The Globe and Mail: Even Mother Nature Can’t Rain on These Designs


VANCOUVER — Special to The Globe and Mail


Gastown, which shares boundaries with Chinatown, has become Vancouver’s hippest fashion neighbourhood, so the decision of B.C. Fashion Week organizers Debra Walker and Vladimir Markovich to move the event to a space adjacent to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was savvy.

Although the holding tank for eager fashion followers waiting to get to the runway was a bit cramped (luckily Mother Nature was feeling charitable, and the courtyard proved to be the place to chill and people-watch preshow), inside there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Good thing, since most of the shows were sellouts.

Vancouver mainstay Jacqueline Conoir launched the week’s festivities. Never mind that a couple of well-heeled ladies were spotted wearing pieces from her spring 2008 collection (“Tsk, so tacky,” one fashion editor clucked), the show was standing-room only. Conoir described her collection as “edgy glamour,” and marched out several takes on hard versus soft tailoring.

Black, grey and cream-coloured coats were masterful, often with bell sleeves and silhouettes defined with a wide belt at the waist. In contrast, she updated spring’s jewel-toned dresses; previously bordering on tarty, this season they were long, flowing and reminiscent of stunning lingerie. Blouses were printed, and usually twisted into demure knots high on the neck, which Conoir described as “updated 1950s suitings.”

Bows showed up at Evan & Dean as well, but designers Raymond Boutet and Lyle Reimer seemed more influenced by Blade Runner than Conoir’s madeover housewife. The collection’s message occasionally got lost in the plot, perhaps a result of the styling, or because Boutet describes himself as “stubborn, yet driven” while Reimer claims to be more “emotional, yet artsy.”

Yet the collection never felt tired. Chanel-like quilting was at the forefront, as evident in the show opener, a resplendent nylon hooded trench. Sheer and shiny fabrics in various forms harked back to last season’s shows at Bryant Park. Shell and button embellishment that looked just plain rich proved that neither designer is afraid of painstaking detailing.

On the flip side, newcomer Mellinda-Mae Harlingten, fresh off L’Oréal Fashion Week in Toronto (perhaps one reason her show garnered such a huge turnout) and showing for the first time in her hometown, made her presence felt with sleek lines, draped necklines and backs, and slim trousers that brought a va-va-voom to the collection.

The designer, who models for her own look book, clearly likes to play with shapes, which were streamlined with skinny tuxedo pants and geometric prints in ¾ length, dhoti-like jodhpurs.

This year marked the second round of Generation Next, a show to honour three new designers, and award one with the coveted title of “Best New.” The honours went to Calgarian Lara Presber, whose clean silhouettes reflect her background in architecture. Last year’s winner, Nicole Bridger, continued her focus on sustainable fashion, presenting a collection marked by classic shapes with modern touches, such as a black silk dress with a shoulder that fell to one side – the antithesis of granola.

If this is the new Vancouver school, the rest of Canada will soon be in class.

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