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The Limelight was an infamous nightclub in New York converted from an Episcopalian church in the early ’80s. Executive producer and creative director of Western Canada Fashion Week (WCFW,) Sandra Sing Fernandes, used to model at this alternative venue in the ’90s, which inspired her to revive this year’s fashion week with two showcases in Edmonton.
“Doing an alternative space for alternative designers — it’s very New York,” says Fernandes who has been at the helm of WCFW for 20 years.
Chez Pierre was the unusual venue for avant-garde WCFW previews last weekend ahead of Global United, the main event happening on May 27-29 on Europa Boulevard in West Edmonton Mall. Called Uncensored, the preview nights offered emerging and edgier designers some exposure alongside local musicians and dancers to create a cabaret-style show. Fernandes sought out the unconventional venue to help diversify the array of designers and allow them to express themselves through their designs and messaging.
One such collection is ‘Teeth’ from Lewis Mayhem founded by Cory Richard Jones. Her collection of dark style and punk is heavily inspired by tribal and occult influences. Her collection made up of black clothing featured spiked corsets, fishnets, hooded capes and Victorian vampire goth-inspired dresses.
Fernandes recognizes some of the collections included with Uncensored wouldn’t be as well-suited for the mainstream audience at West Edmonton Mall and she wants to ensure WCFW is respectful of making space for everyone.
WCFW’s main event this weekend, Global United, will lean more toward a European high-fashion runway aesthetic. The event will highlight local designers mainly from Alberta and across Western Canada in addition to some Canadian retailers such as Le Chateau, Simons and The Bay.
The theme is an expression of values Fernandes believes WCFW has always embraced.
“We believe that we’ve stood for diversity from the beginning,” says Fernandes. “Having different nationalities, different types of people whatever that may be — it’s all good with us.”
In 2017, WCFW featured models in wheelchairs and with prosthetics for the first time. The year prior, WCFW had its first transgender model walk for local designer Stanley Carroll’s collection.
“We embrace everything, and I think that’s been one of our wonderful, beautiful points is we found Ashley Callingbull,” says Fernandes about the Cree model who’s had a long history with WCFW.
Callingbull, now 32, first started walking the runways of WCFW when she was 18 and eventually won the show’s New Face Award Competition. She’s the first Indigenous woman to win Mrs. Universe in 2015 and recently the first Indigenous woman to appear on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
By hosting the main event at West Edmonton Mall, Fernandes hopes local stores may pick up some of the designers. They’ll also be organizing pop-up shops each day of the event.
“It’s a good place for them to get exposed to the real retail business and vice versa. It’s a chance for people who are doing retail to see what designers are doing,” says Fernandes.
Holding the event at the mall is also an opportunity for designers to think about the future possibility of being more retail-oriented. Some local brands such as Luxx Ready To Wear, Trippy Hippy and Christ Citizen have found success with their own retail spaces.
“It’s a great opportunity because they only have to produce one outfit for one model and it’s judged on creativity, originality and quality of the workmanship but also a little bit on marketability,” says Fernandes of the competition taking place on Sunday at 4 p.m.
The winner will get to present a free six-person showcase for WCFW’s fall/winter 2022 show with hair and makeup support, models provided by WCFW and gift certificates to stores such as Marshall Fabrics to purchase supplies for their work.
The fashion industry suffered like many from the pandemic and Fernandes hopes the revival of this weekend’s showcase will create more substantial support for all those involved in Alberta and Western Canada.
“We want to keep it going with this nurturing philosophy while reinventing ourselves — to support not only the designers but the models, the performers, the hair salons, the makeup artists including providing free photoshoots for the designers,” says Fernandes. “We want to keep going, without being fixated on the dollars. We’ve been fixated on this support.”
WCFW’s main event is happening this weekend, May 27-29 on Europa Boulevard at West Edmonton Mall. For a full schedule of designers, events and tickets, visit westerncanadafashionweek.com. WCFW also supports local charitable organizations such as YESS and The Mustard Seed Thrift Store by accepting donations of gently used clothing, non-perishable food and monetary gifts.