The Genteel
February 24, 2021


From Workman Arts' Mad Couture Catwalk.

If you're curious about the zeitgeist, look no further than Toronto's | FAT | Arts & Fashion Week. The 200 Canadian and international fashion designers and artists showcasing their work during the five-day event are more aware of the sign of the times than Marshall McLuhan and Noam Chomsky combined.

| FAT | combines elements of fashion design, photography, film, installation art and performance art to present a snapshot of the contemporary fashion community - the "artistic disciplines rooted in fashion and their exploration of clothing in today's time," explains | FAT | founder and organiser, Vanja Vasic. "[| FAT | is] really about the now. What's happening now. It's a reflection of [the contemporary]." 

In eight years, the event has grown to welcome over 5,000 visitors from the fashion world, including industry professionals and fashion and art enthusiasts. These are the people who are on the forefront of fashion: "I think trends happen later," says Vanja, "We are, in a way, leaders and making trends because we're starting off at the street-level." 

Running from April 23-27 in a warehouse on the eastern edge of the Junction, one of Toronto's buzziest neighbourhoods, this year's theme is "Fashion Therapy" and each night represents one sub-theme: Drama, Craving, Escape, Crisis and Euphoria.

When asked why Fashion Therapy was chosen as this year's theme, Vasic points out that mental illness seems ubiquitous these days and is an important issue to examine. Indeed, one in seven Canadian adults will or have identified symptoms of a mood disorder in their lifetime, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. There's no better time than right now to explore the issue, but there's also a lighter side to it. "[Fashion] is a way to escape problems," says Vasic, and this year's | FAT | explores fashion "as a way to cure your ills."

[Workman Arts is] working specifically with artists who have mental illness or [are] dealing with addiction.

Because Fashion Therapy is such a broad theme, there's opportunity to focus one's work on a specific topic. Vasic is proud of the ideas explored at | FAT |. Designers have used Fashion Therapy to explore mental illness, racism, sexuality and environmental issues. One of the collections directly associated with mental illness is Mad Couture Catwalk presented by Workman Arts, an arts and mental health organisation partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). "[Workman Arts is] working specifically with artists who have mental illness or [are] dealing with addiction. [Each artist] has a mini collection. For them fashion is used as therapy. It's a way to talk about these issues, as a way to deal with them [and] to have a creative outlet," says Vasic.

The pieces range from sombre to whimsical. A Paul Bunyan-sized red plaid shirt with a "Made in Canada" label hangs from a massive clothes hanger in one corner of the Junction warehouse. It's an installation piece by Guelph-based artist Janet Morton called "Canadian Monument #2." TV screens with still frames of film hang poised to begin playing. Artwork dominates one length of the wall and a soft-green chaise longue sits in a corner, perfect for reclining and revealing one's id.

From Workman Arts' Mad Couture Catwalk.

Each year | FAT | also highlights a specific country's fashion designers and artists. This year it's Mexico. The connection started with Mexican designer, Belinda Visag who has been showing at | FAT | for the last six years. Visag, as well as Malafacha, will be the two fashion houses showing their collections on the runway to represent Mexico.

Vasic gives us a peek into what to expect: "Belinda does a lot of colour. Malafacha does as well, but I think this year they're showing a very sombre collection." The bold colours associated with Mexico as well as an opportunity to focus on a country outside of Europe was what attracted Vasic to the partnership in the first place. "In the past we've always had a focus on European countries like the Netherlands or Germany. We wanted something that was more hot-blooded, where the culture was really rich in colour [and] history. [Mexico has] a lot of symbolism in their culture."

The cultural connection uses all of the elements of | FAT |, including film and photography. "We try to work in all of the elements...for a more broad feature," Vasic explains. One of Vasic's favourite pieces is fashion photographer Anairam's portraits of Rick Genest aka Zombie Boy, the Montrealer most famous for his richly-detailed tattoos and his appearance in the Lady Gaga music video, “Born This Way.”

The week will end on Friday on a high note: the fifth night's theme of Euphoria will include an after-party from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. hosted by Promise, best known for hosting all-night parties on Cherry Beach. Tickets are available for purchase on Entry is free for | FAT | ticket stub and pass holders. 



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