Opening night electric

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Fashion Week catwalk at Salo San Marco. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington)

Driving down Fashion Boulevard—yes, that’s Preston Street’s temporary new name—you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed in a chic foreign country populated exclusively by Beautiful People.

Champagne popped on the red carpet, the street was decorated with tents to create a Roman-themed marketplace selling everything from makeup and jewelry to savories, restaurants stayed open late and, of course, six-inch stilettos were de rigueur.

And that was just the outside of Sala San Marco, where the Spring/Summer 2013 Ottawa Fashion Week got underway. Having officially launched on Tuesday night with a buyers’ and media event followed by a launch party peopled by, well, party people, the festival mood escalated on Wednesday night with the undeniably stylish Flare World Runway Tour in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, organized by Ottawa’s own Blackbook Lifestyle.

By Thursday night, expectations were running high and fashion police on red alert. And a good thing, too. The show at an admittedly smaller and more intimate venue opened quietly with new local designer Lococina, whose sombre, grey and green-toned line featured asymmetrical hems and fuller knits. Outerwear was the strength here, whether ivory mid thigh-length woolens with pointed collars or short green spring jackets. Less flattering were the denim dresses, which unfortunately emphasized curves with stiff fabric and cut.

Then came Christian Chenail, a 20-year veteran of the Montreal fashion scene whose architectural background underpins his understanding of how to dress women’s bodies. Featuring ultimately wearable separates, dresses and pantsuits, his collection was a revelation of clean lines, intelligent draping and tailoring that was almost entirely black and white, except for splashes of on-trend teal, pumpkin and green. In an interview earlier this week, Chenail laughingly explained why.

“I was tired of colour,” he says. “We have done colour for three or four summer seasons and I think I’ve done all I can do with that! I’ve never done black and white in 20s years, it was about time.”

Although not a new concept—it’s been recently seen in Paris and Milan—his 60 styles still popped with patterns and textures. And the good news for Ottawa is even though his clothes are currently only in Montreal and Quebec City after the closure last year of Elan in the market, Chenail is talking seriously about opening an Ottawa store to sell Canadian fashion. “I like Ottawa,” he says. “It’s a nice city. I think people will understand my clothes.”

And so far, Ottawa likes what it sees.

Following Chenail’s outstanding presentation, Yola Couture featured some demurely sweet cotton dresses in turquoise, cream, coral and purple that were young and unsophisticated. Most notable were full length, tricolour dresses in light cotton. Then came Orleans-based, Miami-inspired designer Geneviève Lima, who brought energy and South Beach vibe with her silk cover ups, sexy cut outs on the ‘little black dress’ and Swarovski embellishments. The crowd could almost feel the sand in their toes and taste the margaritas.

Another crowd favourite was Ottawa-raised, Arizona-based Korto Momolu, whose finalist status in the fifth season of Bravo TV’s Project Runway has launched her career. Separates featured hot tangerines, creams, light mustard yellows teamed with peplums, identified by Flare Magazine as a hot trend for 2013.

Montreal’s Alfred-Marcel offered a feminine catwalk that kept with the current colour trends of coral, cream, turquoise and neutrals. The collection was eclectic and seemed to lack focus in the diversity of satin pantsuits, lace peplum tops and lace-backed cocktail dresses.

Finishing Friday night was Gatineau’s Vivi par Geneviève Couture, a costume designer/actress who was inspired by ‘new gypsies’ in her collection. Peasant skirts, chiffon tops, harem pants, Versace-inspired patterns and most of all stripes best describe the collection.

For a first night of Ottawa Fashion Week, it summed it all up in a phrase: eclectic, interesting and, at times, challenging.

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