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By Jennifer Fong

Students participating in Mass Exodus this year have something to say about sexuality. A new gay line is attracting a lot of attention — but other designs feature everything from lingerie to fantasy.

Although society has become more accepting than it was in the past, censorship can still be a big problem. Just ask fourth-year fashion design student Derrick Yong.

His new street-wear and club-wear line, DerrickJ, will debut at Ryerson’s annual fashion show, Mass Exodus, on April 7 and 8. Yong, who has been working on the line designed specifically for gay men since last summer, said the lengthy process was made even more difficult when his artistic vision was censored by Ryerson faculty.

“I’ve had to change some of what I wanted to say about my collection and i had to change some of my designs because I was being censored by the faculty. Apparently it was too explicit. There was a nudity issue and there were words that I wanted to use in my clothing that they were uncomfortable with,” he said.

However, Yong still hopes that he will get his message across and says, “I want to create a pride in queer culture and a building block for what is now contemporary gay culture.” Surprisingly, he did this by taking a step back into the past.

Yong said the inspiration for his line came from the 1970s, which has been dubbed the “clone era” in gay fashion. The clone style emphasized short hair, clipped moustaches, denim and leather. He said he did a lot of research into the decade and realized that it was when the first gay look of its kind was developed in North America.

Each of the five items in his collection features a symbol that has had a profound effect on gay culture. For example, an image of handcuffs represents the persecution of gays and a stone wall symbolizes 1969’s Stonewall Riot in New York City, the first gay riot in the United States.

Third-year fashion communications student Andrea Ford is the publicist for Mass Exodus, which showcases the designs of Ryerson’s fourth-year fashion design students. She  hopes that Yong’s line will attract a lot of people to the show.

“I’m really pushing the gay fetish line, just because there’s been a lot in the media about gay culture, so there’s a bit of a buzz around it,” she said. Ford added that this year, the student coordinators behind Mass Exodus hope to widen their audience. The show typically attracts local media attention.

The theme for this year’s show is Next Level, which Mass Exodus’ production coordinator, Brooke Andrews, said represents the designers transition from their last year at Ryerson to their new careers as graduates. Andrews, also a third-year fashion communications student, said the set for the show, which will be held in the Ryerson Theatre, will reflect the theme through a 1930s art-deco design that makes the stage look like a hotel elevator.

So far, Andrews said, planning the show has been relatively problem-free. Unlike many smaller shows, which typically face under-funding, Mass Exodus does not have that problem.

“Mass Exodus is widely recognized and we don’t have a problem selling tickets. We have four big shows, which seat approximately 1,000 people per show, so that’s a lot of tickets,” Andrews said. “We also have a lot of great sponsors. People want to be associated with Mass Exodus because it’s such an amazing show. It’s like the largest fashion show in all of Canada.”

People are drawn to the show by the often outrageous and unique collections that the student designers present. One major influence on students this year seems to be the fantasy genre, especially Japanese anime.

Design student Sandy Ng’s line, In A Dream, is a costume collection tailored for use in fantasy film. it features five pieces, each featuring a different creature: a phoenix, a peacock, a snow owl, a raven, and a flamingo. Each outfit consists of a bright, flowy chiffon gown and wings made out of hundreds of real bird feathers.

On the other hand, fourth-year design student Candice Chan took a bit of a darker route with her fantasy-inspired set. Chan’s Heroine line is a women’s costume collection of five pieces, each based on a fictional character she created. The five characters are girls in a rock band who become superheroes at night. The outfits reflect each character’s superpower as well as the different countries they hail from.

Chan said she finds the idea of female superheroes inspiring.

“The female characters in anime and comic books are very empowering, yet they’re very sexual at the same time. They’re larger than life,” she said.

Chan’s line, which features many different mediums — including fake fur and leather — was inspired by an exchange trip to Asia that she went on last year. One of the cities she visited was Hong Kong.

“When I was there, I was really surprised to see how international — how much of a world city — it really was and how many different cultures were there. There were a lot of Arabic cafes in Hong Kong and there is definitely an Arabic influence in my clothing,” she said.

Chan was also introduced to Bollywood films while living in Hong Kong and there is a direct Indian influence in her collection, especially in the delicate scarf one model will wear over her mouth. Each outfit has a hefty price tag ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 but Chan said that she has already received offers from people wanting to own a piece.

Fourth-year Ryerson student Helen Lin’s Catfight lingerie line will not retail for quite as much money, but she said it’s a “cute playful collection” that has wide appeal. “Every single girl out there would want a piece from my collection,” she said confidently.

Catfight features simple bras, panties, and corsets in black and pink, made mostly out of cotton, Lycra and Spandex. She describes the lingerie as “high-end,” for days when women want to dress up but still be comfortable. She said she hopes that people will be able to express their individuality through her line.

“A regular girl can express individuality by her outerwear, but when it comes to underwear, there’s not much choice. I’m saying, ‘Hey, you can spread your individuality with your underwear as well,'” said Lin.

For those who just want something cute to wear this summer, designer Andrea Tung’s Haarlem Novalis resort collection has what you need. The line features relaxed, flowing pieces such as simple, but stylish tank tops, skirts, and dresses, all of which were made principally out of silk, a fabric Tung chose for its upscale appeal.

“If your T-shirt is done in silk…that’s luxury man,” she said. Haarlem Novalis was inspired by ancient Greek costume, an interest, Tung said, that was sparked by a trip to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last summer.

Sixty student designers will be showcased in the four Mass Exodus shows presented this year. Tickets for one of the shows are on sale now to Ryerson students and faculty.

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