Story by Paul Aguirre-Livingston

Last week, while waiting for the Arthur Mendonca show to begin at Trump Towers, the guy to my left struck up a conversation with his seatmate. “So, Arthur’s back in town now, and showing again?” he almost certainly asked, not stated. “So, he’s, like, graduated out of Fashion Week and really with the big boys now?”

Yes, he might actually be. This man, unknown to me, assumed that because Mendonca wasn’t part of the official Toronto Fashion Week schedule, that he was somewhat better (or more important?) than the other designers, and that he (this dude) was very lucky to be in attendance.

Rouge Fashion Week (the collective of shows not on the official schedule) has been glamorized over the past few seasons in Toronto. All the hot, young things choose cramped art galleries in case no one shows up, and all the big fish prove just how big they are without the pond – or the seating. For about a minute, there was even a running joke of “Toronto Fashion Month.” Yeah, that didn’t last long. What was once a byproduct of low funds has become the rebel statement.

And finally, like a box of advent chocolate, we get to file our last Rogue review and know that the next day we’ll meet Robin Kay, who herself has been busy prepping and primping and working with little LG-clad elves.

But are we still excited about fashion week?

I don’t know, are you? I’ve been asking myself this question over and over, and I’ve been asking my peers the same. Off the record, survey resoundingly says, “No”, but in real life, the answer is much more complicated and courteous, and equally halfhearted.

Now in its 24th season, it’s clear to even the nakedest eye that Toronto Fashion Week has come a long way from the [mostly] editors-only affair at the Windsor Arms. In my seven seasons, I’ve watched designers come and designers go, locations move and decentralize, socialites anoint themselves, scandalous slurs unfold in real time and sponsors reign supreme. Each year, the media pass prices go up (yes, I pay to do my job), the bloggers get ballsy-er, the rows become nosebleeds, and the clothing becomes secondary.

So, why is this even a thing? you ask yourself. It’s not like our designers are going to set trends, or even ignite local frenzies. By the time the clock strikes showtime here, we’ve already been saturated with images and tweets from London, Paris, New York, Milan and even Montreal. By the time we see what walks down the runway, the designers worth anything have already shopped their linesheets to buyers who actually, you know, buy these collections. And it’s not like Canada’s ten consistent fashion blogs are going to spread the gospel: “David Dixon did shoulders, so raid your mom’s closet because that shit is in.”

Yet that’s not the point, and we must know that right? And does it mean we should stop trying? Sure, Toronto Fashion Week is about celebrating and showcasing Canadian talent in design. But when Kellogg’s announces that it plans to bring American designer Cynthia Rowley to the “tents” next season – even though poor Mendonca went bankrupt and rebuilt his career from scratch – it becomes about doing good business.

And that’s the irony in this year’s “Business of Fashion” theme. We’ve all said this to ourselves, to each other: If we want to make this week about business, let’s put away the monkeys and close up the media petting zoo. Let’s welcome and support more of those talented, Fashion Collectiveesque designers to the roster. Like Quebec, let’s get them the funding they want and (so desperately) need. Let’s pick up our sewing machines and move our operation earlier in the year. Let’s get a permanent home, preferably not in the middle of social Siberia. (Okay, that last one was just for me.)

But we can’t let our excitement be dictated by the flaws in the system; flaws that have probably always been there and will probably always remain. Flaws that aren’t so bad because they still, for the most part, serve the greater good. I still remember when every flash felt fabulous and every seat was coveted, no matter what row or what view. When I was curious to see what came down the runway even though I’d seen other incarnations of it already. When I didn’t take the fact that we even have a fashion week for granted. And I know you do too.

So that’s what I’m trying to do this week at FILLER, with a crop of talented and budding writers and photographers who still feel the excitement of being part of something that does, thankfully and without regret, get bigger and better every year.

And yes, I am still excited, even if it only comes out when I’m eating McDonald’s at 12 a.m. by laptop light and editing the stories you’ll find here.