The Genteel
February 24, 2021


Vanja Vasic (Source:

"I have a battle with clothing," says Vanja Vasic, Director of [FAT] Arts and Fashion Week, a four-day festival packed with runway shows, visual art installations and performances. "Sometimes it's my best friend and sometimes my worst enemy." When getting dressed every day, when shopping for clothing, it's easy to forget the emotional impact of the pieces of fabric we use to cover our nakedness. Your favourite pair of jeans are that for a reason and it has to do with how you think others perceive you in them, how you see yourself in them and the physicality of what they actually feel like on your legs.

 From Vasic's art and clothing collection
(Photograph by Daniel Wilson).

A graduate of Ryerson's Fashion Design program, she started [FAT] while still in her second year to give a showcase to fashion that was more art-based and less influenced by commerce. She also opened the festival to artists working in myriad other mediums. "By putting so many disciplines into [FAT], it puts the clothing in a different light," explains Vasic. "It makes you view it within the context of art. It prepares people for the levels of emotion that come with viewing art."

"Fashion having the power to connect emotionally is a major theme for [FAT]. One of our designers went through the death of a parent and used all her feelings from that - anger, sorrow, longing - to create a collection that's challenging and sometimes frightening. Clothing has the power to move you when it is thoughtful. Most of it isn't, but it's incredible when it is."

Anyone that knows Vasic knows that she has a signature look. It's bold, it's risky and she always makes a statement. "I'd always prefer studs over beads," she says. When choosing items from her wardrobe or to add to it, emotion plays heavily in Vasic's decisions.

From Vasic's art and clothing collection 
(Photograph by Daniel Wilson). 

"I dress by how I am feeling on a given day," she says. "Sometimes I want to hide and not attract people to me; I wear dark clothes, something more intimidating and structural. Other times I want to draw people in, to engage, and the bright colours come out, something that plays with volumes and attracts attention. An item of clothing can spark a conversation that can lead anywhere!"

Seeing style and clothing as an exterior expression of the person on the inside, Vasic believes that good fashion design fits with a person's individuality rather than trying to push everyone into the same hold. "I buy things that speak to who I am," she says. "I am not perfect so I look for items that are a little off kilter; asymmetrical or a strange detail."

Nostalgia is also a key theme in what draws Vasic to an item. "When I was a child, I would sit and watch my grandmother making this amazing lace by hand and now I find lace very warm and comforting even though that is not typically what is associated with lace. Also, anything with a folklore motif really speaks to my Serbian identity and I am drawn to it."

 Vasic at home
(Photograph by Daniel Wilson).

When you stop and think about clothing as an expression of things going on so far under the surface, it can become a psychological art form, but much of what goes on is more subconscious than that. "In the fashion community, wardrobe is how we communicate with each other. We hide a lot behind our computers and social media sites, your wardrobe is often the access point for people seeing you in person for the first time."

"Any outfit evokes an emotion; fear, lust, jealousy, disgust, and the emotions at play are both yours and those of the people you meet." These and other emotions will take centre stage on the runway at [FAT] this April. Now in it's seventh year, hundreds of guests are expected to attend the event which takes over a 15,000 square foot warehouse space on Sterling Road in Toronto. The festival has grown yearly and now welcomes over 200 designers, visual artists, musicians and performance artists from Toronto and around the globe. This year they are challenged with exploring the theme of landscape which is divided into Land, City, Body and Future on each of the four days of the event.

I asked Vasic for her final thoughts on clothes, "We all seek the fantasy of clothing. We're all children playing dress up every day!"



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