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October 23, 2017
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Mercedes-Benz StartUp Finalists. Source: George Pimentel, courtesy of Faulhaber PR.

On the evening of October 23rd, during Toronto's World Mastercard Fashion Week (WMCFW), six fashion fortune-tellers decided the fate of eight up-and-coming, Canadian fashion designers. Editor-in-chief at FASHION, Bernadette Morra; fashion director of Holt Renfrew, Barbara Atkin; fashion personality Jeanne Beker; global production director at IMG Fashion, Jarrad Clark; director of communications and public relations at Mercedes-Benz Canada, JoAnne Caza; and president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada (FDCC), Robin Kay, judged the final showcase for the 2012 Mercedes-Benz StartUp program.  

The Mercedes-Benz StartUp judges
are deliberating this year's winner.
Source: George Pimentel, courtesy of Faulhaber PR.

In its second year, Mercedes-Benz StartUp is a national initiative dedicated to discovering the next great Canadian fashion designer. Mercedes-Benz, in association with IMG and FDCC, gives one lucky designer per year, the opportunity to put themselves on the elaborate and crowded fashion map. The scheme provides the winner with nourishment from industry experts and real-world experience, in order to grow their label artistically and on the business side.

Over the spring and summer, interviews were conducted by a panel of experts in Edmonton, Halifax, Quebec City and Ottawa. Up to five stand-out candidates from each city were given the opportunity to present their collections through a runway show at a local Mercedes-Benz dealership the next day. From there, eight finalists were chosen who battled it out on the runway at WMCFW, for the title of 2012 Mercedes-Benz StartUp recipient.

In a history-rich industry that fawns over already established fashion labels - such as, Chanel, Gucci and Burberry, to name a few - and continuously repeats its trends, it's challenging for emerging talent to stand out. Currently, Style.com's directory of designers features over 265 high-end, established designers. That's over 265 collections, new ideas and creative feats every season - you do the math. In an industry that has an artist-of-the-moment every second, how does an aspiring fashion designer get a taste of success?

Creative talent and dedication to their craft is paramount, as well as having a solid understanding of who they are and confidence in their ability…But to truly succeed, be open to learn from consumer feedback and have the ability to take criticism on the chin.

The one thing that the eight Mercedes-Benz StartUp finalists have in common is talented craftsmanship. When Morra was preparing to announce the winner - wearing an outfit by last year's recipient, Martin Lim - she professed, "It was not easy [to choose the winner]. There was so much talent, from Vancouver to Prince Edward Island; that in itself is amazing." In a quiet murmur, the room agreed with her.

It was an eclectic mix of designers with varying visions. Dreamboat Lucy's S/S 2013 collection (by Prince Edward Island sisters, Hilary and Louanna Murphy) featured a visually pleasing and unusual colour palette - a combination of earthy burnt orange, midnight navy, elephant grey, muted lavender, topped off with some silk and shimmer. Theirs was a collection that could be easily worn off the runway. An already-familiar face, Toronto's Caitlin Power, showcased her signature sophisticated, architectural shapes, leather trimmings and detailing, and a lot of black. Edmonton-native, Nicole Campre's collection had a refreshing take on knotted shirts - revealing a lot of skin, but leaving enough for the imagination - paired with high-waisted, wide-legged trousers and pencil skirts. She ended her collection with a very bold, transparent, shimmery silver top and cardigan.

But talent may not always be enough to capture the attention of the industry. Vancouver native, Christopher Bates, another finalist, told The Genteel that in order to differentiate your designs from others, "…You have to have a niche. It's a saturated industry, so you have to make sure you are doing something that is both unique and exciting." And that he did. James Bond, not the man himself but the villains he encounters, inspired Bates' collection. Bates' sophisticated, sharp jackets with rock 'n' roll flare, and his suave evening wear were the winners of his line. But his approach was just as memorable: Bates placed lipstick kisses on one of his model's collars and gave a long-stemmed, red rose to another, who enthusiastically gave it to an unidentified, but very happy, woman in the front row.

In addition, Pure Magnolia by Patty Nayel showcased old glamour-inspired bridal gowns, while Lauren Bagliore boasted a fresh-take on asymmetrical draping and a neutral palette. And hats off to Malorie Urbanovitch for her light-blue, slightly lavender, loose knit pencil skirt and matching top - it was a fresh take on a classic silhouette, yet with a relaxed twist that makes for a convenient day and evening outfit.

In the end, though, the judges crowned Quebec City's Duy Nguyen, of DUY, with the title of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz StartUp recipient. Nguyen's collection is inspired by vacationing in the French Riviera in the '80s. He revealed to The Genteel that, "Just until last month, I hadn't been on a vacation for a year and half. I, for so long, was dreaming about a holiday, so I decided to create a collection that would take me to the beach. A few years ago, one summer, I had the chance to visit the French Riviera - it was breathtaking. People are so well dressed…Wearing just simple t-shirts and worn out denim shorts during the day and glamorous gowns for a night out at the casino."

Shown here is DUY's red-hot short-suit that
started his runway show (left) and the
modern and cool mom-jeans (right).
Source: George Pimentel, courtesy of
Faulhaber PR.

With his collection, Nguyen didn't waste any time getting to the point; he started off with a head-to-toe, bright red short suit and crochet top, and finished the show with a very muted palette of faded crème and salad green. From start to finish his collection was about strong tailoring, but he also managed to incorporate movement and fluidity - creating unique juxtaposition between serious and fun dressing. Nguyen's off-white, crochet, racer-back top paired with pleated, high-waisted, light-blue mom jeans are so perfect for now, and exemplified his fresh creative eye and promising future.

Without a doubt, all eight designers have a distinct fashion voice and the capability to be heard in the never-sleeping industry. Clark explains what it takes to become a successful fashion designer to The Genteel, "Creative talent and dedication to their craft is paramount, as well as having a solid understanding of who they are and confidence in their ability…But to truly succeed, be open to learn from consumer feedback and have the ability to take criticism on the chin." He goes on to say that Nguyen, "demonstrated all of these qualities; most importantly he showed promise to succeed and benefit from further mentoring as well as a keen sense of what the DUY brand looked like into the future."

The love is mutual; Nguyen tells The Genteel, "[I] was very honoured to be part of the project. All of the advice that I have received from the judges has been very helpful. The exposure that I am already receiving for winning this competition is tremendous. As a French-Canadian, this opportunity will help raise awareness about DUY across the nation."

In the wildly-paced world of fashion, talent is simply not enough. Young designers need [to] ...selflessly offer a piece of themselves with every garment.

According to Clark, the fashion industry is, "…Always about change and the industry is thirsty for fashion that is innovative, well made and means something to them - consumers want a connection when they spend their money." Perhaps Nguyen's win is attributed to his strong personal connection - a deep longing for a much-needed vacation - with his 2012 showcase pieces.

In the wildly-paced world of fashion, talent is simply not enough. Young designers need smart business sense, to be intuitive learners, in order to learn from consumers and critics, and selflessly offer a piece of themselves with every garment. "It's hard work, long hours but incredibly fulfilling. Never underestimate the importance of mentorship. While it is important to stay true to your beliefs and personal brand, stop and listen to their words of wisdom," advises Clark.

As Nguyen walked out onto the runway to accept his award, it was hard not to notice his humility and quiet rejoicingWhat will we see for DUY in the near future? "I would love the opportunity to collaborate with a major retailer. And for myself, another trip to the French Riviera," he smiles.

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