Sunday: Dramatic, daring designs

Frank Sukhoo's line was heavily influenced by all things Oriental. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

They wore fur. They wore feathers. They had cleavage down to there and slits up to here. And that was just the well-heeled and bedazzled audience attending the ninth season of Ottawa Fashion Week.

Almost sold out before the first show got underway Friday night at the Ottawa Convention Centre, OFW made good on its promise to be bigger, better, faster and more for the fall-winter 2013 collections.

Despite a massive mid-winter dump of snow, delayed shows and last-minute changes to designer line ups, fashionistas relished an interesting, if mixed, show of new and established designers.

Back again were returning headliners, Ottawa’s Frank Sukhoo, Montreal’s MUSE par Christian Chenail and Helmer Joseph, who closed out Sunday night with dazzling collections that showed their dynamic creativity and weather-eye for what works.

Inspired by Oriental influences and exotic, embroidered and embellished fabrics, Sukhoo staged a nuanced line up of slim-fitting cheongsam dresses with mandarin collars, keyhole necklines and splashes of sequins and feathers, as well as flowing, drapery on sari-like separates.

“This is gala wear,” said Sukhoo, who produced an oh-my-gosh moment in a low-cut, repurposed black fox vest, mesh undershirt and black-and-gold pant combination. “When you do a show, you want to stand out. This is fun and fantasy, but everything is designed with my clients in mind.”

British Bond girl Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) may not be a client, but for MUSE’s Chenail, who’s been designing in Montreal for two decades, she was the ideal that inspired his lean, leggy silhouettes. Unlike his previous monochromatic focus on black and white for spring-summer 2013, Chenail turned to menswear fabrics, but in oversized hounds-tooth patterns done with royal blue, black and burgundy.

Shown largely in smart jackets and exquisitely tailored pieces that are his trademark, Chenail says he always bears in mind the timeless work of designers like Louis Viannet and Yves St Laurent.

“If the designer is intelligent and has a good balance of creativity with wearability,” he notes, “you’ll still wear that jacket in five years.”

Designs by Christian Chenais on Sunday night, the last night of Ottawa Fashion Week, at the Ottawa Convention Centre, February 10, 2013. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

Having ditched his planned all-black model lineup after spotting willowy blond Stittsville teen Caileigh Riddell at the casting call, Helmer Joseph nimbly switched gears and presented an exceptional prêt-a-porter line as well as “big dresses that no one can wear except in magazines or editorial,” he laughed; many featured corsets and handmade glass masks by artist Jean-Marie Giguère.

But designers didn’t save all the drama for Sunday, which closed with the annual UNICEF Charity Show featuring celebrity models and opera singer Julie Nesrallah.

Opening the second half of Saturday’s show with a high-octane display of drumming, chanting and dancing by a Burundi performance troupe, designer Gwen Madiba offered the audience (and mentor, Jean-Daniel Lafond, philosopher, film maker and husband of former governor general Michaëlle Jean) another glimpse of her slim-fitting and sexy Lycra dresses.

No less dramatic or exotic – but perhaps more wearable for most women – were the flowing, richly-coloured and embroidered pieces from first-time designer, Iman Nakhala. Having spent a holiday in Morocco, the Saudi-born Montrealer chose to mesh her Muslim heritage and modern aesthetics for a glamorous presentation of gala and evening wear.

At the other end of the colour wheel – or maybe right off it and into the dark – was the spare minimalism of Inna, work from a mother-and-son team who offered an entire collection of Little Black Dresses with leather, lace and mesh accents. Equally monochromatic was work from Montrealer Evelyne Fay’s White Label, done in black and leather with pops of camel.

Was there the anticipated glamour and glitter in Andy Nguyen’s third OFW collection for Y.D.N.A.? Having literally showered the audience in fairy dust and fantasy last season, this all-white Time Traveller collection for men on Saturday night amused and intrigued, but ultimately misfired with a too-soon start to dry ice and an overlong personal message from the designer.

The models, who had their hair cut in futuristic crops for the show, seemed uncomfortable in sky-high, handmade silver chopines (medieval clogs worn to keep hems out of dirt) and Space: 1999 silhouettes.

Helmer Joseph's line varied wildly from ready-to-wear to dresses and headgear meant only for the runway and magazines. (Photo: Wayne Cuddington)

Even so, it provided a neat counterpoint to the ready-to-wear collections: Ariel Fu (neat, 1920s inspired office dresses and separates in fine Italian wool); bernice & barclay (a lively first collection of chic and refined streetwear); SEFANI (soft and adaptable double-knit jackets); Copious (Old Hollywood glamour meets nipped in modern waists), Lococina (sombre-toned, loose and unstructured day wear) and Eliz Bourk, whose latest work featured funkilicious and sexy short coats and dresses.

Also of note was an aboriginal-themed collection by Kanata’s Jana and Emilia. Largely done in winter white, mustard, burgundy and teal wool and jersey, it at times stepped away from couture to costume, due to the combination of accessories (think dream-catchers, bone and fur jewelry) and the post-Idle No More timing.

But, as with everything the design duo have done, the pieces were beautifully crafted. Equally focused on cultural influences was Nigerian Anjorin Babatunde Adeniran, who presented a large, lively, Afro-centric men’s-and women’s-wear line – with paired male and female models – of energetically-patterned linen, cotton and silks that rarely translated to Canadian ‘fall-winter’ sensibilities.

But if the audience enjoyed the pageantry, drama and creativity laid out before them, so too, did the designers, like New Yorker and Parsons School of Design trained Tess Johnson, whose collection featured pops of custom patterns in bright blues, purples and yellows.

“Ottawa Fashion Week is the biggest thing I’ve done so far,” she enthused at the Media and Buyers’ Event on Saturday afternoon.

“I love the vibe in Canada and the openness compared to New York. And it’s so much fun.”

 

Connect with Julie Beun |life@ottawacitizen.com