Ottawa Fashion Week hit all the right notes

Photograph by Wayne Cuddington

Model Herieth Paul wearing designs by Elena Hinke as Ottawa Fashion Week continues on Sunday night at Sala San Marco on Preston Street. (Photo by Wayne Cuddington)


Like all good things that come to an end, Ottawa Fashion Week went out with the pop of a champagne cork.

Far from tiring of seeing what inventive new designers had to say about clothes and how to wear them, the appreciative audience at Sala San Marco in Little Italy hung on every flourish till the end.

And what an end it was. Between Tennessee designer Jeff Garner’s effortlessly beautiful collection inspired by Princess Grace — designed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of her contribution to the Princess Grace Foundation, USA —  to a riveting a cappella version of Gabriel Fauré’s Après un Rêve by internationally renowned soprano Measha Brueggergosman halfway through the UNICEF charity show, Ottawa Fashion Week hit all the right notes.

True, the venue was smaller than in the past and the weather truculently refused to cooperate, but, overall, fashion lovers (and their spouses) had their fill of glamour, form and function.

The first highlight came the moment Herieth Paul stepped onto the catwalk in a stunning black shantung silk and lace gala creation by Elena Hinke. A seamstress for 20 years and a couture designer since 2001, Hinke’s show was much anticipated—for good reason. Last season, she dazzled with an exquisite range of red carpet-worthy pieces; this year, she outdid herself in a dramatic collection that included finely tailored pant suits, lace overtops, full length gowns and royal blue or leopard print cocktail dresses.

Next came Prophetik by Jeff Garner, who was commissioned by Monaco to put together a collection inspired by their still-mourned princess after they spotted his entry of a short independent film in last year’s Monaco Charity Film Festival.

It was any designer’s dream job, Garner admitted earlier this week. “She was very pure and innocent and had romance and beauty that seems lost now. I loved that about her. She’s still known as a style icon; there are pros and cons for me, because people still have an expectation of what she was. So I never tried to replicate anything. I was just inspired.”

Whatever his guiding light, Garner staged an exquisite collection that included daffodil yellow dresses—Princess Grace’s favourite colour—dyed with marigold flowers. The show opened with a live band and Milu Minnes in a Scarlett O’Hara worthy dress, a girl Garner spotted at the Preston Street Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana. If modern royals are fascinated with equestrian pursuits, so too, was Garner, who came out with naturally dyed jodhpurs, fitted riding jackets that flared femininely at the waist and menswear fit for a king. It was the first Canadian showing of the collection, some of which is now in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Next stop? Apparently, China loved Princess Grace, too, and has asked for the show to tour there.

Melow par Mélissa Bolduc’s jersey layers and draping were creative and eminently wearable, evoking East-meets-West desert dwellers in an urban environment. It was followed by a softly structured collection from Ottawa’s Alice Banks of Alice & Alishka, who uses digitally-created patterns to create a unique look.  Newcomer Shweta Wahi’s Solace collection was strongly multi-ethnic and displayed lush Indian fabrics, profiles and details. Equally colourful and vibrant was the work of Dare by Gwen Madiba, who focused on form-fitting pieces.

But, in the end, the UNICEF charity show following Prophetik left the audience on a high note. Kicking off with a spirited display by talented dance duo TL and Chris Rader, the catwalk saw the likes of TV fashion journalist and model Erica Wark, Rogers Daytime hostess Lois Lee, CTV-Ottawa’s Graham Richardson and chanteuse Kellylee Evans playfully walk the runway.

Perhaps most thrilling was the last-minute inclusion of Brueggergosman, who happily volunteered to lend her considerable talent to the evening.

“Whatever the cause of celebration, I think it’s fundamental to acknowledge a pursuit bigger than ourselves,” she said. “UNICEF is an incredible organization and I’m honoured to support them.”

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