Toronto Men's Fashion Week: Why it's time to put more designs for guys on the runway

Toronto Men's Fashion Week kicks off on Tuesday, putting the work of 22 emerging and more established men's fashion designers front and centre on a Canadian runway for the first time.

Event featuring models of various ages and ethnicities is first of its kind in Canada

There was a time when stylish menswear was the domain of metrosexuals, whose natty attire found little favour with the mainstream guy.

But not anymore — not in a world where the likes of soccer-great-turned-style-icon David Beckham make magazine covers for what they're wearing, and men who work on Bay Street find time to debate the best kind of buttonhole.

The designs of David C. Wigley, who will have a show at Toronto Men's Fashion Week, feature bold prints, but the Toronto designer says there are always ways to bring pieces that are fashion-forward on the runway together in a day-to-day look. (Submitted by Toronto Men's Fashion Week)
Against this evolving backdrop we have Toronto Men's Fashion Week, which kicks off on Tuesday, putting the work of 22 emerging and established men's fashion designers front and centre on a Canadian runway for the first time.

"It's come at a really great time, because there's been this great culture shift," says Jeff Rustia, the executive director and founder of Toronto Men's Fashion Week (also known as TOM).

"The new male consumer has arrived," says Rustia, describing that man as one who sees the relevance of looking good on a personal and professional level, and who has discovered that it's not hard to do.

Men's fashion is estimated to be a $400 billion US industry. That's still less than the women's fashion industry, which according to research firm MarketLine is expected to exceed $620 billion this year. But growth in menswear has exceeded growth in women's wear for five years running.

Other fashion-forward cities such as Milan and Paris have had men's fashion weeks, but this week's not-for-profit event at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel is a Canadian first.

It also tosses some of the traditional ideas of fashion shows out the window by featuring models ranging in ages and ethnicities, and waiving runway fees that can sometimes hit designers to the tune of $30,000 for a 15-minute turn in the spotlight.

The other benefits of Men's Fashion Week

Helping emerging Canadian designers by establishing a platform to showcase their creativity and talent is a priority for Jeff Rustia, founder of Toronto Men's Fashion Week. But so is creating an event that could be an economic boon for Toronto.

"This is aimed to boost tourism and to put the spotlight on the city," he says.

Not only that, but proceeds from one show will be directed toward a foundation for children with disabilities at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. The fund is named in honour of Rustia's son, Kol, who died two years ago.

"No young designer can afford that," says Rustia, who also founded the Canadian Philippine Fashion Week last year.

'Sudden sophistication'

For Rustia, the new millennial man is "one who is unashamed about … spending his time chopping wood and smoking cigars at the cottage and coming back" and "unashamed about and unapologetic about buying a pink suit, and probably wears his heart on his Burberry sleeve."

There are a lot more of such men around, suggests Russell Smith, a men's fashion columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper, who welcomes the idea of TOM.

"Over the last 20 years, there's been this sudden surge in sophistication among Canadian men," says Smith.

He attributes the change to forces that have altered so much else in modern life: internationalism, globalization and the way we can take in the world online.

"The whole world is more connected now. The internet has a lot to do with it, that we are now seeing images of glamorous people around us all the time."
Jeff Rustia, the executive director and founder of Toronto Men's Fashion Week, says the event has three very focused advocacies: helping emerging men's designers and their industry, boosting the local community of Toronto, and giving back to that community. (Submitted by Toronto Men's Fashion Week/Jefre Nicholls)

Some of the recent touchstones for men's fashion include such fearless dressers as Beckham and rapper Kanye West, as well as the critically acclaimed period drama Mad Men, in which lead character Don Draper has helped fuel a revival of '60s style.

Smith has seen his fashion views cause "huge arguments." Men have sent him impassioned defences of brown shoes and black suits. And readers of his column argue in the comments section about the smallest fashion details and where to buy certain things, something Smith says is "really new."

"I get questions from Bay Street guys who are always saying … solve an argument for me: 'My friend and I are arguing about the appropriateness of this kind of buttonhole,' or something like that. You'd be surprised at how [those] who are apparently the most conservative of men are actually interested in these things."

Smith thinks the "time is right" for a men's fashion week.

"I think that it could develop a whole new interest in men's clothing, which could help build a local industry."

In its infancy

And that's not necessarily an easy prospect.

"The Canadian fashion industry is still in its infancy," says Smith.

"It still has no economic grounding at all, and the problem is not one of a lack of talent. It's purely economic."

You can see there's a boom in the air.- Jeff Rustia

While there have been Canadian success stories — such as Dean and Dan Caten, the identical twins behind DSQUARED2, who do menswear — Smith says success in the industry does not come easily.

"Anyone who wants to actually make it as a fashion designer has to have corporate backing and it has to be a large corporation. It's a massive investment to make."

Looks created by Mexican designer Paulo Succar will be on the Toronto Men's Fashion Week runway on Aug. 14. (Submitted by Toronto Men's Fashion Week)

If, however, a designer can make it, the demand is there, and retailers are investing heavily in that potential market.

"You can see there's a boom in the air," says Rustia, pointing to upscale retailer Holt Renfrew's plan to open a three-story standalone men's shop down the street from its Toronto Bloor Street location.

That store, which is coming together in a former Roots location and already has its own Twitter account, is set to open next month. It is conveniently located across the street from iconic upscale menswear retailer Harry Rosen, which has expansion plans of its own across Canada.

The pending arrival of Nordstrom and Saks in Canada will up the men's fashion ante, too.

Imelda would be jealous

"Even globally, Selfridges now in London is boasting the world's largest men's shoe department store, with 72,000 pairs of men's shoes," says Rustia. "I mean, that's insane."

Toronto designer David C. Wigley would like to see more of his fashion line make a mark in that emerging menswear market, and is eagerly anticipating his show Tuesday night at TOM.

"I'm looking to gain experience through it," says Wigley.

"It’s going to be a really great venue for me … to be able to showcase my work."

Wigley says some of his offerings may look very "fashion-forward on the runway," but there's a way of bringing them together in a day-to-day look.

One of his designs is a print suit that is not for the bashful: it's black with neon florals.
Toronto fashion designer David C. Wigley launched his label Worth in 2008. (Submitted by Toronto Men's Fashion Week)

"It's very big and it's very loud and it's very exciting to see all together but I don't expect the typical men's customer to wear that," he says. "But they may wear just the shirt with a pair of jeans or just the blazer with black slacks and maybe a black shirt, just something to calm it down a bit.

"There is always a way of layering those pieces into a more neutral fabric and shapes to make it a bit more commercial."

Changing perspectives

Wigley thinks TOM may help Toronto become more recognized in the global fashion market.

"From what I'm seeing coming out of TOM, I think it's really going to change people's perspective on what Toronto has to offer as a fashion house."

Rustia is also hopeful and optimistic about TOM's prospects.

"I'm really excited about what's going to be on the runways."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?