Finding freedom through fashion

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By Fatima Najm

On an average day, John Sayer-White is busy juggling clients like Valentino and Calvin Klein. On April 5 and 6, however, Ryerson students will command this advertising mogul’s attention. Sayer-White is one of four judges entrusted with scooping up the crème de la crème of first-, second- and third-year fashion design students. Also among the line-up of judges is Toronto-based designer and Ryerson graduate Glynis Dupuis. Bringing in members of the industry is just one of the many real-world elements in the Fashion school’s end-of-the-year production titles Escape… Freedom through Fashion.

Ela Kowalewska knows all about the other real-world aspects of event management. The second-year fashion communications student has devoted “endless hours” of work that will remain behind the scenes as student designs takes centre-stage at the show this week. Her title describes her as being in charge of public relations and advertising, but her work includes everything from sweet-talking sponsors to designing posters, assigning tickets to figuring out where to seat industry members.

“You get organized so quickly when you have so much to do, and you learn to be resourceful when people don’t deliver on deadline,” says Kowalewska as she rushes from a meeting to make a series of phone calls.

Her work will culminate in a series of fashion shows that will focus media and industry attention on students like Oliver Ward. The first-year design student has submitted a little black dress with a different spin on it. The piece plays on both the masculine and feminine components of modern identity by incorporating a men’s jacket into one half of the dress.

“My dress is for the fashion forward woman who is as comfortable heading a business meeting as she is attending gallery openings,” he says. Ward is confident that his design scores high on the wearability meter, positioning his work between Avant-garde and classic shape. Although the budding designer says he dislikes comparisons of his work to other labels, one place where he would like to see his designs features is the Holt Renfrew World Design Lab.

Diane Warwick and Carolyn Rohali have a different game plan. They want to see their pieces sold at Wenches and Rogues on Queen Street West “because it stocks mainly up and coming young designers’ collections that have one thing in common: they are all sleek, with one element that sets them apart — like a ruffle or a seam,” says Warwick.

The use of words to demonstrate their scepticism towards a world engaged in an ideological war makes Rohali and Warwick’s work distinctive. First-year fashion design students have to split up the work, producing a top and skirt ensemble, so Warwick used black paint to spell out “believe” in red, while Rohali stiches “lie” onto the long-sleeved shirt. “We were going for contrast,” says Warwick about the design that they are calling “the belief.” The contrast continues in their choice of fabric: denim and linen panels with complementary shades of grey.

More than a thousand spectators, industry representatives, students, faculty and friends will gather to watch 250 different designs vie for space as first-second- and third-year fashion students wrap up the year with a two-day, five-show production this week.

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