Mass Exodus 2019 collections shake up the gender binary

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By Annemarie Cutruzzola, Heidi Lee and Serena Lopez

The 31st annual Mass Exodus runway showcased garments, created by fourth-year students at the Ryerson School of Fashion, many of which challenged social constructs of gender.

The day-long event, which took place on April 6 at Daniels Spectrum, included three shows featuring the capstone collections of graduating fashion design students.

The theme of this year’s runway was “An Inevitable Shift.” The collections were meant to “illustrate the shift from a cold reality to a bright future—where change is able to exist indefinitely,” according to the Mass Exodus website.

Bright, multi-coloured lights shone on the white runway as a diverse selection of models displayed equally diverse collections. Ryerson fashion professors, industry professionals and friends and family of the designers filled the rows.

19 collections from across the three shows were selected by this year’s curator, Vivek Shraya, to be featured in an invitation-only show later that evening. Shraya previously told The Eye she would be looking for designs that think beyond traditionalist fashion.

Making its first appearance in Show A, Joyin Rey’s collection “Siargao” is inspired by his trip to the island of Siargao in the Southern part of the Philippines. Rey said he uses green, sand, solid blue and blue ruffles to represent his experience on the island.

Rey said his core value is to create a new definition for femininity.

“I incorporate femininity in my collection by letting male models wear women’s clothing,” said Rey. “Femininity is something both men and women can apprehend, possess and celebrate.”

Shequana Wheatle, who presented her designs in Show B, said she found her place within the fashion industry with the curation of her capstone collection, “Helios,” a menswear collection inspired by the Greek God of the same name.

Photo: Khaled Badawi

“I wanted to bring together bright colours that remind you of the sun and sunsets and make you feel like you’re outside experiencing that shift from day into night,” said Wheatle.

Wheatle said her journey into fashion was uninspired until she started designing menswear in her third year at Ryerson. “This collection gave me stride and an outlet to use my voice in a male-dominated avenue in fashion,” said Wheatle.

Other student designers at Mass Exodus produced garments related to the theme of female empowerment.

Ashton Barber said she created her collection “Navina” to represent the vulnerability and strength of women. “The definition of being a woman varies for each person,” said Barber.

Photo: Khaled Badawi

She used her lingerie collection to show how “femininity is layered” and to challenge the way society traditionally views femininity and feminine bodies.

Fei Fei Li’s “Zei Collection” was inspired by grandmother’s vision of how an ideal granddaughter should dress. “I am inspired by structural shapes and I always incorporate that into any of the collections I make,” said Li.

“My grandmother wears a lot of garments with floral prints,” she said. “To showcase the aura of confidence, I chose this pattern for her.”

Matin Mithras’ collection “Patterns of Liberation” is inspired by the life of American fashion and art photographer Lee Miller. By using various design elements to represent Miller’s appearance from her younger years into old age.

Mithras said his collections speaks out against ageism. “I want to make my last outfit look like a senior English lady,” said Mithras, who included a floor-length gown, cape and a giant fascinator in his last design.

Photo: Khaled Badawi

Show C featured Rupinder Grewal’s non-binary collection “Beyond Gender,” which was inspired by colours and shapes in Indian architecture.

“I want my collection to not associate with any specific gender,” said Grewal.

The three shows displayed collections that encapsulated a shared perspective of embracing change and the inevitable shifts happening in the fashion industry. At the end of each show, the designers walked the runway hand-in-hand with one of their models.

Ben Barry, chair of the School of Fashion, said each student had a distinct curation style, aesthetic and story to tell through their collection. “I want you to leave today knowing that you have an exciting future,” Barry told the graduating class. “You’ve all produced absolutely incredible work.”

He acknowledged the hard work of the fashion design students and the “many sleepless nights” they experienced throughout the four-year program. For this year’s Mass Exodus, some designers had a 3 a.m. call time.

“Being able to design a complete collection and having all my outfits on the show is quite an accomplishment for me,” said Mithras. He and several other designers expressed a sense of fulfilment and pride about their four years of work coming to an epic conclusion at Mass Exodus.

Photo: Khaled Badawi

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that 15 collections were selected for the invitation-only show later in the evening. The Eye regrets this error.

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