Paul back in Canada to help make Ottawa Fashion Week a hit

Photographs by Wayne Cuddington

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Maygan Sensenberger, second from left, wife of Liberal Senator Rod Zimmer, after her appearance on the runway wearing a design by Gwen Madiba as Ottawa Fashion Week continues on Sunday night at Sala San Marco on Preston Street. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington)


OTTAWA — From the moment Canadian superstar Herieth Paul glided down the catwalk on Saturday night, Ottawa Fashion Week had clothes-loving, couture-centric, shoe-crazy fashionistas on the edge of their seats.

Opening the Spring/Summer 2013 show for Ottawa designers Jana Hanzel and Emilia Torabi, Paul flew in early Saturday morning from New York City, where she’d been shooting a spread with renowned photographer Raymond Meier for American Vogue’s January issue.

“She’s so wonderful, I saw her in the Burberry and Zac Posen campaigns,” gushed established Montreal designer Christian Chenail, whose elegant, womanly MUSE collection was presented all in black and white. “She’s the next Coco Rocha for Canada.”

Certainly, the leggy teen was popular with other designers, including Ottawa’s Elena Hinke. Yet she wasn’t the only star of the show.

Along with Friday night’s standout collection by Chenail, which featured clean, flowing lines built around deliciously smart pantsuits, dresses and skirts in synthetics, cotton and linen, the audience in the Sala San Marco ballroom had ringside seats for the first Canadian showing of the exquisite Grace Kelly collection by Tennessee label, Prophetik by Jeff Garner. Commissioned by Monaco to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Princess Grace sponsoring the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, the 42 outfits were inspired both by her personal style and her stylists, such as the legendary Edith Head.

“I fell in love, watching her movies and documentaries,” says Garner, whose women’s and men’s collection was both romantic and modern, featuring exposed backs, natural dyes and sustainable fabrics. His show opened with a stunning red dress worn by Milu Minnes, a girl he spotted at the Preston Street Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana. “I couldn’t find ‘that’ girl with ‘the’ look,” he says. “And then I walked across the street and there she was. It’s all her eyes.”

Equally mesmerizing was the all-red “Volcano” line by Ottawa power duo, Emilia Torabi and Jana Hanzel. Themed around feminine passion and strength, it was a total experience, from office-ready day dresses and exquisitely hand-tailored wool suits to a feather-encrusted silk formal dress. Neither did Elena Hinke disappoint. Opening with Herieth Paul in a bell-skirt silk and lace dress, the collection was started with black and white and moved into mustard, leopard print, cobalt blue and gold. Each piece was applause-worthy; finely styled and crafted, it was classic Hinke, who is possibly Ottawa’s best kept fashion secret.

Dramatic in a different way was Montreal’s Andy Nguyen for Y!D.N.A., who last year astonished and divided the audience with his dark, post-apocalyptic visions. This season, his collection was entitled “Confessions” and confess he did: models were escorted down the catwalk by buff young men packed into the skin-tight black Lurex bootie shorts carrying parasols that spilled gold dust onto the runway.

Less sexual were the American sensibilities in the work of EYE Thread by Ashleigh Kaspszak and Tim Knapp. Recent UCLA anthropology graduates, the pair are building their business around U.S.-made, handcrafted leather bags and cotton, denim, silk and jersey pieces that featured pleasing flashes of purple. According to Knapp, everything is produced under a resource integrity pledge, “so that all our practices are deliberate and we use resources in a responsible manner.”

Yet fashion isn’t just about one-off, bespoke clothes. Organizers made a concerted effort to include casual prêt-a-porter collections that aim to be more widely available, such as newcomer Geneviève Lima’s Miami-inspired collection of flowing silk dresses and cover-ups or Illyria Pestich & Good Luck Shirts’ collection, which split its attention between sexy summer wear for women and patterned shirts for men with contrasting cuffs and collars.

Perhaps most successful of the young labels was Voyou (French for hooligan), which, thanks to designer Lise-Marie Cayer’s recent partnership with huge retailer Blank, is in 60 locations around la belle province. Relying heavily on Lycra-infused turquoise, taupe and black poplins and cottons, Cayer describes the casual men and women clothes as “Mediterranean-inspired, so the colours are very joyful. My vision for my brand was merging urban and vintage trends.”

Of course, no fashion week worth its champagne would be without up-and-coming designers hoping to make their mark on the catwalk. Foremost of these was Korto Momolu, a former Ottawa resident and first runner-up of the 2009 Project Runway season. She embraced current trends in showcasing peplums, but also moved between soft and forgiving frocks and highly structured, geometric silhouettes reminiscent of ‘60s Carnaby Street.

Young, fresh and unsophisticated, Copious Couture by Carissa McCaig featured bright watercolour patterns and wearable draping, which contrasted with the treacle-sweet romance of Guertina Cruz’s hit-and-miss lace, beading and ruffles. Sunday night also saw multi-ethnic, Indian-inspired embellishments and profiles from neophyte Solace by Shweta Wahi; soft, loosely structured separates that featured hand-dyed, digitally-created patterns from Ottawa’s Alice & Alishka and a sexy, colourful selection from Ottawa’s Dare by Gwen Madiba who was in Paris last week, adding the final flourishes.

Walking for Dare was Maygan Sensenberger, wife of Liberal Senator Rod Zimmer, who appeared in court Aug. 27 after an incident between the two on a plane. Her husband was on hand at the end of the show to present her with a bouquet of flowers.

“When Maygan walks into a room, she lights up the whole place. She may be much shorter than other models, but she’s beautiful and my hero,” Zimmer said of his wife, who is currently taking acting lessons in Ottawa.

Gatineau’s Yola Couture also returned after two seasons’ absence when designer Yolande Deschenes moved to China and closed shop. With her homecoming, her story was about young, fresh A-line dresses in breezy blues, on-trend purples and turquoise cottons. Fellow Québécois label, Melow par Mélissa Bolduc, demonstrated the best of modern draping, combining Bedouin-chic esthetics in her layering with black and white stripes, turquoise and — surprisingly for a catwalk — espadrilles.

Rounding out the fashion frenzy was a charity show in support of UNICEF that saw local celebrity models like TV fashion journalist Erica Wark, Rogers Daytime hostess Lois Lee, CTV-Ottawa’s Graham Richardson and Juno-winning singer Kellylee Evans rock the runway. Halfway through, fashion-loving, internationally renowned soprano Measha Brueggergosman delighted the audience with an unexpected a cappella performance.

In the end, says Ottawa Fashion Week’s Hussein Rashid, organizers aimed to not only create a more intimate, luxurious atmosphere, but to showcase fashion that moves beyond function. “We were looking for designers who have edge,” he says. “We wanted to put art first.”

— with files from Janet Wilson

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