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). He has crisscrossed the globe with Jean Paul Gaultier, tweaking The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition as it toured 12 cities over five years. He has produced nine books including one for Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour and done creative direction for Rufus Wainwright’s current All These Poses show. But it’s the 25 exhibitions and adaptations that have won Loriot the most acclaim, including the Vanguard Award from this year’s CAFAs.

His path to A-list fashion curator started, oddly enough, with modelling.

“I had no clue about fashion,” Loriot laughed over the phone from Montreal. He had just returned from Rotterdam, Netherlands, where the Mugler show will head next. While he was studying architecture in Montreal, a fashion editor suggested he model and sent him to Montage, a top agency, where the owner put him on a plane to Paris the next day. “One of my first appointments was at a studio on the way from the airport.” He fell asleep on the sofa until someone gently woke him up. “I said, ‘I am here to see Mr. Testoni,’ ” not realizing he was face to face with Mario Testino. The renowned photographer immediately booked him for a Burberry campaign in London with Kate Moss.

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Ten years of catwalks and campaigns gave Loriot a unique window into creative angst. He’s seen designers sweat the tiniest details and gets their deepest motivations. “What I’ve been told by all the fashion designers I’ve worked with is sometimes when they see an exhibition, they read about themselves [there] and they don’t understand what the curator means. [The curators] put words in their mouth and they over-analyze their work.” Loriot asks his subjects to compile a list of their 50 most significant outfits, and he does the same.

“He basically came up with the same edit as us, which was quite remarkable,” comment Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, the Dutch duo who have worked with Loriot on two major exhibitions. “We were astonished at how well he knows all of our work, so it was easy to trust him.”

Gaultier says he resisted doing an exhibition because he thought it would be “funereal” but writes via e-mail that the “youth and enthusiasm” of Loriot and Nathalie Bondil, director and head curator of the MMFA, “made me rethink my position.” Mugler had said no to every major museum before entrusting his career to Loriot and the MMFA team.

“I often say I am a storyteller,” Loriot says. “I believe that’s why people trust me. They feel I develop a parallel universe to what they are trying to say with their clothes.”

They also like that he brings in talent from outside the fashion world for staging, such as Montreal’s Rodeo FX, who work on special effects for Stranger Things and Game of Thrones, and Berlin-based set designer Philipp Fuerhofer.

“There was prejudice against Thierry because he was a model,” Bondil says. She met Loriot after he retired from modelling and was interning at the museum as an art history student. She admired his “seriousness and rigour" and hired him to research an exhibit on John and Yoko Ono. Impressed, she gave him his big break: the Gaultier exhibition. “He has a passion for research that makes him a natural curator,” Bondil says.

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The insider status that Loriot has developed means he can wrestle an outfit from Madonna or unpublished images from the estates of Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton. “I know all the sensitivities," he says. "I know how to ask.”

Bondil loves the irony that “the reason why some would have thought he would not be a good curator is what makes him so special. He has such a knowledge of the field that he is respected by photographers and designers as someone who truly belongs to their milieu.” - BERNADETTE MORRA

Marie-Ève Lecavalier is emerging as a unique creative voice on international runways

Marie-Ève Lecavalier.

Handout

“When I was a kid, I’d make myself hallucinate by looking at wallpaper,” says Marie-Ève Lecavalier, who is nominated for CAFA’s Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent this year. The designer grew up listening to Frank Zappa and dreaming up mind-bending alternatives to the mundanity of suburban life in Montreal. “I was really bored,” she says. “Subcultures were so present in the suburbs and [they] kind of defined me in a way.”

In her youth, the designer experimented with everything from grunge to emo while learning how to sew by hand from her grandmother. “In my teenage years, I was defining my style, being different. … I never wanted to be like anyone else,” she says. She’d go onto study at l’Université de Québec à Montréal and work in the industry for a few years before taking the plunge on the international circuit in Switzerland.

While studying at Geneva’s prestigious University of Art and Design, she won a Chloé-sponsored prize at the Hyères International Festival of Photography and Fashion. “It was a life-changing experience,” she says. “One day you’re a student, the next you’re one of the designers to follow.” She was interning for designer Raf Simons, the former head of Christian Dior and Calvin Klein, at the time, and with the win, decided to move home and make a go of her namesake label full time.

Now in its third season, Lecavalier is a blend of those psychedelic elements from her youth, but with an added sophistication that comes from a now 30-years-old perspective. “Psychedelic style is always shown as tie-dye, which I hate, because to me, the music is very controlled and thoughtful,” she says. “Everything I do is very precise; there is nothing that is just there for decoration.”

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Case in point: Lecavalier’s distorted takes on wardrobe staples, such as an oversized button-down printed in technicolour swirls and fastened with circular glass buttons, a sculptural trench, or a leather dress made to appear as knitwear. Lecavalier’s boxy shapes similarly play between the masculine and feminine. “I think I bring a new kind of femininity that is inspired by men’s wear,” she says. “It’s about this strong woman, but sometimes she’s a bit crazy too.”

For fall 2019, the designer has revisited her past again, bringing together graffiti, sculptural scribbles and “this way of writing on everything that you have when you’re a teenager.” For the collection, she collaborated with Montreal street artist Balti on the sort of T-shirts she would have owned in her teens. “It always has a personal story in the background, but then it becomes about this woman that I create and imagine,” she says.

Lecavalier’s current season was picked up by luxury juggernaut Ssense. Meanwhile, she designed the first-ever capsule collection for Simons’s Edito designer department, which diffused her silhouettes into commercial (yet reliantly trippy) wares. In addition to her CAFA nomination, earlier this year Lecavalier made a list of 20 brands to be considered for the prestigious LVMH Prize. “I’m super happy … because it shows, in a way, that people recognize what I am trying to bring here,” she says. - RANDI BERGMAN

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