When the door slid open and I stepped outside, I entered a different world. Plump white snowflakes weighted through the air, blanketing everything in site. What was around me was forest-like with magnificent trees lined on either side, in the distance I could make out a quaint wooden bridge that crossed over a river. Had I landed in Narnia?

Crossing over the bridge, I peered up into the sky. How could it be snowing I wondered, after all, on the other side of that door, the weather had been sunny and in the double digits. As I lowered my gaze, a mother led her ducklings down the river.

The bridge led to a path that led to another door. On the other side of this one, I wasn’t greeted by a lion (or a witch), but Calgary-based Canadian fashion designer, Paul Hardy.

The blanket of pristine white on the ground wasn’t a dream (though its beauty looked to be out of one), I was in Calgary, Alberta — Canada’s winter wonderland to the west. I had come to join a celebration at the city’s renowned River Café, where Hardy was hosting a luncheon in honour of his 10th anniversary. It was the beginning of my adventures in Calgary, and I was eager for the designer to show Calgary to me, through his eyes.

Fast forward a few hours, and I’m back behind that first set of doors (the bus) and it’s pitch black inside and out. This time when I step out of the door, I’m blinded by lights and find myself in the front row of Hardy’s spring/summer 2013 show. It’s a sea of black and white being marched in front of me, the girls are Amish gone wrong – think sweet fish tail braids paired with exposed breasts beneath a sheer chiffon black shirt.

The collection — set to the live sounds of Calgarian country star, Paul Brant, Juno winner Greg Sczebel, along with a contingent from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra — follows an Amish girl through her evolvement from leaving the farm to living the big city life. “A lot of my friends joke that this collection was really more about me and my story, “ laughs Hardy after his show. “I didn’t name the girl because I felt we could all relate to her. We all come from a place of innocence, and we’re seeking a greater sense of wholeness for our lives.”

Despite having initially planned to show his new collection in Toronto, after witnessing the reaction from people who visited his incredible showroom, he was convinced that the better option was to bring everyone to his home city instead. Hardy reveals, “(People) said, ‘you started working out of a basement of bachelor suite apartment, it’s really important that people in the media and industry see what ten years has brought.’”

Thankfully he listened, because what he created in partnership with Tourism Calgary, was an experience that went far beyond the visual penetration of runway fashion. The show enlightened all five of the senses in a refreshing way, designed not just to present a fashion collection, but to introduce the city itself to newcomers. “I’m a storyteller, and I also really value people’s time (…), it was important to me that all of the (right) elements were covered, especially if people were going to come all of this way.”

For visiting guests like myself, it felt as if Hardy had opened the doors to his home, as literal as you can when the number of invited guests is a couple of hundred people from all across the globe. From the roaring fireplace and hot apple cider inside of The River Café; to the classic interiors of my home-away-from-home, The Hyatt Hotel; to the delicious fresh shucked oysters served before Hardy’s show, at what was Calgary’s party of 2012, my time in this Naria-esque playland laid was enough to show me first-hand why Hardy loves his home so much. “I thought I would only be here for six month to a year, 14 years later I’m still here,” shares the designer.

For me, Calgary is a place I was unfamiliar with upon arrival, and one I have missed since departure. It’s the sort of place where the winter is infused with fairytale magic. Whether it’s picturesque city living or snow sports galore that are on your agenda this season, mark a visit to the city of Calgary next on your things-to-do list.

Published January 31, 2012