The Genteel
April 22, 2021


A View on Fashion: Robin Kay

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Robin Kay (Source:

"Fashion is the business," says Robin Kay, "and style is what happens when people manifest their own choice." Kay is the president of The Fashion Design Council of Canada, producers of Toronto's bi-annual fashion week, the second largest in North America. Last season, The FDCC showcased the work of over forty designers from Canada and beyond. A former knitwear designer herself, Kay is a veteran of the Canadian fashion industry and, unsurprisingly, has a lot of clothes and a lot of opinions about them.

Kay's printed silk shirt.

"People are still afraid of colour," she says. "It wasn't until the '90s that black became the It colour. When I was doing my knitwear line, there was tons of colour - magentas and blues - and now it's a sea of black at parties. People find security in black, a pleasure among peers and a conformity." Kay attributes the fade to black to the oft-noted Canadian shyness. In jokes and stereotypes, Canadians are passive and polite, they don't rock the boat and if there's only one life vest they'll give it to you.

In the fashion world, Canadians are still very much the new kids on the block. Whereas Vivienne Westwood can draw on hundreds of years of British fashion tradition, less than thirty years ago, Canadian Fashion was considered an oxymoron. "Canadians still don't like to stand out, I think that's why we revere our sports icons so much, they wear these bright colours and smile!"

Fur by Pink Tartan.

In a hallway in Kay's home, a giant, vividly-coloured portrait of her shares wall space with a coat tree festooned with furs, every possible fur in every possible colour and Kay admits to owning more coats than she has days to wear them. "But I love owning them," she says. "It becomes like collecting art." Indeed, in Kay's bedroom, a bedside lamp softly lights an elaborately beaded evening gown and a vintage silk cocktail dress, both hung on the wall like paintings. The light touches each of the individual beads as beautifully as it glides over the smooth silk.

"Texture is very important to me in clothes," Kay says, directing my eye to her recently acquired Pink Tartan fur scarf. "Clothing can look fantastic on the runway or the hanger but it needs to feel fantastic next to your skin." I am a lucky owner of a hot pink and black Robin Kay sweater from the 1980s and I can say with confidence that it feels fantastic on. "I'm really into getting Dressed for Bed, the textures of silks and soft flannels, the perfect luxuries!"

Robin Kay's hats.

When considering the strong presence of military and back-to-basics on the streets, Kay notes, "There is a trend in fashion right now towards super simple, androgyny and this is such a huge departure from our history. At no point have we dressed so alike." Our history across cultures shows many examples of men and women dressing as differently as possible, and this being intrinsically tied to both sex appeal and expression of individuality.

"I wonder what the world would be like if people all dressed more alike. If we all dressed alike maybe it would make people probe deeper to find out who the individual was."



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